NEW YORK, NY August 8, 2016
Abercrombie & Fitch, the mall mainstay once recognizable by the shirtless, sunscreen-anointed men that beckoned you into its discriminatorily employed stores, has undergone a serious rebrand. Before the departure of former CEO Mike Jeffries, the company was known for its racy, body-shaming adverts touting chiseled, nearly nude models. Now, under new creative director Ashley Sargent Price, Abercrombie’s leading men and women are clothed, cozy and, most notably, diverse (!). One natural-haired model even wears a jean jacket around her head as a makeshift headscarf. Under Jeffries, the teen titan maintained a (self-defined) aura of “cool” elitism — low-slung ripped jeans (ick), body-con polo tees (double ick), often-offensive message tees (triple ick) stocked shelves manned by modelesque sales assistants. In a 2006 interview with Salon, the CEO announced that sex appeal was “almost everything” to the brand, stating, “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” Unlike the trumped-up accusations of racism fired at Tommy Hilfiger in the late 90s, Jeffries’ exclusivity and hubris was proven and proudly held up for all to see.
As frosted tips went out of vogue and young consumers’ tastes shifted more towards trend-conscious retailers like H&M and Urban Outfitters, Abercrombie’s sales stagnated. In 2015, months after Jeffries stepped down in December of 2014, the company saw revenue growth for the first time in three years. However, despite many promising new senior hires (Price, former senior vice president of brand creative at J.Crew, as well as Aaron Levine, former lead menswear designer at Club Monaco, with Kristina Szasz, former womenswear designer from Karl Lagerfeld, rounding out the bunch), by 2016 the company’s overall sales had decreased by four percent.
While some may point to the brand’s recent no-frills, forgettable classic offerings as the reason for this decline, we’re not ready to give up on our erstwhile (albeit misguided) teen dream yet. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and if the success of fellow high schooler-geared retailer Aerie’s proven anything, it’s that the public loves an honest, inclusive campaign (though Abercrombie’s ads remain noticeably plus-size free). To top it off, A&F’s new “True Blues” denim line, the reason for its refreshing new campaign, has all the makings of a hit — standout styles include the super skinny jeans with added stretch and the expertly cut Japanese selvedge denim priced at a mere $160.
Furthermore, we wouldn’t be surprised if more body-positive ads followed this ethnicity-laced campaign. As Levine put it to GQ, when it came to Abercombie’s shift towards diversity and inclusion, “There was no other way to do it. We didn’t even think about it.” Let’s hope the brand continues to wow us with its newfound killer instincts.