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BBC report accuses former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO of exploiting men for sex

Michael S. Jeffries, then-chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, speaks at the annual National Retail Federation conference in New York on Jan. 13, 2009.
Mark Lennihan
Michael S. Jeffries, then-chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, speaks at the annual National Retail Federation conference in New York on Jan. 13, 2009.

Once a powerful central Ohio retail mogul, Mike Jeffries, the former CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, and his British partner now face allegations of exploiting men for sex.

Aninvestigation by the BBC reveals multiple men have come forward saying they were recruited for sex events hosted by Jeffries and partner Matthew Smith around the world.

Jeffries led the New Albany-based retailer from 1992 to 2014. During that time, he transformed the company into a multi-billion-dollar teen retailer by selling sex appeal, with preppy all-American shirtless male store models and provocative billboards.

BBC journalist Rihanna Croxford broke the story with the allegations against Jeffries and Smith this week. Croxford discussed her reporting in an interview with WOSU. A transcript of the interview is below.


Matthew Rand, WOSU: Before we get into these new allegations, can you paint for us a picture of who Mike Jeffries is and the fashion brand he helped build?

Rianna Croxford: I mean, Mike Jeffries is considered the modern-day founder of Abercrombie and Fitch. He invented brands like Hollister and Gilly Hicks, and he is very much the man who turned A&F from a failing heritage outfitter into a multibillion-dollar teen sensation.

His vision was very much sex sells. It was all about provocative billboards and shirtless male store models, and he ran A&F for 22 years.

Back then, he was once one of America's highest-paid execs. But he was also quite a controversial figure who, during his tenure, came under criticism for claims of discrimination. There were concerns about his lavish expenses and that all sort of built up to him stepping down. Then quite suddenly, at the end of 2014.

Matthew Rand, WOSU: These allegations certainly are shocking. Can you flesh out some of the details and when these crimes, these alleged crimes, were said to have happened?

Rianna Croxford: Yeah. So I've uncovered for the first time allegations that Mike Jeffries and his British partner, Matthew Smith, exploited young men for sex at events they hosted at their homes in New York, as well as around the world, including here in England, in France, in Italy, and also in Morocco, in North Africa.

I've spoken to eight men who described attending these events. I contacted all of them independently and they all talked about having to meet this middleman called Jim Jacobson first, who would almost proposition or sexually audition them before referring them on to Mr. Jefferies.

And half the men I spoke with said that they were initially misled about the nature of the events or weren't told that sex would be required, while others did know sex may be involved, but not the specifics. And for some of them, they believed that this could lead to the possibility of modeling opportunities with the brand.

Matthew Rand, WOSU: What, if anything, have Jefferies or Smith had to say about these allegations against them?

Rianna Croxford: We repeatedly contacted Mr. Jefferies and Mr. Smith gosh over several weeks. They have not responded to us.

But their middleman, Mr. Jacobson, told us that any encounters he had were fully consensual, that they weren't coercive, and that he had no recollection of making modeling opportunities. He said that everyone who he came into contact with who attended these events went in with their eyes wide open.

Matthew Rand, WOSU And we do want to stress these are allegations. They have not been substantiated, at least not in any sort of criminal court. But what sort of criminal charges, if anything, could they be facing as a result of this?

Rianna Croxford: Yeah, they are certainly allegations of exploitation.

We were able to evidence what was described as a well-oiled machine. I do have flight tickets, event itineraries emails and other documents supporting that there was some sort of operation being run at this time.

But we showed our evidence, the documents, and the testimony from the men to two former federal prosecutors who have called for a legal investigation to determine whether these allegations could amount to sex trafficking.

Matthew Rand, WOSU And finally, we've reached out to Abercrombie and Fitch about the allegations.

A company spokesperson said in a statement, they are, "appalled and disgusted" by the claims against Jeffries, noting that his employment with the company ended in 2014.

They went on to say the company has, "zero tolerance for abuse, harassment, or discrimination of any kind." And they added that since the report, the company has engaged an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the issues raised.

I'm curious, just based on your reporting, what do you make of the company's handling of this situation?

Rianna Croxford: I mean, we did go to Abercrombie and Fitch quite a few weeks ago. They've told us the exact same thing that they are appalled by the allegations, that they have a new executive leadership team that they have significantly rebranded, and that they have zero tolerance for abuse, discrimination, or harassment of any kind.

Matthew Rand, WOSU I've been speaking with Rihanna Croxford, an investigations correspondent at the BBC, about her story involving exploitation allegations against ex Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. Thanks again.

Rianna Croxford: Thanks for having me.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.