|ROCK AND A HARD PLACE WITH A&F QUARTERLY'S SAVAS ABADSIDIS.|
A&F Quarterly, the magazine/catalog from Abercrombie & Fitch, closed its doors on Dec. 9 after its Christmas issue enraged the National Coalition of the Protection of Children and Families. Parents all over America cheered -- their kids were safe from the dirty, dirty pictures. For this was not the first time the quarterly magazine faced scrutiny from special interest groups. Dozens of family oriented coalitions, M.A.D.D., and Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs have pilloried Abercrombie & Fitch through the years for the highly suggestive (read: nekkid) images in its ad campaigns and quarterly magazines.
The editor in charge of the A&F Quarterly was Savas Abadsidis. (It's pronounced "A-bad-seed-is." Yes, really.) Abadsidis spent 8 years with A&F starting out as a wee assistant to creative director Sam Shahid. And now that's all over.
Since the shutdown, Abasidis has been trying to regroup and start a new publication. The exact details about his new publication are still in the works, but he said it will embody the "voice and spirit" of A&F Quarterly, but not the clothing. In his first full-length interview since his dismissal from A&F, Abadsidis went commando and agreed to participate in the journalistic shish-kebab that is Rock and a Hard Place. Makes sense, doesn't it?
BT: So, two months ago I'm looking through the A&F Quarterly for a Christmas present for my 12-year-old niece -- a nice little hat or one of those long-sleeve t-shirts -- and before I can even get to the clothes section I have to sift through a bunch of half-nude boys making out with someone wearing a moose costume. Honestly, Savas. What the HELL is wrong with you?
SA: Our market was college age students 18-to-22 and younger-ish people in their early-to-mid 20s. The image was just s'posed to be fun and adventurous. I think that our generation has been exposed to so much overkill in terms of porn, profanity and violence and I like to think that we did something that was suggestive, but not pornographic and healthy and not violent. I think we portrayed a real sexual egalitarianism in the images... we also tried to be aspirational, intelligent and irreverent in our editorial and the copy we ran with the pictures. My favorite was the last back-to-school issue where we had Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian psychoanalytical Marxist philosopher, write commentary over the Bruce Weber images.
BT: Did you just namedrop Slavoj Zizek? I thought so Anyway, did you get canned because of the controversy surrounding these pics? What was that meeting like?
SA: There was no meeting. I mean it sucked. The circumstances at the end were ridiculous. There was an awful lot of pressure from a number of conservative Christian groups who routinely attacked members of the board of directors, the CEO and the Creative Director... culminating in a series of ads that ran in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, you know, I guess it got to be too much.
You know, personally, this was an outgrowth of my first job, so it really sucked, it was like my home you know? It was the greatest job on Earth, I learned a ton and hopefully I can keep the momentum.
BT: Did you try to model A&F Quarterly after any magazine? Playboy? Maxim? Details?
SA: Early Playboy and Esquire during the 50s under Arnold Gingrich. Probably the greatest editor of a men's magazine ever. I'm also a huge fan of David Remnick and Graydon Carter. With a dash of Field and Stream, albeit with nude coeds frolicking in said stream and/or field.
BT: Do you think Abercrombie & Fitch has cool clothes? Do you wear them? Do you think A&F Quarterly has single-handedly given the world a newer, younger, more suburban generation of sluts?
SA: I sure hope so. And I am addicted to their cargo pants... I have so much stuff that I take with me everywhere I can't wear anything else. What other pants let you carry a notepad, pen, wallet, cellphone, Gameboy, checkbook and who knows what else?
BT: Do you think you did anything wrong? Do you look back at the magazine now and say "Hey, I did everything I wanted to do here..." or do you say "Hey, maybe a simulated orgy by a campfire isn't the best way to sell cargo pants to teenagers?"
SA: No. The fact of the matter is there were no simulated orgies. I think the pics were really sexy, fun and healthy images. The worst thing we did was make boys feel insecure about their bodies and it should have been more diverse but I had no control over that aspect. I wish we had a chance to print the spring break issue. It was really awesome. We shot the whole thing in Rome.
BT: Let's see. A&F Quarterly, plus Spring Break Issue, plus Rome -- I'm picturing a naked Italian kid with his private parts covered in marinara doing a body shot off the Pope. The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families started a "Stop A&F" campaign a couple years ago. They seem like a feisty bunch. What's the worse piece of propaganda/hatemail/death threat that you received from that crew?
SA: We received numerous phone calls accusing us of being a bunch of "queer faggot hustlers who ought to be ashamed of ourselves...." to which I replied "wow that was better than Ms.Cleo."
I thought the controversy was overblown and ridiculous... and I think most people did... when my grandmother , who's completely old-fashioned religious and conservative, thinks it was overblown... I mean what do you say?!
BT: Hmm. I don't know. Take your pants off grandma? How about NAMBLA? I'm sure they were big fans. Ever communicate with NAMBLA? You're not a member are you...?
SA: I've been late on my dues...so no. It's very exclusive.
BT: Would you rather join NAMBLA or participate in a campfire orgy with three dudes wearing Structure turtlenecks?
SA: NAMBLA. Structure, ecch!
BT: Well, what was the goal of A&F Quarterly? Was it to sell clothes? Or were you really trying to make the magazine a culture of its own?
SA: A little bit of both. A wise man named David Keeps once complimented the Quarterly as being corporate sponsored subversiveness. Of course the goal was to sell clothes, but it was more than that... I think we really tried to tap the rebellious spirit of being young and on fire... excited by life and pedantically selling clothes to such a fickle market like college students would never work in a traditional way.
BT: Did you feel like you had any allies in the media during the controversy? Was it tough to get people to listen to your reasoning behind the quarterly without them being judgmental? You know, like, was it tough to convince people you weren't corrupting children?
SA: I did have some allies. Most of my friends who worked in the media and/or Hollywood were amazed at the amount of controversy. They also reiterated that it was becoming more and more pervasive. Look at a company like Wal-Mart, which controls some obscene percentage of the magazine racks in America and essentially owns and edits virtually every magazine. I dunno. I find that disturbing. I also think people are a lot more (and kids too) sophisticated than people realize. I don't want these people telling me or, more accurately, precluding me, from seeing what they don't want me to see.
And the only children I have managed to corrupt are the few I've dated.
BT: Ick. Puke.