A Psychological Death at Abercrombie and Fitch

A Psychological Death at Abercrombie and Fitch

 

The Abercrombie & Fitch store on Savile Row, London, offers a disconcerting experience, a psychological death. The store is located in a Georgian mansion on a street corner in Mayfair, a stone’s throw from the Royal Academy of Arts, across the road from the tailors of Savile Row. As you approach the entrance, although you may not realise it, you make a pact with the Devil, deigning to play a game you are destined to loose. The mansion has no signage or shop front, so the two young men stationed outside, employed to open the front doors for customers, look, on first sight, as if they were doing security for a private party. A sense of insignificance takes root as you approach the threshold. Dressed in blue hooded tops and jeans, the two men gaze at each other and chat. They open the doors as you approach but make no eye contact with you, looking through or above as you pass between them. Inside the double doors, at the back of a large cloakroom, a fresh-faced young man, possibly in his teens, is looking awkward and abashed in equal measures. Dressed in an unzipped jacket, he bares a ripped stomach and sculpted pecs. Stricken but also affronted by this pornography you recoil but not wanting to appear affected you steady yourself and observe the man inserting himself amongst several girlfriends, all of whom pose for a photo taken by a female employee with a polaroid camera. Aware that you have neither the genes nor the gym membership to attain such a figure, nor the quality of meat hanging from your frame to be invited into such a gathering, you begin to feel unwelcome. Nevertheless, a competing need not to be defeated and a perverse sense of adventure propels you onwards. Into the shop proper and your eyes experience a blackout; no natural light is let in, the windows boarded up. Clothes shop is conflated with nightclub. Your ears are gratuitously assaulted with pounding dance music. Low-level lighting illuminates the clothes, focusing your attention. Queues for the changing rooms snake across the floor. It can take up to forty-five minutes to try your garment on. On the first floor, which overlooks the ground floor, two employees are stood against a balcony, engaged in faux dancing, smiling and having fun. One of them, as instructed, flashes you a smile. The staff are so beautiful, that if you too are stood by the balcony when receiving such a smile, you might well fall off it. Beautiful people attract beautiful people, angel faced customers step slowly in this low light environment, peering softly and searchingly into the reflections provided by large mirrors. Idling your way around, you are consistently arrested by the sexual appeal of each of the numerous shop assistants, referred to as models by A&F. No sooner do you stop to furtively contemplate a model, than you find she has pre-empted your behaviour, and is flashing you a warm but pitiful smile, which causes you to scurry away like a dormouse. The preppy self-assuredness of the models means they seem untouchable, invulnerable. You notice how they sidle up to one another, smile sweetly at each other, share a few words, and part with elegant touches. You imagine they are confirming attendance at some Kensington town house party that they’ve all been invited to. You think of the few friends you have, of the decidedly dogged looks of those in your social circle, and recall that you have, up to now, been invited to a grand total of no parties for the evening. Suffering, you try to protect yourself by denigrating physical appearance as a superficial phenomenon, but the sickening laughter, which hangs in the air of Abercrombie & Fitch, like a mist, reminds you of your Faustian pact. Until the mist clears, until you breathe the cold air of Burlington Gardens once again, you will remain wrestling with the Devil.

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