Abercrombie & Fitch | Losing their Pants & Cool at the Mall

Abercrombie & Fitch


Seems that Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t recession-proof either, as kids (and parents) are turning to ‘like’ brands at a price, and newer streetwear & fashion brands for more up-to-date looks.  The Bruce Weber homoerotic photography and overpowering scents pumped through the store may have finally played itself out too.   The store environment was so overdone it felt like a gay club, and Jeffries was stuck on an aesthetic that never evolved–  it seems to have finally stagnated.  

In terms of product & presentation, A&F is the epitome of a one trick pony with little innovation in product or presentation over the years– and the pony ride just might be over.  Someone I knew used to say– “when you’re coasting, you’re actually going downhill,” and this seems to be the case with A&F–they’ve coasted for too long.  American Eagle, Aeropostale, etc. are now eating their lunch as the kid who fell in love with A&F years ago has moved on, and the new kid has either traded down or is more forward.

Either way, they’re failing to see what all the fuss is about.  Ironically, Hollister may also have added to the downfall through cannibalization– as the two brands are fairly interchangeable, with Hollister being sharper on price.  A good recession exposes all your weaknesses, and A& F is feeling it hard.


abercrombie & fitch

From The New York Times–

At the entrance to almost every shopping mall in the country, you will find a directory that, if you are spatially coordinated, will give you an approximate lay of the land. You can gauge the distance fromAbercrombie & Fitch to its younger-skewing cousin, Hollister, or its older cousin, Ruehl, and find the way to their closest competitors in the teenager and young adult category, Aéropostale and American Eagle Outfitters.

But you will be no closer to discerning what drives the modern youth from one store to the next; what differentiates one’s frayed cargo shorts from another’s; or why one of them, Abercrombie, is facing a consumer revolt, while others are paradoxically upbeat. A clue: It has to do with price.

This spring, spending by teenagers, a closely studied but rarely understood segment of the population, is off by 14 percent, a direct reflection of the economy, according to a report this month by the investment bank Piper Jaffray. And that is having a profound effect on an already unraveling mall culture, where deep discounters and stores known for heavy promotions are suddenly the popular destinations and aspirational brands are struggling to fit in.

Teenagers are noticing. “Labels are becoming less and less of a priority for people throughout my school,” said Chelsea Orcutt, 17, a senior at the Mount Saint Mary Academy near Buffalo, where the Walden Galleria shopping center includes all of the above-mentioned stores, plus many more options for teenagers who favor a sunny West Coast surfer style or those who prefer a goth ensemble to highlight their black nail polish and lipstick. Ms. Orcutt, a bit less casual in her personal style, favors Macy’s, Old Navy and American Eagle, which, she pointed out, keep teen budgets in mind.


abercrombie & fitch

“Labels and designer purses — I’m not seeing them as frequently,” said Ms. Orcutt, who had participated in a survey on teen spending for the Hearst Magazines network of Web sites and was approached to speak about the subject for this article. When asked why that might be, she replied, without hesitation, “because of the crisis.”

During years of rampant consumerism, where teenagers shopped was often more closely tied to what was happening in the pages of US Weekly or InStyle than their families’ financial circumstances. Empires like Abercrombie & Fitch were built on the premise that their products, even $80 jeans and $30 T-shirts with provocative graphics, would be perceived as luxury items if they were sold in the right way. But as teenagers’ priorities rapidly shift away from brands they now perceive as too expensive, the pecking order of mall stores has changed.

At Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., on a Friday afternoon, Abercrombie & Fitch was nearly empty. As two young men walked out of the dimly lighted store, past a photograph of a shirtless man with his hand submerged beneath the waistband of his jeans, one of them, trailing the eye-watering scent of the store’s perfume, said, “This stuff is too expensive.”

At Ruehl, which is Abercrombie’s more upscale store for slightly older consumers (and even darker inside), there were no customers at all. But at Hollister, where the prices average 12 to 15 percent lower, the line at the register was seven deep.


abercrombie & fitch fifth avenue NYC

To maintain its prestigious image, Abercrombie has stood alone among mall retailers in not blaring its sales — a strategy that Wall Street analysts have blamed for its current decline. The company reported a 34 percent drop in sales for March at stores open at least a year, the worst performance of mall retailers that month. Abercrombie executives did not respond to written questions about whether the brand — as some business columnists suggest — has lost its cool. In the past, the chain has said it doesn’t want to tarnish its image with big discounts, but the risk is that consumers may retain the habit of thriftiness even after the recession ends.

“I’m not sure customers are going to ever go back to shopping the way they once did,” said Betsy McLaughlin, the chief executive of Hot Topic, a competitor for the teen market, which posted a gain of 7.1 percent in March, largely on the strength of licensed products tied to the “Twilight” vampire series. “There’s just so much retail out there. I think the people who will win are the ones who provide something different. It’s not just a price war.”

The styles at Abercrombie & Fitch, which have changed little in the last decade, are similar to those at the company’s Hollister or Ruehl stores, except for the prices and logos. In the same mall, there are plenty of retailers that specialize in Abercrombie-esque casual-collegiate-cum-surfer-dude styles for even less. A new store, WHO.A.U., sells frayed cargo shorts and appliquéd T-shirts that are displayed next to black-and-white portraits of hunky shirtless models, ahem. And behind the register at the Aéropostale store in Paramus is a poster showing a frolicking group of teenagers, like a tamer version of Abercrombie.

20 thoughts on “Abercrombie & Fitch | Losing their Pants & Cool at the Mall

  1. based on a bbc documentary i watched, there was a even a time that they hit the shores of england, on saville row no less

    the tailors who peered over through their windows at the opening of the abercrombie store then will find comfort in knowing that classic clothes can still outlast, especially in recessions

    • Timothy- seeing A&F on Savile Row is indeed strange. I remember thinking what a horrible fit and how it underscored their irrelevance even more.

  2. Gosh I hate that store. My mother told me what the store was like years ago, outdoor outfitters in the truest sense. We have an A&F barometer at the old house. I wonder how long it been since they made those, or even thought about making them.

  3. It’s really not surprising. That market is saturated. I really wonder if there is any difference between the products at Hollister and others are any different from the ones at A&F.

  4. Another great post JP…

    As simplistic as this sounds, I think the turning point for Abercrombie came when they began putting sex in front of preppy. When A&F went straight to sex they took the oak and plaid out of their stores, changed the store soundtrack from college rock to electronica, and changed the product from quality-influenced vintage to destroyed gaucheness. Essentially, they lost their brand purpose. And then the aesthetic stayed the same.

    Hollister, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by the surfing aesthetic, which allows the stores to be unique and gives the brand graphics a touchpoint.

    It’s okay for a brand to use sex heavily, but it shouldn’t be the primary brand quality. CK has sex, but puts minimalism first; Guess keeps its roots in Las Vegas/LA party scenes; and even Victoria’s Secret has pushed a collegiate aesthetic.

    Having noted all this, Abercrombie has still been very successful the last 10 years, even with their lack adaptation.

    • Marcellus-

      Excellent points on branding.

      Abercrombie & Fitch had a real heritage and story that others would kill for– yet they turned their backs on it and went for a shallow, short lived T & A approach. How juvenile– but this is coming from Jeffries– a guy well into his 60s that still wears flip-flops and says “dude”.

    • Adam-

      That was a great post. Jeffries is a guy who can’t come to terms with his own mortality– let alone appreciate or value the rich past that A&F has. It just isn’t “sexy” to Jeffries, and that’s his drug– and ultimately what will kill them.

    • I’ve been thinking the exact same thing. Having some old stuff they made back in the 70s and seeing this new stuff…what’s going on. I think the store in Pentagon City Mall still at least has a nice wooden canoe hanging from the rafters. It’s really sad to see this happen to a good brand that used to be sold in Sears (when Sears was good).

  5. In “Travels With Charley,” Steinbeck mentions how he did a fair amount of shopping at A&F to outfit his ‘Rocinante’ for the long road ahead. Apparently, Abercrombie executives failed to maintain any kind of ties with the American tradition that he wrote about so eloquently in that book.

  6. They’re still around? hmmm…. In March they brought us the largest same store decrease in retail since June ’05 (Sharper Image – 38%). But at least they didn’t compromise their branding strategy while compromising profitability. As far as I’m concerned they can keep that strategy, help out the rest of retail. I hope they cover this loss by rethinking margin and not cutting electrical expenses. I can’t imagine shopping with any less light than they are already offering in their self-serve environment.

  7. Ok, maybe they are doing poorly, but you cannot argue that they have transformed the way a lot of men dress in the last five years. Their quality is still much better than most mass marketers. The only annoyance is their ear pounding, dark stores and ubiquitous logo.

    They are not getting their just desserts. They had their cake, ate it too, and still had six-pack abs.

    • MEN shouldn’t be wearing A&F. A&F should definitely not be worn by anyone over the age of 18. Ideally, no one would wear it at all.

    • abh1wordpress, I’m sorry, but I could not disagree more with your point that A&F quality is better than most mass-marketers because it is in fact some of the worst. Everything is just distressed to the breaking point. Button-up shirts are stoned washed so hard that the collars, cuffs, and hems are unraveling, girl’s jean shorts turn into yarn after a run through the washer and dryer, and pockets, buttons, applique would just fall off after moderate wear. The only thing that stayed attached was the ugly moose emblem.

      Mall brands that have better quality at a similar price: Gap/Banana Republic and J.Crew, sure it’s a different aesthetic, but about the same price and made much better. I have coats and shirts from J.Crew I’ve worn for the past 10 years

      • If there is anything wonderful that comes out of this recession, I hope it’s that this company goes under. By sitting themselves on fifth avenue (with reports that a second 5th ave spot will open up for the kids line) and puting a hollister in soho, this company is banking on the ignorance of the majority of this country and playing into the illogical mentality that A&F = style. Ditto for Savile Row — if anything, THAT store opening in the midst of bespoke royalty just completes the global mentality that we as Americans are rude, obnoxious, and devoid of culture. How embarrassing…

  8. Andy,

    I respect your braving the elements and speaking your mind– you’re always true.

    I don’t know how many guys A&F has really influenced in the last few years… not many, but they were the gateway for new emerging brands like… True Religion (and other cheezy metro-sexual denim brands) that became the new Abercrombie for a lot of the guys that grew up on A&F. Both brands lack a soul and place sex squarely in the center of their positioning for lack of anything meaningful to say. To me, real annoyance is the total lack of any innovation in the last few years. They haven’t given anyone a reason to stayed tuned in.

  9. WOW! Listed to yourselves! Abercrombie & Fitch unlike all the other “competition” refuses to put gigantic red 75% off sighs in front of their stores to maintain their image. They pride themselves in being a brand for the upper class great looking college youth. The people that talk negative about the company are the ones with the fat gut hanging out of their oversized shirts that walk past the store and are too intimidated to walk through the doors. The company has maintained its original image as a hunting store by displaying a conoe and moose in every store. The music and marketing is what has been driving the company for years. Its different and far more inventive than the queit boring retailers that copy Abercrombies vintage styles.

  10. too intimidated to walk in the store? I do not wear oversized shirts and would never walk into an abercrombie store to buy anything. The fragrance gives me a headache, the people are stuck up and superficial. where did the moose come from anyways? The place is VERY good at taking ignorant americans money. Their advertising and branding is really good, their products are good, but their stores suck.. I am not a person who needs to buy my image or a way of life especially an overpriced sucky one.

Comments are closed.