Abercrombie & Fitch ex-CEO Mike Jeffries: Unveiling the Accusations
Abercrombie & Fitch is investigating claims that its former CEO, Mike Jeffries, sexually exploited men at parties.
Abercrombie & Fitch Co., a popular clothing retailer, is currently under investigation following allegations that its former CEO, Mike Jeffries, sexually exploited men at extravagant parties held worldwide. The BBC initially reported these claims, which state that Jeffries organized these sex events and recruited participants through a middleman, promising them the opportunity to become models for the once prominent American teen outfitter.
According to the BBC, eight men came forward, either engaging in or witnessing sexual acts at parties hosted by Jeffries and his partner, Matthew Smith, between 2009 and 2015. Each of these men allegedly received thousands of dollars in cash after these parties.
The recruitment for these events was handled by a middleman named James Jacobson, as reported by the BBC. One of the recruits revealed that Jacobson explicitly stated that if he did not allow him to perform oral sex on him, he would not have the chance to meet with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries. The man complied, receiving $500 from Jacobson, and later receiving an invitation to Jeffries' residence in the Hamptons. There, he was provided with poppers, a drug commonly used to enhance sexual experiences, and eventually had sex with the former CEO.
Another individual, a former model, disclosed to the BBC that he had oral sex performed on him by another recruited man while Jeffries and Smith observed.
The former model expressed the emotional impact of these experiences, stating that it shattered his innocence and caused significant mental distress. He believes that he was taken advantage of.
NPR attempted to contact Jeffries for comment by calling several phone numbers listed in public databases but was unsuccessful in reaching the former CEO.
Jeffries served as the head of A&F from 1992 to 2014 and is credited with transforming the store from a struggling heritage brand known for safari wear to a highly successful teen outfitter recognized for its preppy style, strong cologne, and provocative advertisements featuring semi-nude models.
From the beginning, Jeffries had a clear vision for the store, albeit an elitist one. He stated in a 2006 interview with Salon, "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes] and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
This approach proved successful, with the company experiencing 52 consecutive quarters of increased earnings by 2006, reaching annual profits exceeding $2 billion. A&F expanded to 800 physical stores and acquired three additional brands, including Hollister, a popular retailer specializing in beach-inspired fashion.
However, while this marketing strategy brought financial success, it also led to numerous human resources issues. In 2003, Black, Latino, and Asian American employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, accusing it of discouraging minority applicants and relegating them to undesirable positions. A settlement of $40 million was reached in 2004.
Jeffries retired in 2014 as sales began to decline, receiving a retirement package of $25 million. The following year, A&F lawyers appeared before the Supreme Court, arguing that they were justified in denying a Muslim woman employment due to her headscarf violating the company's "look policy." The Supreme Court ruled against A&F with an 8-1 decision.
A&F's reputation as an exclusionary brand persisted during America's period of racial reckoning, leading to media criticism such as the 2022 Netflix documentary "White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch."
However, the company started to reshape its image, possibly influenced by this reckoning. A&F abandoned its iconic dark-shuttered storefronts, moose logos, and sexually suggestive billboards. It expanded its size range and began marketing with the help of young influencers who praised its basics like bodysuits and trousers.
Fran Horowitz, the new chief merchandising officer, emphasized the brand's transformation, stating, "We are a positive, inclusive brand, with a nice sensibility, very different from what they encountered in the past."
Media outlets have recognized this change, referring to it as a "rebound," a "rebrand," and a "major revival" moment. However, the company's newfound success is now facing a significant challenge.
Following the BBC's investigation, Abercrombie & Fitch released a statement on its social media platforms, announcing that it had hired an external law firm to conduct an independent investigation. The statement also emphasized that the current executive leadership team and board of directors were unaware of the allegations against Jeffries and reiterated the company's zero tolerance policy for abuse, harassment, or discrimination.