The Catalog Has No Clothes

Debra J. Saunders

7/13/2001 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
Why would a clothing store try to sell clothes by showing pictures of naked people? The new Abercrombie & Fitch quarterly publication -- available at A&F stores for $6 if you have an ID that proves you are age 18 or older -- begs the question. Co-workers haven't spent the last two days moseying up to my cubicle to get a look at the crew mesh shorts. No, they came to sneak peeks at the photos of beautiful young bodies, completely nude, or in mid-striptease or mid-ravishment. It's a quasi-catalog for a clothing store most notable for the models lack of clothing. "Restricting the sales of written and visual material to persons at least 18 years of age is appropriate for those in the business of selling pornography," GOP Illinois Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood wrote to Abercrombie & Flesh -- uh, Fitch -- CEO Michael Jeffries last month. "It should not be necessary for a clothing retailer." Indeed, Wood has been spearheading an A&F boycott because the group pushes "promiscuous" and group sex to sell clothes. She tells parents, "You shouldn't shop at a store that is marketing sexual imagery to your young children." She's not pushing for laws to ban sale of the catalog. She simply says parents should withhold family dollars until A&F stops promoting sex to sell clothes. If you feel the media are bombarding your kids with oversexualized messages, here is a place to take a stand. A&F spokesman Hampton Carney takes offense at Wood's assertions. A&F is careful to not sell the quarterly publication to minors, he said. Catalogs in stores are wrapped so that they "can't be casually flipped through in the store." Carney complained that Wood is trying to interfere with A&F's marketing strategy -- which is to hype adult imagery for the 18-to-21 crowd, while two sister stores peddle tamer stuff to high-school students and the 7- to 14-year-old market. "What we're trying to do is sell the image of our brand to our customer," he argued. He said of the nudity: "It's all part of the college experience. It's like a rite of passage." You know, streaking, UC Berkeley's naked guy. Of course, if A&F has the right to choose its own marketing strategy, parents have the right to choose their own spending strategies. Wood doesn't buy this argument that A&F works hard to shield kids from its sex-as-marketing-tool publication. Of course, all this skin rubs off on them. Wood has talked to kids who have seen the quarterly -- including, she said, her own. That's when she first called for a boycott of A&F. What especially galls her are photos featuring group nudity. The latest rag shows three strapping young bucks in the buff chasing after a nude nymph with a football. There are several shots of a braless young woman who strips down to her underpants and shirt in front of two guys and a pizza. "What kind of message is my teen-age daughter getting?" Wood asked. "That it's OK to jump into bed? With four other girls and a boy?" And the quarterly certainly doesn't get into some of the consequences -- heartache, date rape, pregnancy. That's why local National Organization for Women activists and the Illinois Coalition of Sexual Assault have assisted the boycott. (See www.stopAandF.com) What about parents who will say that it is impossible to stop their kids from buying A&F's high-priced clothes? "It's time for them to start being parents," answered Wood. "As parents, we have responsibilities."