Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dying 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 and across the road from the famous tailors of Savile Row. 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. Dressed in blue hooded tops and jeans, the two men gaze into each other's eyes and chat. 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 men open the doors but make no eye contact with you, looking through or above you as you pass between them. A sense of insignificance takes root as you cross the threshold. 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. He is dressed in a jacket, unzipped and bares a ripped stomach and sculpted pecs. 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 you are not welcomed. 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 are boarded up. Clothes shop is conflated with nightclub. Your ears are gratuitously assaulted by 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 their own reflection provided by large mirrors positioned around the shop. Idling your way around the shop, you cannot help but stop to contemplate the beauty of each shop assistant you pass, only to find he or she looks up at you with a warm smile, which causes you to scurry away like a dormouse. You notice how the models sidle up to one another, share a few words, smile sweetly and part with elegant touches; you imagine they are confirming attendance at some Kensington town house party planned for the evening. You think of the few friends you have, of the decidedly dogged looks of those in your social circle, and recall that whilst there are a few hours in which everything could change, 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. For the rest of your visit you will be wrestling with the Devil.

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