Soapbox: 9th September, 2008

Abercrombie and Fitch, the modern-day Hades, writes Seán Mulvey.America is a scary, unsettling place. The ‘Land of the Free’ is of course actually the ‘Land of the bat-shit Crazy’.Sports teams are seemingly designated names apparently pre-determined by 8-year-olds, and a pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro-death penalty religious sell-out is viewed a left-wing presidential candidate.Yet from sea-to-shining-sea it doesn’t get much more unsettling than the famous Abercrombie and Fitch stores.Like some sort of transatlantic nirvana for dullards, the stores have become the cultural highlight of any sojourn stateside for post-pubescent girls and purveyors of overpriced and over-branded tat.Flanking the store is a veritable army of gormless consumers awaiting entry; squealing idiot girls, the mothers pretending they are chaperones, secretly eyeing one of the numerous pictures of semi-naked teenage boys and the morose fathers, whose holiday has been interrupted by this ridiculous excursion.If waiting in line with such a motley crew of morons isn’t bad enough, the real fun doesn’t even begin until you reach the store itself.Because of the large crowds (and no doubt to increase the anticipation amongst their customers, though waving something shiny would have had the same effect) entry is curtailed by a one-in-one-out system overseen by bare-chested, overly preened, and scarily muscley male model- Like a ‘ripped’ version of Cerberus, the three-headed hound which guarded the gates of Hades, only more disturbing.In such a situation the standard procedure is to avoid eye contact at all costs. No such luck here. Instead the half naked freak-boy leers closer, practically taking an eye out with his nipple.“Hey guys, what’s happening?” Fuck off, that’s what’s happening, and put a shirt on before you address me, son.The entire shop is clad in a bizarre dark light, which disorientates and confuses, giving the impression of hacking through the Vietnamese jungle, waiting to be ambushed at any moment.Ambushed you are, at every turn another preposterously pretty assistant will verbally assault you “Hiya!!!” “Hey, how are you today?” “You have to try our sexy new shorts!” No, I really haven’t.The labyrinthine layout of the shop itself makes a quick escape almost impossible. The latest Jack Johnson ‘music’ blares in to your head at unfathomable decibels, slowing down even the most desperate escapee, whilst every breath you take is one part air, two parts A&F perfume.Like mustard gas over the fields of the Somme it’s all encompassing and there’s no escape, you can practically see it floating terrifyingly in the air.Eventually though you will glimpse a chink of light permeating the darkness and charge for the exit. When you do emerge, stinking of that odious perfume, your eyes readjusting to the light, there’s yet one more obstacle.Our semi-naked freak decides to strike up a friendship once more; “Hey, hope you guys enjoyed it. Have a spectacular day”, his words ringing in the ears as you stumble as far away from A&F as you can get.Still, at least I got some totally sexy shorts.