American sportswear and outerwear retailer
Founded: in 1892 by David Abercrombie to sell camping supplies; joined by Ezra Fitch to become Abercrombie & Fitch, providing exclusive outdoor needs, including clothing and equipment. Company History: Moved to new Madison Avenue digs, 1917; filed for bankruptcy, 1977; bought by Oshman's Sporting Goods, 1978; bought by The Limited, 1988; Michael Jeffries became CEO, 1992; back in black ink, 1995; went public, 1996; spun off by Limited, 1998; introduced children's stores, 1998; launched Hollister stores, for younger teens, 2000; also publishes A&F Quarterly catalogue/magazine. Company Address: 6301 Fitch Path, New Albany, OH 43054 USA. Company Website: www.abercrombie.com .
On ABERCROMBIE & FITCH:
Paris, Ellen, "Endangered Species? Abercrombie & Fitch," in Forbes, 9 March 1987.
Brady, James, "Abercrombie & Fitch Forgets Its Days of Hem &Wolfie," in Advertising Age, 31 August 1998.
Cuneo, Alice Z., "Abercrombie Helps Revive Moribund Brand via Frat Chic," in Advertising Age, 14 September 1998.
"Fashion's Frat Boy," in Newsweek, 13 September 1999.
Young, Vicki M., "Catalogue Controversy Rages on as More States Criticize A&F," in Women's Wear Daily, 8 December 1999.
Goldstein, Lauren, "The Alpha Teenager," in Forbes, 20 December 1999.
Perman, Stacy, "Abercrombie's Beefcake Brigade," in Time, 14February 2000.
Margaret McKegney, Margaret, "Brands Remain in the Closet for Gay TV Show," in Ad Age Global, December 2000.
Wilson, Eric, "A&F: The Butts Start Here," in Women's Wear Daily, 5 February 2001.
Elliott, Stuart, "Bowing to Nation's Mood, Retailer Cancels Issue of Racy Catalogue," in the New York Times, 17 October 2001.
Although Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has been around for about 110 years, most of its current customers could care less that it outfitted legendary explorers like arctic explorer Richard Byrd. The firm's clientéle is predominantly Generation X and Y, and the Abercrombie logo has gone way beyond its sturdy apparel and into the realm of cool.
Abercrombie & Fitch has come back from the brink of extinction several times since its founding in 1892 by David Abercrombie. Originally created to sell camping gear, Abercrombie met up with lawyer Ezra Fitch and expanded the business to include a myriad of products for the rugged outdoorsmen of the time. Yet A&F didn't cater to just anyone with a yen for adventure, but only to those who could afford to pay premium prices for high-quality goods. Among the firm's early adventurers were Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, Byrd, Charles "Lucky" Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart; the next generation included Winston Guest and macho sportsman and writer Ernest Hemingway.
The company did a bumper business until the 1960s, when flower power and environmental awareness began to seep into the American consciousness. Abercrombie & Fitch's atmospheric stores, with mounted animal heads and stuffed dead animals, were soon out of sync with a country awash in change and protest. The majority of A&F merchandise catered to hunting and fishing enthusiasts, and blood sports lost their popularity as the decade ended and the 1970s began. Although the firm valiantly tried to expand its wares to appeal to more customers, A&F filed for Chapter 11 in 1977.
Oshman's Sporting Goods bought A&F in 1978 and hoped to parlay its fame into a broad mix of sporting goods and apparel, as well as a wide range of other products. The rescue failed, despite repeated attempts to revive the Abercrombie cachet. In 1988, clothier The Limited Inc. acquired the struggling A&F for $47 million, along with its 27 stores. The Limited, however, was an evolving retailer itself, having bought Victoria's Secret, Penhaligon's, Henri Bendel, and others in quick succession. The future of A&F, however, came in the form of Michael Jeffries, who took the reins as chief executive in 1992, when there were 35 rather unimpressive A&F stores dotting the nation. Jeffries had an unusual way of conducting business, from his 29-page employee manual to his maniacal detailing of each and every store.
Jeffries' know-how and marketing savvy were put to the test. He drastically overhauled Abercrombie's image to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd, doing away with anything but apparel and accessories. Jeffries wanted to entice the collegiate crowd into A&F and did so with creative advertising and making each A&F store a cool place to visit and spend money, with blaring popular music and a sales staff with attitude. By 1995 the retailer was not only in the black but a true cultural phenomenon. Abercrombie's logoed t-shirts and cargo pants became the must-have apparel for teenagers on up, which happened to be the fastest growing segment in retail.
To keep the momentum going, Jeffries initiated the A&F Quarterly (a slick magazine-like catalogue they call the "magalogue") and aggressive advertising. Both measures received much attention but brought the ire of parents, advocacy groups, and politicians when some of the material offered drinking tips and some content was deemed pornographic. Like Calvin Klein before him, Jeffries had pushed the envelope too far but had no remorse or plans to change his ways. In 1999 the company ran its first television ads, and the company hit a staggering milestone—breaking the $1-billion sales threshold.
By the end of the 20th century, the A&F magalogue was marketed only to more mature kids (18 and older with an ID to prove it) because of its emphasis on sex and "college-age" pursuits like partying. The younger crowd, of course, and virtually anyone buying Abercrombie had already bought the image along with the jeans, baggy pants, cargo shorts, and t-shirts. Though sales remained relatively solid, A&F had its share of troubles in the new millennium. Stock prices tumbled, its television ads didn't quite hit the mark, and as always, the firm continued to receive criticism for its A&F Quarterly . Oddly, in an instance when Jeffries could have reached millions of television viewers with his products, he refused to allow A&F clothing to appear in Showtime's Queer As Folk series—featuring young, hip, sexually active teens and adults doing all the things A&F showcased in its magalogue, with the exception that these pretty boys and girls were gay.
By 2001 Abercrombie had attempted to delineate its customers into three categories: for the younger or preteen crowd, it had launched Abercrombie stores in 1998; for teens and high schoolers, there was the newly introduced Hollister Co. in 2000; and older, college-aged buyers remained prime targets of traditional A&F stores. The latter group was also those to whom A&F Quarterly was addressed, but Jeffries seemed to have gone too far with the 2001 issue featuring the usual bevy of naked males and females. Bowing to pressure Jeffries pulled the issue, titled XXX, despite pleas that the magalogue was wrapped in plastic (like Playboy ) and sold only to those with proof of their age.
Abercrombie & Fitch has proven itself a purveyor of more than just style, but of fashion advocating a particular lifestyle. Some quarrel with the firm's message and methods, but millions continue to pay premium prices for the simple apparel emblazoned with its name.