Gray Smith, a 19-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was chosen based for the Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly, among other things, on his high school prom picture. "This is one of those things you don't expect to happen in the real world," says the 6-1 hazel-eyed blond.
The Abercrombie & Fitch clothing catalog - called the A&F Quarterly - is a magazine-style catalog that includes clothing for sale as well as articles on topics such as "cool summer internships." The $6 book is available in Abercrombie stores and via subscription.
In the past, issues have included sex tips from a porn star, cocktail recipes, and game suggestions like Naked Twister. Two female models in the summer 2000 issue are shown in skimpy bikinis and a T-shirt, pulling down the bikini briefs of a male model. Another scene depicts four young women surrounding a man at the beach. His pants are unzipped and pulled down to his thighs, revealing his red underwear.
Such content has sparked parental protests in numerous states, including Massachusetts. As a result, Abercrombie - based in Reynoldsburg, Ohio - began carding catalog buyers in stores nationwide last November, requiring them to prove with a photo ID that they are at least 18 years old.
This kind of restriction has made the retailer only that much more appealing to some teens. According to an April study by Teenage Research Unlimited Inc., a Northbrook, Ill., marketing research firm, Abercrombie is rated the second-"coolest" brand (after Nike) among 12- to 19-year-olds surveyed.
From a modeling perspective, appearing in such a hot book can only boost one's career, especially when the photographer is Weber. "It's like the ultimate," says Suzy Marden, director of Click Models Boston. "Everyone who sees that catalog all over the nation will see these kids. This is a biggie."
Ironically, Smith, an Atlanta native, could care less about career possibilities or any controversy surrounding the fall A&F, which will be released in July. He's more concerned about declaring a major at Harvard. "I don't see much future in a career as a famous model," he says. "I wouldn't want a career where you're too old at 27. . . . I want to start my own company and move back to Atlanta."
Smith, a self-described poor college student, is modeling only for the pocket change, he says. He's not into fashion, and he never shops. Instead, he waits for his family to give him clothing, such as jeans and Polo shirts, as gifts. Although he likes Abercrombie's style, he says the brand is too expensive for his budget. "I usually wear whatever I can find on the floor that's clean," he says.
Smith fell into modeling as a fluke, after he accompanied a friend to pick up a paycheck at Click and the agency recruited him.
His first job was in March, posing as a delivery man for the Internet shopping service ShopLink.com. He then appeared in a spring clothing catalog for New Hampshire-based retailer Poore Simon's. In April, Click asked him to attend a casting for Abercrombie at the Sheraton Hotel. More than 60 potential models showed up, but he got the slot. Says Smith, who used to work at Abercrombie as a sales clerk in high school, "I never expected this to happen."
Kelly Donovan, a female model, arrived at the Abercrombie shoot two days before Smith. For her first assignment, she was asked - of all things - to play basketball with another woman against four young men. Her outfit? Something really familiar. Gray sweat pants, a yellow T-shirt, and sneakers. "My hair was in a ponytail and I had no makeup on," she recalls.
Later, Donovan participated in a jazz club scene where she danced in a red wool plaid dress. "Bruce made me dance by myself in front of everyone."
On her second day, Donovan met a group of about 15 other models in her Manhattan hotel lobby at 6 a.m. to take a bus to Princeton University in New Jersey. Donovan's role for this campus scene was to "jump a lot. Throw books up in the air, throw basketballs. They brought in three golden retriever puppies and we played with them. It was more acting than posing."
On her third day of work, Donovan met Smith. The two spent more than nine hours waiting at a Harlem nightclub with about 25 other models for their chance to appear in a college party scene. "My role was to just talk, standing up, with a couple of kids. I had a glass of juice in my hand," says Donovan.
Smith says his assignment was to stand behind two young men arm-wrestling at a table, cheering them on. He wore a red T-shirt and blue-and-white Hawaiian-print shorts. In another scene, he stood at a bar drinking soda and tossing popcorn in his mouth. "Once he started taking pictures, I got real comfortable with it," says Smith, who was paid $500 for a day's work.
Smith's second scene was a cocktail party at a jazz club where he sat on a bed surrounded by several women. He says it's "strange" that the company placed a bed in the scene, but he didn't question it. "We were all just talking, drinking fake cocktails. . . . Our conversation was `Where are you from? What do you do?' It was kind of surreal."
At home, discomfort
Donovan's and Smith's mothers weren't thrilled about their children appearing in the catalog. Says Donna Smith, who owns an art store in an Atanta suburb, "We were stockholders" in Abercrombie & Fitch. "We sold the stock when we saw the catalog a couple of years ago. We haven't stepped foot in the store since. . . . It bothers me that they promote underage drinking and, in the current climate of AIDS, promiscuity."
Says Nancy Donovan, a social worker in Falmouth, "I think the catalog is very sexualized. I said to Kell, `Your grandfather will be looking at this. You need to realize that what you do impacts your family.' "
Both parents stress that they trust their children and give them freedom to do what they want. Gray is "completely an adult," says Donna. "We don't tell him what to do at this point." Says Nancy, "We've warned [Kelly]. You hope that what you've been teaching her has taken hold."
For his part, Gray is preparing to return to Atlanta during Harvard's summer break, and plans to work for the local Click office. "It's easy money," he says. Still, come September, Gray promises he'll be back at Harvard. "I'd probably like being a famous model for a week or a month. But I don't want that life. I want to start my own business in school, some sort of Internet consumer service."