(FEATURED IMAGE BY flickr user “faceme”)
Abercrombie & Fitch was once one of the hottest brands among teenagers. Although a combination of factors, including a slew of negative publicities, knocked the preppy clothing company off the list of teens’ go-to stores, it is undeniable that Abercrombie & Fitch’s ads are still some of the most recognizable in the fashion industry. Aside from being strictly black-and-white, the ads thrive on the irony that, despite representing a clothing brand, the models featured in them barely wear any. So why does Abercrombie & Fitch, whose bread and butter are clothes, show images of six packs and slim waists instead of the actual products that it hopes to push? It’s simple: Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t sell you clothes. It sells you a fantasy.
The company, which also owns the equally-preppy Hollister Co., prides itself on being a “casual luxury” brand (which is just another way of saying “overpriced basics”). As with most brands that market themselves as high-end, Abercrombie & Fitch’s image relies heavily on its association with elite young men and women who won the genetic lottery. These people are portrayed as the eternally-young, carefree demigods who embody the brand. Ultimately, the message that the ads communicate isn’t “We have great clothes. Buy them.” but rather, “Our clothes are for cool, good looking guys and gals only. Buy if you’re one of us.” And for high school kids who are Abercrombie & Fitch’s main demographic, coolness is like, literally everything.
Ironically, Abercrombie & Fitch’s determination to maintain this “too cool for you” image is what’s causing its ship to sink in the first place. Part of its strategy to become a “casual luxury” brand is being one of the priciest youth-oriented clothing brands out there. This business model proved to be problematic upon the rise of “high street” fashion brands, such as H&M and Zara, which offer more style and value for the teens’ money. In addition, Abercrombie & Fitch has found itself in hot water in recent years upon claiming that the company is “absolutely” exclusionary, and that it only wants “cool kids” wearing its logo. Below is a statement issued by its former CEO, Mike Jeffries, in a 2006 interview with Salon magazine (although it didn’t garner much attention until it resurfaced in 2013):
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. … In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.
While creating a certain prestige and a level of unattainability are pretty standard for brands that are marketing themselves as “luxury,” saying straight up that only the cool, attractive, and popular should wear your products is nothing but PR suicide. Especially now that millennials are more socially-accepting than ever before and have zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination.
And with Abercrombie & Fitch’s revenues falling steadily since 2013, it may not be too long until you see less and less of the black-and-white torsos.
Sorry, cool kids.
You can’t sit here anymore.
Call that Aber-crumble and Fall. 😉