Why the fuss: Abercrombie & Fitch

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Walking up to Regent Street is a regular activity of mine. I walk across St James Park, up the Duke of York steps wedged beneath the clotted cream Nash Carlton House Terrace, and up Lower Regent Street towards Piccadilly Circus. I tend to avoid the Circus due to the high concentration of people congregating; taking pictures, loitering, pointing, pushing and shoving. If I were a tourist I could tolerate it. However, seeing it everyday is rather distressing.

What I used to do was take the route up Swallow Street. Until I realised that I saved even more time avoiding the throng by walking up Sackville and turning right down Vigo Street. However, I have recently had to avoid this route on particular days and resort back to Swallow and even Air Street to access Regent; my favourite shopping street. The reason? Well, it has nothing to do with the quiet establishments of Sackville Street – an ‘always empty’ travel agency, a stockbrokers, a couple of tailors, a book and printshop and Jasper Conran. No, even Vigo – despite the arrival of Napket and Starbucks – is not the reason for the consistent waves of people moving to and from Regent Street. At the end of Vigo, as you come to the corner of Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row, you see the veritable ‘ants nest’; the line of dashing people can be traced back to a large and handsome building that sits on the corner of Burlington Gardens and Savile Row.

The steady stream of humanity moving in and out of this building would give the impression to the passer by that this is a structure of great importance. Is it a museum? Or perhaps an important royal residence?

However, passing by the building, from the strong shower-gel-perfume they seem to inject into the atmosphere to the low thud of vocal techno, you soon realise that this is no attraction of culture. The topless man, shining in oil, at the entrance to the store makes you think it could be some bizarre club; but it is only the bags that are carried out of the building that expose it as a shopping emporium.

Abercrombie & Fitch, although new to the area – an area of discreet art galleries, luxury goods and smart Italian restaurants – is easily the biggest, and noisiest, draw. Shoppers alien to the quiet Mayfair streets sit outside disconsolately, guarding their Bruce Weber-photograph bags full of booty. But what sort of booty is it?

The little I knew of the brand came from word of mouth and popular culture. I remember listening to the song ‘Summer Girls’ by the Lyte Funky Ones, when I was a school lad, in which the lyrics confessed a partiality for girls that wear Abercrombie attire. A&F was one of those American brands that was generally unavailable in the UK and this hard-to-get-hold-of aspect only heightened the curiosity. Since then, it has made numerous appearances, and received many a mention, in many Californian drama series to which, naturally, the youth of the UK have become rather addicted.

Though a born sceptic, I gave the store the benefit of the doubt and paid a visit to see what all the excitement was about. When I walked in I almost stumbled into inanimate objects for, much to my bewilderment, the store is completely devoid of natural light. It’s rather like walking into one of those Disney ‘rides’; I half expected a robotic pirate to thrust a sword at me from the shadows. In the dim light I was approached by a good number of muscular Narcissi who were helpful, but conspicuously so. I spotted racks, piled extraordinarily high, with colour and so I made my way over for examination.

The incredible thing about Abercrombie & Fitch clothing is that it is the least interesting thing in the shop, or I should say, the least distracting. Apart from a couple of pleasantly striped but poorly constructed shirts, most of the clothing looked like it had washed up on a beach in Thailand; the flotsam from a backpacker’s cruise across the waters of South East Asia. The branding was prominent and repetitive; A&F stamps on polo shirts, t-shirts and even shorts. I looked for clothing more suited to a cooler environment, but could find none; it appears it is always summer in the Abercrombie world or, at least, ‘Forever California.’

Incredibly, though Abercrombie & Fitch clothing cannot boast design or uniqueness, it comes at a hefty price. The polo shirts, ‘custom washed’ – and blighted by hideous white ‘stamping’ – were as expensive as Ralph Lauren’s, a minute’s walk away.
Everything in the shop was exorbitantly priced; I imagined poor parents shuffling through with their children, being asked to purchase shirts and shorts, of dubious value, for more than the cost of their hotel. Nothing I touched reassured me of there being any fair worth in the shop. There were no special materials; no silk or cashmere, nothing that had taken work or craftsmanship. Nothing that required more than a squiggle of a pencil from an infant.

My understanding of A&F is that they are selling a ‘lifestyle’; the ‘Californian dream.’ When I compare this ‘ideal’ with the, oh let’s say the more ‘East Coast’ ideal of Ralph Lauren down the road, it’s difficult to believe you are talking about products and ideology from the same nation. Ralph Lauren’s shop has a focus on design classicism; cut, material and quality of finish. Abercrombie, though comparatively priced, offers none of this. It merely offers the purchaser a simple garment and the ‘privilege’ of wearing the Abercrombie name across the chest, thigh or any other area of the body broad enough to emblazon a logo. Ralph used to do this – Polo Sport was an offender – and a few of his items have overly generous references to the designer. However, I am always reassured that items from his store, though certainly symbols of status, have many more additional qualities to recommend them.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Will says:

    Mr. Chesterfield’s blog seems to be non-existent. Why not post a link instead of an image?

  2. ArchStudent says:

    Just so you know, in the states (at least the west coast) A&F haven’t been popular for a few years now. The company is actually a Colorado started brand that creates a false sense of California (coming from a 3rd generation Californian).

    I love that it is actually popular there considering how people stateside have finally realized that it is cheap, poorly constructed clothing that sells itself by publishing softcore porn as its catalog (often times with images not containing any clothes).

    If you want a company that actually represents California (well not the T-shirt and old jeans of norcal) take a look at Trovata founded out of Newport.

  3. smooth says:

    Yes, Hollister is the new A&F

  4. Turling says:

    I have yet to hear anything positive about this store and the only press I do hear is that their catalog is being banned for containing borderline child pornography. There is one in the South Coast Plaza shopping mall I frequent and the average age of the shopper appears to be 12, as far as I can tell by the children congregating outside the store, as I have never actually been inside. The one thing I have noticed is that it is the only store in the mall that does not have a display of clothes visible from outside the store. You are forced to walk into the head pounding coffin to figure out what it is they sell. Thanks to your post, Mr. Chesterfield, I now never have to set foot in the establishment. Thank you, so much.

  5. Chris says:

    Winston,

    Congratulations, you have discovered one of the worst American exports in decades. I’m so so sorry it has invaded such a nice part of town. I remember when A&F was the height of haberdashery and the home to those who did things like travel the world and explore the unknown. Like the sadly departed Willis & Geiger, A&F was like Brooks Brothers for the outdoors man. The A&F of today has absolutely nothing to do with its forbearer.

    So sad.

  6. eric says:

    hey guy scheck out this website http://www.luckyplayerwear.com

  7. Scott says:

    Actually ArchStudent, A&F was started on the East Coast in the 1890′s and sold outdoor gear on the level of Orvis until it was taken over and re-branded in the late 1980′s when the family sold it to a corporation.

    Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway outfitted safaris there.

    After the re-branding they went after the prep crowd and was on the level of J Press meets J Crew meets Brooks. At some point in the 90′s they were taken over by a conglomerate who switched them to I-don’t-know-what.

    And for y’all in the UK Hollister is owned by the same conglomerate.

  8. MrGuy says:

    anyone who knows anything not necessarily about fashion but clothing in general knows to stay away from A&F… from their highly inflated over the top prices to their uninspired lines… if you want to look like every other guy this is for you… thankfully its not as bad as it used to be here in toronto and people are coming to their senses and realizing the facade the brand really is…

  9. Jeremy says:

    Ah…A&F, I used to buy it in my teen years. The sad part was that I knew it was poorly made basics marketed by using sexed up advertisements filled with half-naked jocks and cali girls. The store is basically a gay club. It, Hollister, American Eagle are the scurge of teenage fashion. Thank God I doveloped my own sense of style.

  10. Icarus says:

    I stumbled upon this blog by accident but decided to leave this comment because of the controversies A&F has been creating for years.

    I am a 25-year-old male living in California and am familiar with the brand, A&F.

    I agree with most of the comments or rants above; however, I have to say some of the comments are unwarranted as if the writers just expressed hatred towards the brand in general without providing necessary reasons or truthful bases.

    I will point out a few issues mentioned above: (1) Price; (2) Quality; (3) Style; & (4) Trend.

    First, as to the price, I agree that A&F charges too much. For example, a men’s short-sleeve polo shirt starts from $49.00 and up. The Gap charges $29.00 and up for the same type of shirts and Old Navy charges $19.00 and up. Ralph Lauren, however, charges $49.00 to $59.00 or even more for the same type of shirts. Lacoste charges even more. The bottom line is A&F charges as much as other high-end brands but it is NOT unheard of, as for example, the much more popular brand Ralph Lauren and others have been always as expensive and even more.

    Second, the quality of A&F items are fairly good. I own quite a few items from A&F, Gap, Ralph Lauren, American Eagle, Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, J Crew, and Old Navy. The quality of the items of all of the brands just mentioned is quite good including A&F. I have worn them for years and they still look good after washing them many times. So, I disagree with the comments stating that A&F clothes have low quality.

    Third, the STYLE of A&F is what has been attracting many customers, especially me.
    Since the STYLE of A&F is unique, it is hard to discuss A&F without mentioning its style; however, none of the comments above mentioned the style, which led me to believe that the comments were unfounded.

    Many customers of A&F buy A&F clothes because of its “muscle” fit style. Gap does not make the “fitted” style; Old Navy discontinued its “vintage” fit; American Eagle makes also “vintage” fits but they are limited because its main line is “regular” fits. Ralph Lauren makes a very limited “vintagle” fits with higher prices. Lacoste does not make the “fitted” style.

    So, for customers like me who look for the “fitted” style, they do not have many options to choose from simply because all other brands make bulky clothes so that they can sell their items to everybody as opposed to slim and fit people who look better in “fitted” clothes.

    These are the reasons why Abercrombie has been popular.

    I still believe that A&F’s pricing is too high; however, considering their wide varitey of clothing line for my taste and its decent product quality, I would be willing to shop at its stores in the near future.

    I just wanted to point out how and why A&F has become so popular because most of the comments above did not touch the main reasons.

  11. Samuel James says:

    I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch for two years, up until the beginning of summer 2008. It’s all about a lifestyle, but the irony here is that A&F stresses an Eastern, collegiate prep. Hollister is branded as the high school, California brand under the umbrella. Ruehl #925 is for post-college adults, and abercrombie is for the pre-high school set.

    Yes, the prices are ridiculous. Even with my seasonal half off incentive, I was still paying more than I would’ve liked for what I was getting.

    But I still sold to people whose children wanted the clothes.

    And I could tell you stories about management policies, the Look Policy, and hiring practices that would make any sane human being’s hair stand on end.

    It’s a dirty company, and I can’t say I miss it … aside from the colognes.

  12. Ohioian says:

    Chris & Scott have touched upon what A&F use to be. The style was great back then, a little preppy, with flair. Better than Brooks Brothers, and nothing like it is now. When Limited Brands took over they did a fair job of expanding the business, but then an executive decided to go for the money and focused on the younger crowd. It has paid off well for the owners at the expense of a formally great brand.

    My opinion.