Abercrombie CEO’s Eccentricities Contributed to Downfall

Mike Jeffries’s widely anticipated retirement as Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s chief executive officer brings to a close the career of an executive who’d become as well known for his eccentricities as his management chops.

For years, Jeffries, 70, was lionized for turning a purveyor of safari and camping gear into an icon of American style. But with Abercrombie struggling to reconnect with its teen customers, he became a distraction.

A shortlist of news Team Jeffries made over the years:

ON THE GULFSTREAM -- An age-discrimination lawsuit in 2012 revealed the existence of an Aircraft Standards manual dictating how the models and actors serving Jeffries on the company jet were to dress and behave. The men were to be clean-shaven and wear boxer briefs, flip-flops and a spritz of the chain’s signature cologne. Gloves were color-coded depending on the task being performed; black gloves were worn when handling silverware.

UNCOOL NEED NOT APPLY -- Last year, amid increasing scrutiny of Jeffries, the Web lit up over a 2006 interview, in which he said the chain wanted only cool, good-looking teenagers as customers and that everyone else should find somewhere else to shop. “We hire good-looking people in our stores,” Jeffries told Salon. “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.”

SUGGESTIVE POSES -- Jeffries used advertisements featuring young scantily clad models in suggestive poses. While the ads helped Abercrombie stand out from other teen chains, religious groups -- and not a few parents -- seethed.

ALIENATING MINORITIES -- Minority workers also noticed that the ads featured an almost exclusively white cast. In 2004, Abercrombie agreed to pay $40 million to black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants to settle a class-action discrimination lawsuit accusing the company of promoting whites at the expense of minorities.

In 2008, a 17-year-old Muslim girl in Oklahoma applied for a sales job with the understanding that she would be allowed to wear a hajib so long as it wasn’t black -- verboten under company policy. She wore the Muslim headscarf during a job interview and wasn’t hired. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against Abercrombie on her behalf and won. The decision was reversed last year and is being appealed. The EEOC sued Abercrombie on behalf of two other Muslim women who wore head scarves. The company agreed to pay them $71,000 and to revise its policy to allow women to wear head scarves for religious reasons.

TROUBLESOME T-SHIRTS -- In 2002, Abercrombie recalled T-shirts after complaints and protests that they featured Asian caricatures. One shirt featured a slogan that said, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White” in prominent lettering beside two smiling figures in conical hats, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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