An Inauspicious Start in 1892
The Abercrombie Company began life in a shop on South Street in Manhattan 121 years ago. David Abercrombie, the founder, was joined eight years later by Ezra Fitch, a lawyer who wanted to expand the company to the general public. Abercrombie was only interested in selling professional gear to outdoorsmen. An acrimonious split between the two took place in 1907. Abercrombie sold his share to Fitch and left.
Rebranding with a Vengeance
Appealing to a wider audience began with a 456-page catalog with a print run of 50,000 copies. At $1.00 each, this resulted in a staggering cost that almost bankrupted the company. But it worked wonders and established A&F as the first store in New York to supply sports clothing to both sexes.
Bowing Out for Good
In 1917, the store moved to a 12-story building on Madison Avenue and offered many amenities, namely: a shooting range in the basement and a pool on the roof for bait-casting lessons. The company grew until the sixties when profits fell for four years. In 1975, A&F filed for bankruptcy and two years later it closed its doors. A year later, Oshman’s, a sporting goods retailer, acquired A&F, but failed to revive the company.
Rising Like a Phoenix From the Ashes
In 1988, Limited Brands (who popularized Victoria’s Secret) acquired A&S for $47 million. The headquarters was moved to Columbus, Ohio and all the inventory was cleared out. Four years later, the president Michael Jeffries, a retail maverick, spearheaded an audacious move.
Rebranding Into Cool Fashions
Overnight it seemed, A&F became a successful teen apparel merchandiser. Sales rose from $85 million in 1992 to $165 million in 1994. In 1997, the company launched A&F Quarterly, a publication that included photography and articles about sex and pop culture. In 2005, the company opened a flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Rolling with the Punches
In 2008, A&F suffered a financial decrease to $3.540 billion. The blame was directed to the worldwide economic recession. From 2010 to 2011 an alarming number of under-performing U.S. stores were closed.
Conquering the World
Moving on, A&F has recently reported that it is going to open stores in locations worldwide to increase the international appeal of the company’s brands. Emboldened by the 2011 opening of its 31,000 sq. ft. Paris store, where the company flew in more than 100 male models to parade shirtless, A&F is positive that this is the right move. “The Internet has helped break down barriers and has made brands more accessible,” says one retail analyst. “Loyalty to European brands no longer exists among the newest generation of consumers.”
An On-site Visit
Entering Abercrombie’s on Fifth Avenue is like stepping into a dazzling universe. The first thing one sees is a 12 ft. high black-and-white shot of a handsome male. To the left are glass doors that are barely visible because the interior is super dark. Mini spotlights with high-decibel music and a lighted staircase complete the sensory overload. It’s fantasy par excellence!