Abercrombie and Fitch Scandal: Who’s Featured In The Panorama Documentary?

Who is Mike Jeffries? The former Abercrombie CEO at the centre of the scandal

Mike Jeffries was the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation

by Nikki Peach |
Updated on

**TW: This article contains descriptions of sexual acts that some readers may find troubling.
On Monday 2 October, BBC One aired a special episode of Panorama – the subject of which was not revealed until the day the documentary was released. Over a two year period, a team of BBC journalists has been investigating the alleged exploitation of aspiring and employed Abercrombie & Fitch models at sex events hosted by the company's then CEO, Mike Jeffries.

The episode featured two interviewees who were willing to speak about their alleged experiences on camera, as well as six others who chose to remain anonymous. While the toxic culture at Abercrombie & Fitch following the arrival of Mike Jeffries was explored by Netflix in White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch – Mike Jeffries' reported sex parties and exploitation of male employees have not been the focus until now.

Grazia has rigorously attempted to contact Mike Jeffries, Matthew Smith and James Jacobson - all of whom are accused of misconduct - for comment, but was not able to reach them.

Who is Mike Jeffries?

Mike Jeffries is an American businessman who was CEO of clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch from 1992 to 2014. While working at the clothing brand, Abercrombie & Fitch went from making a loss of $25m a year to becoming a lifestyle brand grossing $2bn yearly by 2006. According to the Panorama investigation, at the peak of Abercrombie's success, Mike Jeffries was earning more than $71m a year.

But the success of the business came at a cost and the CEO eventually received a great deal of criticism - and a class action was launched - for discriminating against staff based on their race. The brand became known as "sex meets Ivy League" and was marketed at a certain type of customer.

In the documentary, it was alleged that Jeffries abused his power over the course of his tenure and allegedly had a team of people screen aspiring models before inviting them to sex parties at his house where they were coerced into performing sexual acts on him and his partner. He did not respond to the BBC's repeated requests for comment. Grazia exhaustively attempted to reach Mike Jeffries for comment, but was not able to do so.

Mike Jeffries young

Mike Jeffries is currently 79 years old, but was in his fifties when he took over as CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.

The BBC spoke to 12 men who described attending or organising events involving sex acts run for Mike Jeffries and his British partner Matthew Smith, 60, between 2009 and 2015.

Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, and Bruce Weber (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic for Paul Wilmot Communications)

Mike Jeffries now

In 2014, Mike Jeffries stepped down following a decline in sales and left with a retirement package valued at around $25m (£20.5m), according to company filings at the time. His decision was thought of as suspicious at the time as he left the company just before Christmas – when retail usually experiences a spike in sales.

According to Esquire, the couple now live with their three dogs in Ohio, and have all but removed themselves from the public eye.

Mike Jeffries net worth

The former Abercrombie & Fitch has a reported net worth of $300m.

Who is Matthew Smith?

Matthew Smith is Mike Jeffries' partner. The BBC reported that there had long been concerns about the unofficial influence of Matthew Smith within the wider company. The BBC broadcast allegations that the couple 'exploited young adult men for sex at events hosted by Jeffries in his New York residences and luxurious hotels around the world, including in London, Paris, Venice, and Marrakesh'.

The broadcaster obtained documents - including emails, flight tickets and detailed travel itineraries - that supported key points of the men's accounts. Grazia thoroughly attempted to reach Matthew Smith for comment, but was not able to do so

'Half the men who told the BBC about their recruitment alleged they had been initially misled about the nature of the events or not told sex was involved,' the BBC reports. 'Others said they understood the events would be sexual, but not exactly what was expected of them. All were paid.'

Where was Mike Jeffries and Matthew Smith’s House?

The couple's alleged sex parties, which were said to be meticulously organised, took place at their expansive and remote house in the Hamptons on New York's Long Island. They recently sold their home in the Hamptons for $29m (£24million).

Who is James Jacobson?

James Jacobson, or 'Jim Jacobson', was the man who reportedly recruited aspiring Abercrombie models and 'met' them to check if they were suitable to invite to Mike and Matthew's house in the Hamptons. According to the two alleged victims who spoke on camera in the Panorama documentary, they were coerced into performing sexual acts on James first.

Jacobson said in a statement through his lawyer that he took offence at the suggestion of “any coercive, deceptive or forceful behaviour on my part” and had “no knowledge of any such conduct by others”.

“Any encounter I had was fully consensual,” he said. “Everyone I came into contact with who attended these events went in with their eyes wide open.” Grazia attempted to reach James Jacobson for further comment, but was not able to do so.

James Jacobson's nose

Both men were able to identify James or 'Jim' immediately because of his nose. Apparently, due to a plastic surgery mishap, the cartilage of his nose was permanently damaged and so he wore a patch of snakeskin over the area where his nose should be.

Who is Bruce Webber?

Bruce Webber (as pictured with Mike Jeffries above) was the main photographer for the Abercrombie & Fitch brand. As part of James Jacobson's alleged technique to invite aspiring models to Mike Jeffries' house, he would promise them the chance to work with Bruce Webber and appear in the infamous Abercrombie catalogues. There is no suggestion Webber was aware of the alleged technique employed by Jacobson, or the alleged sex parties.

Bruce Webber has himself been accused of inappropriate behaviour by fifteen models. He has repeatedly denied all allegations of misconduct. In a 2018 report in the New York Times, they alleged that fifteen current and former male models who worked with Bruce Weber described a pattern of what they said was unnecessary nudity and coercive sexual behavior, often during photo shoots. 'I’m completely shocked and saddened by the outrageous claims being made against me, which I absolutely deny,' Weber responded.

Who is Sara Ziff?

Sara Ziff is a former fashion model and filmmaker who now works with the pressure group Model Alliance, which she founded. She features as an interviewee in the Panorama documentary and confirmed that, 'making it in the fashion industry is tough. And models can face exploitation'. Her aim was to explain why consenting adults can still fall prey to coercion, exploitation and assault.

Who is Barrett Pall?

Barrett Pall is one of the two alleged victims of sexual exploitation by Mike Jeffries and Matthew Smiths at events they hosted.

Barrett Pall, a former model turned life coach and activist, said he felt pressured into attending a sex event in 2011. He was 22 at the time and says he had been recruited by an older model, who received a referral fee, to be his 'replacement' for 'some sort of sexual experience' with the couple.

He said he felt obliged to comply as the older man had been supporting him financially and he felt indebted. Barrett Pall said he was told 'the further you go, the better' in terms of furthering his career prospects. He was also unable to leave once he arrived, due to lack of transportation.

He claims he was forced to perform oral sex on an older man and was groped by Mike Jeffries. 'This experience, I think it broke me,' he told Panorama. 'I think that this stole any ounce of innocence that I had left. It mentally messed me up. But with the language I now have today, I can sit here and tell you that I was taken advantage of.'

Who is David Bradberry?

David Bradberry is the other alleged victim who spoke on camera during the documentary. He was 23 in 2010, when his alleged assault took place, and was working at Abercrombie & Fitch.

He says he was recruited by Jim Jacobson and said, 'Jim made it clear to me that unless I let him perform oral sex on me, that I would not be meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries.' Jacobson has denied any wrongdoing.

'I was paralysed,' he said. 'It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance.' He said he had been made to believe 'this is where everybody gets their start'. He then remembered Jim Jacobson giving him $500 'for his time'.

He was later invited to a sex party at Mike Jeffries' house in The Hamptons, which he attended. Ahead of the event, he said Jim told him to buy an outfit with some A&F gift cards, which he said made it feel 'legitimate' and 'official'.

At the Hamptons, David Bradberry said he spoke to the couple about his aspirations to be a model. Later, he claims, Mike Jeffries held 'poppers' under his nose – a drug which can cause a strong head-rush and disorientation – and later had sex with him.

Is David Bradberry in Below Deck?

Yes, David Bradberry has since worked as an actor and has starred in Bite Marks (2011), The Hideaway (2017) and Confessions (2016). He also starred in the first season of the hit Netflix show, Below Deck.

How has Abercrombie and Fitch responded to the Panorama documentary?

Abercrombie & Fitch, the company which also owns the Hollister brand, has said it was 'appalled and disgusted' by the alleged behaviour.  It said new leadership has transformed the company into “the values-driven organisation we are today” and it has “zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind”. Fran Horowitz-Bonadies is an American businesswoman who has been CEO of the company since 2017.

Who owns Abercrombie and Fitch?

Abercrombie & Fitch is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. which is currently run by Fran Horowitz-Bonadies (CEO) and Terry Burman (non-executive chairman). It was founded in 1892 by David Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch.

What has happened to Abercrombie and Fitch share prices?

As of August, Abercrombie & Fitch shares soar 23% as retailer blows past earnings estimates, raises guidance.

Is Abercrombie and fitch still in business?

Yes, Abercrombie & Fitch is very much still in business. In 2022, there were 762 stores worldwide.

After independently reviewing the BBC"s evidence, two former US prosecutors, Brad Edwards and Elizabeth Geddes, have called for an investigation to determine whether charges for sex trafficking should be brought, after independently reviewing the BBC’s evidence.

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