Today's Salon takes us inside the world of Abercrombie & Fitch's headquarters outside of Columbus to interview the company's president, Mike Jeffries. Look at the way the architecture of this internally focused world aligns with brand identity, with its suggestions of outdoorsiness and youth:
If looks could kill, everyone here would be dead. Jeffries' employees are young, painfully attractive, and exceedingly eager, and they travel around the campus on playground scooters, stopping occasionally to chill out by the bonfire that burns most days in a pit at the center of campus. The outdoorsy, summer-camp feel of the place is accentuated by a treehouse conference room, barnlike building and sheds with gridded windows, and a plethora of wooden decks and porches. But the campus also feels oddly urban -- and, at times, stark and unwelcoming. The pallid, neo-industrial two-story buildings are built around a winding cement road, reminding employees that this is a workplace, after all.
Jeffries has turned his singular focus on branding inward, re-creating himself in the image of the brand's ideal customer:
His biggest obsession, though, is realizing his singular vision of idealized all-American youth. He wants desperately to look like his target customer (the casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips. But while he can't turn back the clock, he can -- and has -- done the next best thing, creating a parallel universe of beauty and exclusivity where his attractions and obsessions have made him millions, shaped modern culture's concepts of gender, masculinity and physical beauty, and made over himself and the world in his image, leaving them both just a little more bizarre than he found them.
That is odd. But then I wonder about the greater connection between how we adorn ourselves--from clothing to facelifts--and how that resonates with how we configure our physical environment. Frank Lloyd Wright allegedly designed dresses for his clients' wives, so that they could coordinate better with the furnishings:
Wright did not aspire simply to design a house, but to create a complete environment, and he often dictated the details of the interior. He designed stained glass, fabrics, furniture, carpet and the accessories of the house. Legend has it that, in at least one case, he even designed the gowns of his client's wife.The controlling factor was seldom the wishes of the individual client, but Wright's belief that buildings stongly influence the people who inhabit them. He believed that "the architect is a molder of men, whether or not he consciously assumes the responsibility."
Below: the A&F headquarters, which won some AIA awards a few years ago (jury comments follow):
"The facility really epitomized the business trend of capturing their brand identity in their facilities," the jury remarked. "They also captured the rural Ohio farm style in their architecture, and they were very respectful of the natural environment."