Abercrombie & Fitch, the primal purveyor

The new Abercrombie & Fitch flagship on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street in New York City is one more example of the incredible brandsmanship practiced by this company.

The four story 36,000-square foot is the perfect blend of Abercrombie & Fitch past and A+F future.
On one wall, canoes are stacked. On another wall, there is a gun case stocked with broken double-barrel shotguns (presumably English), percussion rifles and other hunting sticks. And, of course, a stuffed moose.
All of this speaks to Abercrombie’s origin as a purveyor of expedition equipment.

Today A+F is a bit different. Kelly Clarkson screams lyrics between a bass beat more suited to clubbing at 2AM than shopping at 2PM. No worries. We are accustomed to stores that want to scream attitude. Staff stand as much as pose throughout the store, draped in branded A+F wear (employees are given a discount). Today, staff outfits include flipflops, despite 30-degree outside temperatures.

Jean pairs line cases in subtly different blue hues. T-shirts that suggest heavy dating and parallel activities rest on tables. Mannequins stand sentinel inside curved glass cases of the kind usually reserved for ornithology.

A mural, heavily inspired by painters Reginald Marsh and Paul Cadmus, ascends floor to ceiling (from basement menswear to third floor women’s wear). The iconic A+F models, so boldly sexual, are poised for…whatever, in various nooks and crannies.

While so many other brands prefer to leave their past behind, the A+F flagship store is a wonderfully expressed melding of Abercrombie’s past, present and future. There is no doubt what the brand is about. Sales staff are living icons at the brand focal point, leading their peers toward a destiny filled with sun, sand, and $120 blue jeans.

The company expects over $40 million in annual sales from the flag carrier, and this prime location doesn’t lead one to suggest otherwise. Although they might think about a suggestion box (in roughed-up leather). When one upscale mother/daughter couple was asked what they thought as they walked out, the mother simply looked stunned. The daughter beamed, “Too dark and too loud!” she screamed. “But I love the brand!”

The original Mr. Abercrombie and Mr. Fitch probably never envisioned their stores carrying products for perky girls and boys instead of fly fishing tackle and elephant guns. But we can’t help imagine that knowing this would make them smile. And perhaps requisition a pair of flipflops.