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Inside the Weird, Heavily-Scented World of Abercrombie's CEO

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Image via Abercrombie & Fitch
Image via Abercrombie & Fitch

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New York Magazine delves deep into the cult of Abercrombie & Fitch this week, digging into the company's storied history (Did you know that Amelia Earhart wore an Abecrombie jacket when she flew across the Atlantic?) and its more recent rise and fall from grace. The piece focuses on controversial A&F CEO Mike Jeffries, a 69-year-old, bleached-blond, plastic-surgery-embracing company leader whose vision brought Abercrombie to just about every mall in America and beyond.

As NYMag explains, Jeffries has strict standards for everyone from the employees at his Ohio HQ to the staffers at his retail locations to even the people working on his private jet. According to leaked documentation, these rules extend to clothing, hair color and even language choices. Jeffries, who by all accounts tries to emulate the hunky men he puts on his packaging (he wears A&F polos, distressed jeans and flip flops to meetings), stipulates that sales associates' hair can be 'sunkissed' but not with 'chunks of contrasting color' and that their jeans be cuffed at "one and a quarter inches." He also has a hatred for the color black, which is forbidden at the offices and in stores. But his air standards manual is even crazier.

"Included in the manual," details NYM, "are rules on crew apparel (the male staff, hand-selected by a New York modeling agency, were to wear a 'spritz' of Abercrombie 41 cologne and boxer briefs under their jeans), the specific song to be played on return flights ("Take Me Home," by Phil Collins), and the way the toilet paper in the aft lavatory should be rolled (never exposed; end square neatly folded). If Jeffries makes a request, the crew is always to respond with 'No problem' instead of 'Yes' or 'Sure.'" The CEO, who has made no secret of his obsession with hunky shirtless men, even hires male models to cater private parties at the Ohio mansion he shares with his partner Matthew Smith.

The 47-page air manual was leaked after a former pilot sued A&F claiming he'd been fired because of his age. He was in his mid-fifties. The Huffington Post has a longer list of Jeffries' requirements from the time, many of which point to his fastidious nature. "Fingerprints are not permitted [anywhere on the plane]," it says. "Cabin attendants must constantly check for fingerprints 'on the credenza, cabin door, galley door, ledges and the cabinet doors in the lavatory.' Seat belts should also be 'free of fingerprints or marks.'"

Jeffries isn't just detail-oriented, he's also superstitious. "He is said to trust deeply in rituals and talismans," reports NYM, "such as a pair of lucky loafers he was known to wear while perusing financial reports. In the past he has insisted on never passing staff members in stairwells and walking through revolving doors twice."

Now, forced by changing trends and a youth culture that emphasis inclusion and diversity over homogeneity, Abercrombie is trying to evolve—and that may leave Jeffries out in the cold. The new Abercrombie, says its head of marketing, will eschew visible logos and will be available in larger sizes. For now, though, Jeffries is still in control: As was reported in December, his contract was extended despite calls from investors for his resignation as CEO.
· Why Abercrombie is Losing Its Shirt [The Cut]
· Abercrombie Fails to Fire Mike Jeffries Again [Racked]
· Abercrombie & Fitch Will Offer Plus-Size This Spring [Racked]
· Abercrombie & Fitch C.E.O. Is Sorry You're Mad [Racked]