Glistening, toned coeds grope each other shamelessly in full view, trendy clothing barely clinging to their effortlessly beautiful figures. Sweaty muscled men frolic, daring passers-by to glance. No, it’s not a performance of Eleganza, but rather the ubiquitous Abercrombie store window, displaying the clothes you have, and the body you wish you had.
But a plate of glass doesn’t have to remain between you and all that flesh and overpriced khaki—welcome to Abercrombie merchandising, employer to Ivy League superstars. The self-proclaimed Goldman Sachs of retail clothing is recruiting at an Office of Career Services near you.
“They really value recruiting heavily and getting really smart people from a lot of the top schools to go there immediately and work [as merchandisers for Abercrombie],” says Naomi J. Wender ’03, who recently accepted a merchandising position with the firm beginning next year.
For those who make it through Abercrombie’s on-campus interviews, a trip to the seat of the company’s corporate empire awaits. Located in New Albany, Ohio a small suburb of Columbus, the Abercrombie main office is tucked away from big city life in a pastoral setting fit for an Abercrombie photo shoot. It’s a 20-minute ride down a long windy road replete with deer and bunnies—one can just imagine half-naked twentysomethings frolicking, cavorting and Greco-Roman wrestling amidst the pines. The road ends at a huge office building situated on acres of land. As the raging bonfires located throughout the property (maintained by a professional fire attendant to create a camp-like vibe) suggest, this is no ordinary merchandising job.
The Abercrombie experience kicks into high gear as one enters the headquarters, passing by a squad of male models who sit behind desks reading magazines in order to present entrants with the face of Abercrombie—attractive, buff, 18 to 22, and extremely white. The company seeks to uphold the Abercrombie ideal not only among its receptionists but throughout the ranks of its management as well. Out of the 50 people recruited for jobs as merchandisers last month (mostly from Ivy League schools), there were only three potential minority employees, according to Skey, a ratio he says is “indicative” of who the company is marketing to.
Though an attractive bunch, the recruited execs are not yet ready to join the Abercrombie until they are filled in on the particulars of the Abercrombie uniform. Any clothing showing (including underwear for men) must be Abercrombie. Because Abercrombie doesn’t sell regular shoes, there is an approved list of what employees can wear.
Although the average age for Abercrombie employees is 24, the company insists that even senior VPs and executives are still expected to don the latest A&F fashions. Michael J. Skey ’03, who was recruited for a merchandising post at Abercrombie, describes the odd site of middle-aged men walking around in vintage cargo shorts and throwing around slang faster than Justin Timberlake at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. “It was disconcerting,” says Skey. “These guys were like my dad’s age,” he says. “It was just kind of an eerie feeling.”
But eager hopefuls can’t hope to get a jump start on their careers at Abercrombie by purchasing the necessary clothing for their job at the home office itself, despite the full scale Abercrombie store on the premises. The store set up inside the headquarters, while fully stocked, isn’t real. Like the fake secretaries on the way in, the employees there also aren’t technically salespeople, because nothing in the store is for sale. Pretend employees pretend to stock and manage the store as a prototype for how every Abercrombie store must look and run. All those casually thrown on belts and layers in a regular store are planned to the smallest detail in Ohio, then shipped out to the rest of the country to be recreated according to precise specifications. “All stores have the same items in the same places—everything is just a replica so that wherever an [Abercrombie executive] goes, he can walk in and know exactly where something is,” says Skey.
Staying trendy and keeping up on just where to find the beaded leather anklets at the Topeka outlet, however, aren’t the only things on the VPs’ minds. The company is aggressively expanding under the leadership of its CEO Michael S. Jeffries, moving into children’s clothing, home furnishings and surfer-style clothing. It’s hoped that the expansion will help Abercrombie increase its market share at the expense of chief rivals like The Gap, J. Crew and American Eagle. It’s a goal shared by all of the company’s employees, most of whom subscribe passionately to Jeffries’s vision and swear by his leadership skills. In fact, reverence for Jeffries among Abercrombie’s employees is so strong that many potential employees find it at first intimidating. “Everyone kept talking about [Jeffries’s] vision...it was sort of like Apocalypse Now,” says Skey. “I was just like dude, this is clothes, this is a job, calm down.”
Secluded headquarters, aspirations to Aryan physical perfection, mandated uniforms and a charismatic leader may at first conjure thoughts of something other than the workplace culture of one of America’s leading clothing retailers. However, this is the cult of Abercrombie. Kids wants to be the models that grace the pages of the A&F Quarterly and adults want to do them. And, if you want to get in on the action, there may be an opening (and perhaps even an escape pod to the planet Ab) with your name on it. Just make sure to get in a few thousand sit-ups before the interview.