London Abercombie & Fitch models call job 'demoralising' and 'shallow'

London Abercombie & Fitch models including a Love Island star’s fiancé revealed battles with self-esteem in ‘demoralising’ and ‘shallow’ life front of store before Mike Jeffries BBC Panorama bombshells

  • Ex-models – including Sam Rason – have recalled their time working for the brand
  • Company faced a litany of claims that it was a discriminatory employer
  • READ MORE: Abercrombie & Fitch launches investigation into ex-CEO

Abercrombie & Fitch models who used to pose topless outside the shops in order to attract customers in say their jobs were ‘demoralising’ and shallow’ – long before sex party allegations were levelled against the company’s former CEO.

Models including Sam Rason – who has just announced his engagement to Love Island star Amy Hart – claim the ultra-exclusive brand’s one-time toxic image bled into the work culture in its stores, denting their self-esteem.

The store used to employ ultra-fit models to stand outside stores and pose for photographs in a bid to entice shoppers inside – all part of its hyper-sexualised marketing strategy, which saw bags and posters emblazoned with outrageously sexual imagery.

Some early A&F shirtless models have since become huge household names: Hollywood hunks like Channing Tatum and Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan, as well as Penn Badgley, known for Gossip Girl and Netflix thriller series You.

But the practice was consigned to the bin, along with other toxic working practices, in 2015, following the unexpected departure of CEO Mike Jeffries – who is now at the centre of a sex abuse allegation scandal.

Sam Rason – pictured with fiancée and former Love Islander Amy Hart – was once an Abercrombie & Fitch topless model

Abercrombie & Fitch used to court controversy with its hyper-sexualised marketing featuring ultra-fit models on its posters and shopping bags

Former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries unapologetically claimed his brand was ‘exclusionary’ and only for ‘good-looking’ people

Abercrombie and Fitch’s first European store opened in London in 2007 – and topless male models were the order of the day

Reply to @speelingmistake Abercrombie’s secrets exposed 10 years after. ep.4 #abercrombieandfitch #abercrombie #retailproblems #retail #exposed

During Jeffries’ tenure – who unapologetically claimed that the A&F brand was ‘exclusionary’ and only for what he saw as ‘good-looking’ people – the company was accused of a litany of discriminatory behaviour that targeted people based on their appearance and religious beliefs.

In the years since Jeffries departure – but before the new allegations came to light – former A&F models have detailed how their time with the company dented their confidence as they aspired to be the one chosen to pose outside the store.

Sam Rason was based at the brand’s London store and flew around the world to pose at store openings – having landed in the job by accident after walking in to the store following a reality TV audition.

READ MORE: Abercrombie & Fitch boss Mike Jeffries’s pad and luxury hotels around the world including Claridge’s in London ‘were used for sex parties’ with young men ‘recruited by James Jacobson – a middleman with a snakeskin patch nose’  

James Jacobson allegedly introduced himself to ‘recruits’ as a ‘middleman’ for Abercrombie & Fitch modelling opportunities – a claim he denies

The entrepreneur, engaged to Love Island star Amy, says the job made him feel like a ‘superhero’, with 100 people waiting for a photo with him at times – but it came at a cost to his own mental health.

He told Slate magazine: ‘You can’t help but measure yourself against the other guys. 

‘It did play on my mind, and that need to stay in shape has kept with me throughout my life.

‘The realization came that I had been standing in the same spot, physically, for, like, multiple years.’

Under Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch pursued a hyper-sexualised marketing strategy, adorning its shopping bags and posters with images of conventionally attractive and ultra-fit models.

This included establishing a ‘hierarchy’ of grading staff based on appearance – the existence of which has been confirmed by multiple former employees.

He told Salon magazine in 2006: ‘We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.

‘In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then 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.’

Harry Tucker, another London-based A&F topless model, said the ‘posing’ job was ‘probably the most boring job I’ve done, just standing outside with your top off’.

He told Slate: ‘It’s just a bit demoralizing, isn’t it? I’d literally rather dig a hole. At least then you’re doing something.

‘It’s very shallow. They used to employee people based on their looks, and anyone who wasn’t as good looking went up and stocked shelves in the warehouse. 

‘I think the world we live in is superficial enough as it is, without that.’

Joris Lechene, who moved to London in 2011 and worked as a ‘model’ on the shop floor, has recently explained how the hierarchy worked in practice.

In videos posted on TikTok, he said the job involved being a ‘walking mannequin’ on the shop floor, occasionally helping to tidy up. 

However he told his followers that the role of shop maintenance was largely left to staff deemed to be less attractive.

Former Abercrombie & Fitch staff claim that the shops used to grade people based on appearance – giving them roles based on their attractiveness

Changing rooms at the Abercrombie & Fitch shop in Savile Row, which closed in 2020, as seen in 2007. Hyper-sexualised marketing was the norm at the company’s peak

Jamie Dornan, now best known for his role in the Fifty Shades of Grey films, once modelled for Abercrombie & Fitch

Channing Tatum, known for his role in the Magic Mike films, got an early start modelling for Abercrombie & Fitch before turning to acting

Samantha Elauf (right, with her mother Madja) took Abercrombie & Fitch to the Supreme Court in the US after it refused to employ her while wearing her headscarf

He said: ‘I was hired as what they called a “model”, but…that only meant I was a walking mannequin on the shop floor.

‘The actual folding and the tidying was done by the “impacts”. You’d get hired as an impact if you were considered as not quite good-looking enough looking to be a model but good-looking enough to be seen by the customers.

‘Then you had the “visuals”. They weren’t supposed to spend much time on the shop floor. Most of their job would happen backstage as they would look after our uniforms and anything that was not for sale.

‘Then you have the “stock room impacts”. By now, you’ve got the gist of the Abercrombie beauty hierarchy – so you’ve probably guessed how it was determined that you should work in the stock room.’

READ MORE: Tearful guest at event hosted by ex-Abercrombie & Fitch boss Mike Jeffries tells BBC Panorama he believes he was ‘drugged and raped’ there before contracting HIV virus 

One of the men, who called himself Alex to protect his family, told how he believed it was likely he contracted HIV after being drug raped at one of the occasions

Abercrombie’s practice of grading staff is common knowledge – and landed the company in hot water in 2009 after it consigned a worker with one arm to the stockroom.

Riam Dean, who was 22 at the time, took the company to an employment tribunal after claiming she was being hidden in the stockroom because her prosthetic arm didn’t fit with its ‘look’ policy.

Ms Dean, who was born without her left forearm, was initially told she could wear a cardigan to disguise the join between her upper arm and her prosthetic – but shop bosses later reneged on the decision.

A tribunal awarded her almost £9,000 in compensation in 2009, having ruled that she was wrongfully dismissed.

Elsewhere, A&F has lost cases against other workers who said they had been discriminated against on unlawful grounds.

In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Samantha Elauf, a 17-year-old Muslim woman who had applied for a job with A&F only to allegedly be told that her headscarf violated the company’s ‘look’ policy.

The company refused to employ her, Ms Elauf said, because it didn’t allow staff to wear ‘hats’. The Supreme Court voted 8-1 in her favour.

And a leaked email from management at the fashion brand’s store in Milan in 2012 suggested that staff who failed to greet customers correctly would be forced to do push-ups as a punishment.

Jeffries is alleged to have used a middleman with a distinctive snakeskin patch on his nose to recruit young men for sex parties across the world between 2009 and 2015.

A BBC Panorama investigation broadcast on Monday heard from men who claimed they had been coerced into sexual activity with promises of getting A&F modelling contracts.

Abercrombie & Fitch says it is ‘appalled and disgusted’ by the allegations, and there is no suggestion that the company had previously been aware of the claims levied against its former boss.

Since Jeffries left the company in 2014, the firm also says it has tidied up its employment practices.

It ditched the topless models outside its stores in 2015, and has since loosened the policies it has on in-store staff.

It told the BBC on Monday that it has also ordered an investigation into Jeffries’ alleged behaviour during the time he was running the brand.

A statement added that new leadership since Mr Jeffries’ departure has transformed the company into ‘the values-driven organization it is today’, adding that it has ‘zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind’.

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