By Lauren Boni, Senior Account Director
Let me set the scene…
It’s 2004. You approach half-naked men guarding a door on Regent Street. The windows have dark shutters so you can’t see inside. It’s exhilarating. You walk in and are immediately greeted with an assault of senses; deafening music, a dimly lit store where you can barely see where you’re walking let alone the shop assistant, and your nostrils are tingling with an overpowering sickly-sweet scent. But you embrace it because you’re British and looking at American sizing and tiny labels where you can barely see the price tag because it’s so dark but it’s COOL because it’s A&F.
That’s right, Abercrombie and Fitch was the ultimate lewk when I was in secondary school. The preppy look adorned by many in the 90s and noughties; the double layering of polos, double layering of extra tight tank tops, skinny jeans hanging from the hips with a big belt finished off with a pair of chestnut Ugg boots (which I must confess I still whip out of the wardrobe in winter).
Brand prominence often arrives when the brand naturally blends into pop culture and LFO’s ‘Summer Girls’ song (released in 1999) opens with “I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch” was just the beginning of the term ‘A&F model’ or ‘A&F girl’. This coupled with opening a magazine and seeing the likes of Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Lawrance, January Jones…the list goes on…don the moose logo was the ultimate PR move. Everyone was wearing A&F and it was cleverly priced – expensive but not unobtainable.
Equally though, pop culture can tear brands down in a heartbeat. Last year in April 2022, White Hot was released on Netflix which celebrates and criticises its success and failure in equal measure. Halfway through the chart-topping documentary, the Editor-in-Chief of A&F Quarterly explainshow Sam Riami’s Spiderman movie in 2002 with Tobey McGuire catapulted the brand into a downward spiral as the bully character, Flash Thompson, was dressed in A&F every time he was on screen.
This was just the start of a decade long breakup that the public had with the brand and its reputation. A string of controversies, legal issues, and multiple lawsuits later, A&F was the most hated retailer (especially in the US). And it wasn’t handled in the most ideal way either with settling lawsuits, a string of “no comment” ’s and the biggest mistake of all; Mike Jeffries offering an interview, doing the interview, then pulling the interview (worst PR move ever).
So where are we today? Well, taken over by Fran Horowitz, the new female CEO has given A&F a complete revival and the tragic events that were once associated with the brand are a thing of the past. Today, the brand is cleverly reaching for those in adulthood, and I’d like to be romantic by thinking it’s targeting the OG A&F shoppers but it’s probably just because we’re in a recession and they need that increasing spending power to keep those tills ringing, or maybe it’s a bit of both.
The brand has shape-shifted itself (literally) to fit with the many different body types that high street shops should be catering for. Speaking from a female buyer perspective, it’s got elevated basics from tees, tops, and bodysuits to jeans that cater for curves, which *spoiler alert* nearly all women have and nearly all women find jean shopping hard for this very reason. It’s finally caught up and I’m here for it.
So that’s it, it’s only taken 20 years to rebuild and we’re far from A&F being perfect, but the brand has come full circle and ultimately, there’s learnings other brands can take from A&F’s multiple failures. The business model it had, its discriminatory policies, the lack of diversity – especially at board level - and it is mental to think that it had to come to several court proceedings for there to be any changes at all. But what is impressive is how the brand has had a complete revival, and I mean complete - the music is low; the light is high, and the staff are helpful. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you next walk into an A&F store. Speaking of which, I don’t want to gatekeep, so if you’re looking for the best jeans in the biz then head in-store and stock up on its Curve Love Fit range. But run, don’t walk because they’re currently on sale.
P.S If LFO’s ‘Summer Girls’ has passed you by then please look it up but don’t @ me for getting it stuck in your head…