Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie. We all know the brand and (if you’re like me) immediately think of over-powering cologne, pre-pubescent teens, and bizarre advertisements with lots of man-on-man wrestling. The brand is the butt of an endless number of jokes – especially in “Prep World” – even though we all begged our parents to buy those horribly tight t-shirts with broken up paint that retailed for $60 a pop at some point in our lives (my deepest condolences, Mother).  At one time Abercrombie was “the brand” to wear if you were cool – until the cool kids changed their mind and the brand died.

Well…not really….it was more of a coma rather than a full-on death as the brand is alive.  Quite alive.  On Thursday, someone wrote me the following question on Tumblr:

Hi Dean! Have you seen Aaron Levine’s new line for Abercrombie and Fitch? There are no embroidered moose in sight. I’m actually liking it, it’s really reminding me of the good days of A&F. Don’t know about the quality yet, though. We shall see about that one. But overall, I think he’s doing a good job turning the brand around from hideous faux-vintage college t shirts and hideous skin tight polos to a more classic look we all love.

I was walking home from lunch when I read that message and I laughed.  It was an absurd statement.  A&F producing “a more classic look we all love?”  Ha!  Not possible…ever.

But later that afternoon I went to the website before answering the question…and stopped.  The muscle was gone.  The $200 ripped jeans were gone.  That obnoxious thumping music that once erupted from my speakers was gone. The symbols of the brand that we all mocked and jeered were replaced…with madrasbanded collar shirtsseersucker for Christ’s sake.  Abercrombie had gone back to its roots.

And let’s talk about those roots for a hot second.  Many people (including myself at one time) don’t know how Abercrombie actually started.  In the words of my father, “It was a lot like Brooks Brothers in my day.”  The clothes were “preppy” in the historical context of the word: practical, well-made, and built to be passed down.  In fact, Abercrombie was more along the lines of Barbour *gasp* focusing primarily on sportswear whether that be hunting, fishing, or golfing.  While that style has been long gone from the A&F brand, you can’t change the past.  But…(contrary to Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby) you sure as hell can repeat it.  Or at least come pretty damn close.

And that is exactly what A&F is doing.  Aaron Levine (former Vice-President of Club Monaco’s mens line) is bringing the brand backs to its historical roots.  I don’t think Abercrombie is going to be selling oxford shoes and trench coats in Fall ’16 – you still have the t-shirts with the moose and the Fierce cologne bottle with some dude featuring I don’t even know how many muscles – but a massive style change is happening…and at a pretty fast rate.

I spent a good hour on the website Thursday afternoon looking at both men’s and women’s.  While I’m a firm believer that quality is the primary measuring tool that should evaluate a brand, I’m impressed.  So impressed that I’m actually contemplating buying a piece from the line…and before you ask, no I haven’t drank too much gin before writing this.

Spring ’16 just dropped and it includes some fascinating pieces.  For starters, take this “Suede Bomber Jacket.”  If I saw this in plain sight, I would think it was from Banana Republic, Coach, or even Billy Reid.  Again no idea on quality or manufacturing practices, but the styling  is something that you would never expect from A&F.  In all honesty, it’s pretty awesome…

Need another example?  The “Stretch Cotton Blazer.”  Yes…blazer…when was the last time you can remember that happening? I’ll answer for you: never in our lifetime. Switch out those button for gold and you have a piece that came from Ralph or Brooks.

The change is amazing, but I admit that I have hesitancies bringing the moose back into my closet.  If the products aren’t well made and start falling apart quicker than a Vineyard Vines oxford, well…all that great style goes down the tubes (at least for me).  In my mind, quality is the most important factor when looking at a garment.  I could care less if the label says Lanvin or Land’s End – if it’s not well built and won’t hold up season after season, I’m probably not going to buy it.  And this is exactly why I’m looking at A&F from a more neutral POV – labels tell us oh-so-little about the true quality of a brand.  After all, don’t we all deserve as second chance?

While the negative-perceptions of A&F are still strong (it was rated as the worst-retailer in 2015), perceptions have elasticities.  They are not set in stone and can change relatively quickly.  I think it will take awhile for Abercrombie to fully re-brand itself, but with the right influencers, press, and (most importantly) products…it’s very well possible.

I (as should you) am keeping an eye on A&F.  I think it’ll be interesting to see what Summer, Fall, and Winter brings.  I may even venture into their Wisconsin Avenue store and take a look at that bomber jacket.  I have to admit…I really want it.

My take?  If A&F continues to backtrack to its core roots, I think it’ll rise from the ashes.  Who knows, perhaps that “preppy” pink whale will be replaced with none other than A&F.  Oh what a terribly exciting world that would be?  I could only hope for such outcome…

PS:  Share your thoughts on the brand below.  I’m curious to here what others think…