For gay men of a certain age, the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog our answer to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, with impossibly chiseled models in ridiculously homoerotic poses. (What exactly is being advertised by two naked men in a shower?)
A&F's homo-bro aesthetic was cultivated by former CEO Mike Jeffries, who had a hand in everything from the risque advertising to the shirtless greeters standing outside stores.
"I think that what we represent sexually is healthy. It’s playful. It’s not dark. It’s not degrading," Jeffries once claimed.
"And it’s not gay, and it’s not straight... It’s not about any labels. It’s all depicting this wonderful camaraderie, friendship, and playfulness that exist in this generation."
But Jeffries stepped down in late 2014, as A&F faced major losses and a brand that had become too oversaturated.
Now, W magazine touts, "Abercrombie & Fitch is back, and with a fresh new face."
Aaron Levine, formerly of Club Monaco, was hired to elevate the brand—moving away from oversized logos and muscle tees. "For me, it’s all about the product; the fabric, fit, finish and attention to detail in everything we work on," says Levine.
That doesn't mean an end to hunky models—though they're less exposed than in years past: Alex Libby, the 23-year-old new face of Abercrombie & Fitch, wears baggy cargo shorts, henleys and windbreakers in the company's new campaign.
He sports a fuzzy beard and a tangled mass of hair he puts up in a slap-dash bun.
And he keeps his shirt on the whole time.
Perhaps most surprising for a brand that's banked on the "all-American boy" for years, Libby is British.
He had little modeling experience prior to being tapped by Levine, but has a robust social media following thanks to ample shirtless selfies and skydiving videos.
Are we ready for an Abercrombie model who drinks Guinness and claims board shorts as his favorite fashion? Let's examine the evidence.
We think we can work with this. Welcome aboard, Alex.