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Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (A&F) is a United States company incorporated in 1996 that caters

to a wide array of consumers. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. specialises in a range of luxury

casual and sportswear products, alongside various personal care products and accessories.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. sells its products through the following subsidiaries: Abercrombie

& Fitch, the main label; abercrombie kids, which targets children between the ages of 7 and

14; Hollister, designed to attract youths aged 14 to 18; and Gilly Hicks, which targets a

female market exclusively.

Through its main concept and its o fshoot brands, the company (as of 28 th January 2012)

operates 946 in the United States alone and 99 outside.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has been the subject of many a controversy regarding their image,

the manner in which they advertise their products, their hiring practices, and even some of

their products as well.

Nonetheless they remain relatively successful in the mainstream market, and continue to

pursue a precarious expansion into regions outside of the United States.



Originally founded in 1892 in the city of Manhattan, founder and co-founder David T.

Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch had established their business as an upscale, luxury sporting

goods store that catered to elite outdoorsmen.

sporting goods store that catered to elite outdoorsmen. David T. Abercrombie (left); Ezra H. Fitch (right)

David T. Abercrombie (left); Ezra H. Fitch (right)

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. continued its expansion into the 20 th century, until a dispute over

the future of the company between its founders resulted in the departure of Abercrombie

from company management. Consequently Abercrombie & Fitch Co. entered what is known

as the “Fitch Years”, where the company’s continued, profitable success saw numerous

milestones in history. When Fitch retired from the company in 1928, Abercrombie & Fitch

Co. experienced a succession of leaders until its financial collapse and closing in 1977.

In 1988 the company was bought over and revived by Limited Brands. Michael Je feries was

now in charge, and it was he who revolutionized Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s image into one

of an upscale youth fashion retailer, marketing towards varsities. This marked the beginning

of the current incarnation of the modern Abercrombie & Fitch branding.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. continues its multi-billion dollar existence worldwide today.


Abercrombie & Fitch Co. presents an unabashed take on Southern California and upper-

class American beach culture in both their products and marketing. Maintaining an aspect of

sportiness while creating an air of rich exclusivity around them, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is

the envy of many an international youth.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. revels in its image as a brand dripping with the o fered suggestions

of sexuality and sex appeal, and survives inasmuch as sufers due to being rife with


Each subsidiary Abercrombie & Fitch Co. brand utilises either a mono- or achromatic colour

scheme that exudes minimalism in tandem with their simplistic logo designs, creating an air

of sophistication of professionalism. Although each subsidiary brand has a di ferent target

market (mostly defined by marginally varying age groups), all carry products that have a

largely similar aesthetic and style: what is defined as casual or athletic wear.

a. Abercrombie & Fitch: (founded June 1892)

wear. a. Abercrombie & Fitch: (founded June 1892) Abercrombie & Fitch is the original body of

Abercrombie & Fitch is the original body of Abercrombie & Fitch Co that markets casual and

sports wear for consumers aged 18 to 22.

Keeping the idea of ‘luxury clothing’ constant throughout the company history, although

now with a more casual aesthetic in contrast to its original concept aimed at outdoorsmen,












competitors brandishing more a fordable, similar-looking alternatives, Abercrombie & Fitch

remains an extremely popular brand, especially among its target market of collegiate,

varsity and ‘ivy league’ youths.

Abercrombie & Fitch continues to expand internationally today.

b. abercrombie kids (launched July 1998)

b. abercrombie kids (launched July 1998) abercrombie kids targets a narrow market of consumers aged 7

abercrombie kids targets a narrow market of consumers aged 7 to 14. It is designed as the

child’s version of the parent brand, marketed by Abercrombie & Fitch Co. as “Classic Cool”.

Product design (casual wear cut in children’s sizes) draws its inspiration from Abercrombie

& Fitch.

c. Hollister (launched July 2000)

Abercrombie & Fitch. c. Hollister (launched July 2000) Hollister is an American lifestyle brand and an

Hollister is an American lifestyle brand and an o fshoot from the main Abercrombie & Fitch

Co. whose concept was designed to cater to consumers aged 14 to 18, selling their product

at a lower price than its parent brand.

Hollister is vastly popular among United States teens. Its success among its target market

echoes that of its parent brand.

d. Gilly Hicks (launched January 2008)

of its parent brand. d. Gilly Hicks (launched January 2008) Diverging from the other three Southern

Diverging from the other three Southern California inspired brands under Abercrombie &

Fitch Co., Gilly Hicks opts for a Down Under theme to its designs, drawing inspiration from

Australian culture. It specialises in women’s “knickers from casual to sexy, relaxed PJ’s and

beauty”, naturally targeting an exclusively female consumer base.

Gilly Hicks has been acclaimed as Je fries’ most innovative, successful idea for the

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. brand portfolios, and is set to compete with lingerie giant Victoria’s

Secret among others.


All drawing inspiration from a similar source (Southern Californian chic; upscale casual;

beach-ready apparel), each of the brands under Abercrombie & Fitch Co. carries products

unified as an extensive collection of signature Abercrombie & Fitch looks.

a. Abercrombie & Fitch

Products are labelled ‘luxury’ casual by the company. Abercrombie & Fitch’s product designs

are what have been come to be known as ‘evergreen’: apparel designs that are safe in terms

of aesthetic and will never go out of trend due to there being a constant market for them

(unlike transient trends and fads).

Alongside apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch also sells swimwear, accessories, sleepwear,

underwear, body care products, and colognes. The business’ colognes have, like its look,

become a hallmark of Abercrombie & Fitch ambience, especially their Fierce cologne.

b. abercrombie kids

abercrombie kids’ products’ designs and aesthetics are similar, if not identical, to its parent

company’s with the exception of pricing and sizes. Like its parent company, it also sells











abercrombie kids appear to greatly vary its product design seasonally with the exception of

a few concessions to trend.

c. Hollister

With Hollister currently adopting a more ‘retro’, while still woodsy, aesthetic for both male

and female consumer products (whom they refer to as ‘dudes’ and ‘bettys’) it is likely that

Hollister, having to consider their on average more trend-conscious target market, does

indeed deign to follow fashion trends perhaps more closely. With a whole range of plaid

shirts, knitted sweaters and vintage prints, washes and designs, it is also equally likely that

the current obsession with a fashion retrospective nicely fits into Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s

unflinching aesthetic.

d. Gilly Hicks












undergarments, to lace lingerie, to push-up bras, Gilly Hicks is poised to work the

Abercrombie brand into the women’s underwear market.


In terms of product design across Abercrombie & Fitch Co. there is not very much in the way

of variation and innovation, and save for Gilly Hicks, it is not totally incorrect to assert that

each subsidiary brand is identical to the next with the exception of perhaps size. Regardless

of shortcomings, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. remains a giant in the niche of casual/sportswear,

more often than not out-selling even their lower-priced competitors simply by virtue of an

immensely solid reputation and popularity internationally, and all with hardly any e fort-

laden campaigning.

It should also be noted that there is a possibility of correlation between Abercrombie &

Fitch’s steadfastness in product design and the almost patterned periodic fluctuation of

their stock value. For example, in the early 2000s, a trend for sportswear for the streets was

propagated, and soon in the mid-2000s, Abercrombie & Fitch’s market value saw a

significant increment from a high of 39.12 in 2004



high of 84.23 in 2007.


dramatic rise in value could very well be explained by the phenomenon of trend distillation,

where by 3 years would probably have been the time the trend took to reach the outlying

periphery of fashion consumers.


The average Abercrombie & Fitch can be an extremely specific character: a (usually alpha

male) youth between the age of 18 and 22, predisposed to American beach culture and

wear, and with enough spending power to purchase their merchandise.

Ofcial target market notwithstanding, Abercrombie & Fitch is also able to sell its wares to

the following markets that may or may not be part of their intended customer range: 1)

customers above or below target age group, 2) non-heterosexual male customers or 3)

female customers purchasing for their male partners or associates (to a lesser degree)

among others.

Such rationalisation for the above cited examples are: 1) the age group 18 to 22 is largely

considered to be the period of a person’s prime, therefore a customer under 18 may aspire

to live within that prime while a customer over 18 may aspire to return to that prime; 2)

Abercrombie & Fitch can be observed to use implicitly homoerotic imagery in their

advertisements and media releases that can create a situation or object of fantasy for the

non-heterosexual male customer to aspire to; 3) the usage of superiorly masculine themes

in advertisements and media releases likewise creates a situation or object of fantasy for

female customers to aspire to for their own partners.

Geographically, Abercrombie & Fitch is most prevalent in the United States with over 300

store locations, and is likewise as prominent a brand name overseas in Asia and Europe,

creating a grand total of 1055 store location worldwide. Typically, Abercrombie & Fitch

stores are located in richer locales, accounting for their higher prices and reputation for

catering to a more a fuent customer base.

For example, in Singapore, the Abercrombie & Fitch store is located at Knightsbridge (270

Orchard Road), right in the middle of the rich Orchard shopping district, opposite the likes

of Paragon Shopping Centre and Mandarin Gallery, both prominent for the prevalence of

upmarket brands.



Note: Although Abercrombie & Fitch Co. consists of a total of 4 subsidiaries, the focus will

be on Abercrombie & Fitch, the company’s main brand, for this particular section of the



Abercrombie & Fitch stores are set up in such a way that they create an ambience not

dissimilar to that of a night club within the confines of the store. Lighting is low and soft,

and loud, fast-tempo music is played constantly throughout the day. Keeping in line with

the company’s reputation and philosophies, besides creating an environment of ‘swanky’

upper-class youth culture (ie. a nightclub furnished with lushness), the store is rife with

salespeople, who by no coincidence, are extremely good looking.

store is rife with salespeople, who by no coincidence, are extremely good looking. Interior of the
store is rife with salespeople, who by no coincidence, are extremely good looking. Interior of the

Interior of the Abercrombie stores

Some stores display clothing within glass cases, as if to tag a significant value to them.

Some stores also contain numerous mirrors arranged to create an air of vanity while also

creating an illusion of enlarged space. This principle carries on to some of the stores’

architecture and layouts that can span over two storeys. It is not impossible to suggest that

the utilisation of a multi-storey store heavily compounds the richness implicit in their

merchandise and image.

the richness implicit in their merchandise and image. Exterior of the Singapore store For many of
the richness implicit in their merchandise and image. Exterior of the Singapore store For many of

Exterior of the Singapore store

For many of the stores, the outside is a minimalist, nearly monochromatic façade. Blocking

out almost all natural light, and hiding the store’s interior goings-on like a precious secret,

this intriguing manner of store exterior brings the next point to bear. Speculating on the

ambience created within most stores, in conjunction with the ‘mysterious’ store exterior

allows the postulation that Abercrombie & Fitch indeed intends to create a fantasy world of

exclusivity and privilege within their stores.

By cordoning o f the outside from the inside and plunging the customer into a whole new

plane, one of implicit ecstasy and exclusiveness, the stores create a community within the

locale where a sense of belonging is established. It is such that the store makes the

customer feel as if they are special to have been included in such an elite fraternity.

Also integral to the A&F store is the ever-present scent of Fierce floating in the air. Engaging

a third sense, the cologne is marketed and sold through this medium.


The stores’ salespeople are highly prolific and no less a part of the environment of the store

than the product itself, the salespeople put the final touches of Abercrombie & Fitch’s image

to the store.

In this sense, they



as much part

of the

product as they

are sales

are as much part of the product as they are sales Models for the opening of

Models for the opening of the Singapore store

The typical model look is one of a blond haired, blue eyed, Caucasian demeanour, a

combination of a dilute amount of this desired ‘Aryan’ look, the appearance of a traditional

Californian surfer, and the Hollywood ideal; Abercrombie & Fitch is after all a business, not a

regime, and the idealised Hollywood alpha male is an easy fantasy to sell.

It must be noted that Caucasian men make up a vast majority of the model pool, with token

minorities and women making up diversity figures. Inadvertently discriminatory, the statistic

of fewer women more likely than not is a consequence of ingeniously including the non-

heterosexual male market. To explain the lack of ethnic male models: simply the widest

racial market is the Caucasian market.

It may also be noted that Abercrombie & Fitch does not utilise celebrity endorsement. This

can be explained as an elimination of having any ‘unnecessary’ association to previous

appearances and individual back-story so as to present a black slate for which the

customers to project themselves on to; Abercrombie & Fitch sells the idea that sex appeal

comes with their clothing and brand association.

In order to maintain the ‘Abercrombie image’, many employer actions have resulted in

scandals and lawsuits regarding discrimination against religion, race and physical disability

of employees. Such instances include many an employee forbidden to wear hijabs on-duty,

and even the unlawful dismissal of Riam Dean in 2009 over prosthetic limbs not being in

coincidence with the ‘Abercrombie image’.

An exceedingly intriguing figure in Abercrombie & Fitch is CEO Michael Je fries. Himself

non-heterosexual, it is possible to attribute the idea to utilise homoerotic imagery and

appeal to the gay market to him. Je fries by all accounts appears to be a man possessed by

the ideals of his company. “His biggest obsession, though, is realizing his singular vision of

idealized all-American youth. He wants desperately to look like his target customer (the

casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself

from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly

white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips,”

wrote Benoit Denizet-Lewis in Salon in 2006.


CEO Mike Je fries


The Abercrombie & Fitch USP is an intriguing element because it refers to brand association

and brand experience. The Abercrombie & Fitch package contains the following elements: 1)

Sensuality and implicit sex, 2) ‘Coolness’, 3) Elite/exclusive atmosphere, 4) Luxury comfort/

casual, 5) American surf culture, 6) Youth culture, 7) Multi-sensorial approach, 8) Model

sales personnel

It is a combination of all of these individual elements into a single experience that is

Abercrombie & Fitch, and even then, it is no less innovative than their policy of unchanging

apparel designs. Hence, we theorise

a seemingly multi-faceted ESP approach to earning

customer loyalty and emotional investment.

Firstly, very straightforwardly Abercrombie & Fitch sells customers the idea of (re)connecting

with their ‘prime’ age (18 to 22), utilising a retrospective distortion of the past for older

customers, and a misrepresentation of the future for younger customers.

Secondly, Abercrombie & Fitch approaches the idea of selling customers a fantasy involving

male models who are the pinnacle of masculinity via a two-pronged o fensive: 1) the ideal

male companion is pro fered to the heterosexual female and non-heterosexual male market

therefore by creating a fantasy situation which prompts this group of consumers to

purchase; 2) the image of appearing as a masculine male via associating to A&F imagery to

appeal to non-heterosexual men who either a) idolise such an image for themselves to

possess or b) feel a need to compensate for their non-heterosexuality by appearing so

(perhaps resultant of discrimination, desire to conform to societal standards etc.).

desire to conform to societal standards etc.). Screen grab from the video “Other Sports Require One

Screen grab from the video “Other Sports Require One Ball. Wrestling Requires Two.” by Bruce Weber


Abercrombie & Fitch is a peculiarity among its contemporaries: it does not, nor does it need

to, heavily market itself and its products.

Its marketing campaigns are thusly limited to the following few elements: 1) the A&F

Quarterly, a catalogue released seasonally; 2) minimum new media marketing including the

use of a number of websites reflecting Abercrombie & Fitch’s image and once capitalising

on internet sensationalism (eg. 2011, Abercrombie & Fitch released a with half-dressed

male models lip-synching to Carly Rae Jepsen’s single “Call Me Maybe” with 15,918,700

views as of 31 st October 2012); 3) some social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter

with 7,182,537 ‘likes’ and 328,968 ‘followers’ respectively; 4) a series of homoerotic videos

produced by Bruce Weber featuring Abercrombie & Fitch poster boys wrestling

Abercrombie & Fitch is a company with little in the way of heavy advertising campaigns or

integrated media campaigns, and as such this report will focus instead on its thematic

campaigns, specifically, its ongoing corporate social responsibility campaign.


Ofcially A&F Cares is a three-pronged approach to humanitarian and social awareness

e forts by Abercrombie & Fitch Co

and ‘sustainability’.

The program operates with ‘diversity’, ‘philanthropy’

‘Diversity’ is an e fort to include United States ethnic minorities in the working community

of the company. This would include the hiring practices regarding in-store employees and

other personnel throughout the corporate structure.

‘Philanthropy’ is an e fort to give back to the community by committing to charity work and

donation, so as to be ‘exemplary corporate citizens’.

‘Sustainability’ has two parts: 1) social, where the company takes an interest in international

human and labour rights and 2) environmental, where the company endeavours to reduce

their environmental footprint and simultaneously educate their sta f.

Besides their website, there is little else promotional material for A&F Cares.

It is hard not to be skeptical of the sincerity of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s attempts at

humanitarian and environmental care. The website itself is designed less like a serious

corporate social responsibility tool than another store catalogue, with models of little to no

relevance embellishing the pages.

Furthermore, even in their attempt to promote themselves as diverse employers (perhaps to

try to whitewash their history of discriminatory hiring practices) they make remarks that

may come o f as inadvertently o fensive, for example using such phrases as “people of

colour” among others. Equally o fensive is their use of two Asian models on a page where

the website discusses helping the needy and underprivileged.

It is not unlikely that this e fort for humanitarian and environmental work is less of a

genuine, sincere e fort than a marketing ploy,







of many other

Screenshot of the Company Demographics chart on the A&F cares website 19

Screenshot of the Company Demographics chart on the A&F cares website


By all accounts Abercrombie & Fitch is an exceedingly fascinating example of marketing

done right, and perfectly embodies the phrase “no publicity is bad publicity”. Inasmuch as

they appear to be failing at being basically ethical in terms of human and social issues, at

least they are attempting to change their image, though it may be too little too late.

Regardless of their philosophy and how disagreeable it may be to various groups, it is

impossible not to marvel at their unrelenting brand power, in spite of their persistent refusal

to adapt their aesthetic and product design, and insistence on sticking with a tried and

tested (and tired) method of marketing and branding via sex, sexuality and sex appeal.

As much as their controversies paint them as perhaps despicable, and as much as their

value fluctuates with accord to their stubbornness, there is no doubt that Abercrombie &

Fitch Co. will remain an industry giant in the foreseeable future.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is an enigma in the industry because while all their contemporaries

around them conform and change according to trends and fads, they remain, perhaps,

admirably, steadfast in their philosophy and design, and while that may seem like a self-

destructive strategy in an industry driven by change, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. remains a

significant contender, and perhaps could be both a lesson and a warning for any fresh,

venturing company.