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The Aging of Abercrombie & Fitch

Behind the decline of Abercrombie & Fitch and the fall of its mastermind, Michael Jeffries
The Aging of Abercrombie & Fitch
Photographer: Finlay MacKay for Bloomberg Businessweek

On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, Michael Jeffries called some of the senior executives at Abercrombie & Fitch to discuss the holiday season. That was typical Jeffries. He was the creator and chief executive officer of the modern-day Abercrombie and had controlled virtually every aspect of the company for the past 22 years. He approved every piece of clothing and for a while every employee, too, including the clone army of beautiful young men who stood shirtless at store entrances. He instructed staff on how to present themselves, down to the length of their fingernails. He obsessed over the publication of catalogs filled with cavorting boys and girls that many called pornographic. For years it was sold sealed in plastic, and one had to be 18 years old to buy it. He had built an empire of cool based on preppy, well-made, expensive clothes, worn low and tight.

Jeffries, who is 70, tried to keep up appearances. He lifted weights, barefoot, in the company gym most mornings. He dyed his hair blond and regularly visited his plastic surgeon, according to former executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He wore torn Abercrombie jeans and flip-flops around the woodsy campus outside of Columbus, Ohio, though he used to put on his lucky Tod’s loafers to review the numbers every day.