"Aspirationalism" Is Just Code For Racism, Conde Nast

Hey guys! More big news! Dodai and Anna have left us. No one is really talking to me. The new owners say they want me to stay, they just want to "edit" me a bit, and by "edit," they are saying, they mean more than my copy. "You may have to shower," is how this Daphne woman put it. Smell ya later, Daph! So anyway, Dodai and Anna were not a "good fit." No seriously, people actually do actually say that, as she did, on a conference call just now. So here is my theory: they were fired because they are black. There is a vain side of me that briefly wondered whether Conde saw in my exquisite internet photos the potential for Total Fashion Aspirationalism. They could give me a makeover, like in the movies! And then I could write a brutally honest tell-all about the process; and that could be a movie! And I would get rich, because the movie would have an excellent makeover montage!

The truth is that they are keeping me on because they know I am a "loose cannon" and will get myself fired for cause and that Dodai and Anna, being black, will have a fully reasonable case for a race discrimination suit, and they are pre-empting that potentiality with a generous severance package and, one imagines, seats on all Conde-sponsored "Our Hairstyles, Ourselves" panels forever and ever in perpetuity. And Dodai and I will laugh about it and go about our business because the universe is absurd that way. So I am going to make the case for them, since this is my last chance and their logins have been deleted from the system: America is not really a traditionally classist country but it is a traditionally "racist" country, and that racism masquerades as classism in the pages of all the Conde Nast magazines, where we don't see it as being so noxious because "classism" is not endemic here, it seems like some exotic foreign import a la Anna Wintour, and anyway, if you are not black you don't have to think about any of this stuff every day, because enough black people have confronted the obstacles that it feels like progress, and maybe, eventually, it will be.

Barack Obama is powerful and strong and visually charismatic enough to chip away at the likes of Vogue, and the imagery that forms the foundation of our consciousness will begin to salve the wounds to the national soul that has been forged by an economy that has overvalued the superficial for entirely too long. Economic realities beget cultural and societal ones. Slavery was just cheap labor, right? What's more American than cheap labor?

I began hating fashion when I covered retail at the Wall Street Journal and began learning about the hiring practices of Abercrombie & Fitch. Sometime in the early nineties Abercrombie had been recast — under the leadership of the Limited Brands and a bizarre Ralph Lauren clone named Mike Jeffries — as an "aspirational" brand appealing to middle-class mallgoing teenagers, and the centerpiece of this strategy was turning every kid who worked there into a "walking mannequin" for the brand. At first, this was organic; the hot frat boys they recruited found it easy to convince their lifeguard chick ex-girlfriends to come work too. But retail is a drag, and the company was growing quickly, so rules and procedures needed to be established. Every store was given a "target school" — a college university expected to supply some quota of students to the stores. Only Georgetown students could staff the Georgetown store, for instance; George Washington students were forced to take the Metro down to the less-coveted Pentagon City location, etc. etc. Management further isolated fraternities, sororities and sports teams at the schools for recruitment to work at the stores, and sent forth their most attractive and charming brand representatives to woo them in. The idea was that the stores would reflect some sort of idealized form of real life, and they did.

But as the chain continued to grow, exceptions needed to be made. Certain tony prep schools were targeted for recruitment. Exceptionally-attractive staffers were allowed work at the stores of their choosing. Local modeling agencies were sometimes tapped to staff the coveted positions at the front of each store. Target school quotas could be ignored so long as each store was hot enough.

But each store was never hot enough. District managers pressured by regional managers pressured by the constant pressure for increased profits assured to that. Weekly, they would monitor the stores, admonishing the manager for allowing Jeremy to work the register in last month's clothes, or letting Rick wear white shoes, or allowing Melanie to wear red lipstick when that wasn't "brand-positive," or ever hiring Melanie in the first place because, at 130 pounds she was horrifically obese. Uglies and fatties and people who didn't "get it" were cast out; new kids came in; the stores devolved into constant chaos and somewhere in the middle of the constant hire-purge-hire cycle a few too many minorities slipped in.

And that is when things really got nasty. Where the few token black people who had worked at Abercrombie in the nineties felt generally comfortable with the culture, blatant, stomach-churning racism gradually supplanted whatever the company's "culture" ever was supposed to be. In my investigation — and you must understand, as a 24-year-old reporter I took my "investigation" of Abercrombie & Fitch very seriously and interviewed literally hundreds of employees — a regional manager told me the VP of stores had referred to a Latina employee in a Texas store as "the maid," and his South Street Seaport store as "the Asian Invasion" and finally, a New Jersey store with an offensive quantity of black employees as "The Jungle."

Now, if I may offer you the chance to link this thing with that thing and chuckle at the irony, ha ha ha.

I got fired — well, resigned — before I could write that story for the Journal. It all happened because I emailed a copy of the draft to a "source," for fact-checking, and then he emailed it to someone else, and emailed it to someone else, and eventually it made its way into the hands of the Crisis Communications PR firm Abercrombie had hired to deal with all these race discrimination charges. That is a big no-no, chiefly because Wall Street Journal stories are considered tradeable information, which I wasn't really thinking about because I was too worried about getting my facts right and avoiding an unfair association with another sloppy young recently disgraced newspaper reporter named Jayson Blair, even though I, being white, was not an affirmative action hire like Jayson Blair, but anyway my career might have survived if not for the taint of Jayson Blair, but as it was the story never ran and I left newspaper journalism.

The coloreds eventually got some reparations from Abercrombie & Fitch, in the form of a $50 million cash settlement. I was disappointed. $50 million is a lot for a race-discrimination lawsuit, but Abercrombie makes a 20% operating on nearly three and a quarter billion dollars in annual sales, thanks to its still-potent cocktail of "aspirationalism" and sweatshop labor. I wanted "It's a jungle in there" on TV somehow. Talk to suburban high school students sometime; everyone knows someone who got fired from Abercrombie. From their dumbshit $6 an hour job at Abercrombie where they were required to spend the entirety of every paycheck on the latest outfits just to keep the job in the first place. It's the odd business story that could have captivated the nation's youth, you know? It's a business story that offered a pretty neat metaphor for the kind of Orwellian perils of allowing the American economy to become addicted to the satisfaction of manufactured desires and false, immediate wants. Of course, I can name about ninety other case studies that could do the same thing, at least one or two involving Conde Nast publications, but I don't work in journalism anymore, because I made a stupid slip of the keystroke and hit "send" on something without thinking, and come to think of it, I probably shouldn't be telling you this story since the terms of my resignation from the Journal were that I wasn't required to, that I left on my own volition, but the difference between losing my job five years ago and losing it now is that I have done it already, and I really don't give a shit. So fire me, Conde Nast motherfuckers! There is no more effective diet strategy than being POOR.