By the mid-1990s, Abercrombie & Fitch had, under various owners, been selling high quality sporting and excursion gear for more 100 years. Calling itself “The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World,” A&F outfitted Teddy Roosevelt’s African safaris and Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. Its patrons had included Clark Gable and Amelia Earhart, John F. Kennedy and Greta Garbo. But after a bankruptcy and an only partially successful reboot, the company was ready for a serious rebranding.
So gone were the canoes and the elephant guns. In their place: A new and expensive clothing line designed for trendy, upscale young adults. The new A&F was blatantly, proudly elitist. “We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” said A&F’s CEO, Mike Jeffries. “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
For a decade, it worked beautifully. Abercrombie was the hottest clothing brand in the country, thanks in no small part to its highly sexualized marketing, the buff, shirtless models at the door, and the Abercrombie Quarterly’s famously homoerotic photography by Bruce Weber.
But styles change, and A&F was hit hard by the Great Recession. After almost three years of negative company comparable-store sales, Jeffries stepped down in December 2014. It was time for another rebranding, which brings us to today.
The shirtless models are gone. The stores are de-sexed. The clothes and the image are more “egalitarian.” And it looks like this:
Look at those clothes! That’s Ty Ogunkoya, fronting for Abercrombie & Fitch’s big Fall 2016 Denim Campaign, and probably having second thoughts about his career and the glamourous life of a successful model.
Does A&F really believe that its customers will go for the homeless derelict look?
Is A&F simply recycling cast-offs from the dumpster in back of Goodwill Industries and slapping a high price tag on them?
Is “panhandler chic” a thing?
Granted, I’m not in A&F’s target demo—people over 25 who wore Abercrombie always seemed a little desperate—but I can’t see this as anything but a retail disaster.