What these number-crunchers don’t realise is that the real indicator is much more obvious: It’s wrapped up in one lousy T-shirt.
The problem with the shirt isn’t that it’s garish and kitschy. Or even that it claims the fox says “Fraka kaka kaka kaka kow” when everyone knows it says “Gering ding ding ding dingereringeding.”
It’s the stench of desperation and lack of creativity, a purée of amalgamated pop culture that can only come from combining two viral one-hit wonders.
It will be Abercrombie’s demise.
Founded in 1892, Abercrombie & Fitch was one of America’s premier sporting-goods stores. It sold fishing gear, camping equipment, and rifles.
Business Insider has a great historical overview of the company. “It opened a 12-story store on Madison Avenue with floors that included a shooting range and a golf school. … Its logo was ‘The Greatest Sporting Store in the World.’ In 1927 A&F was the official outfitter for Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Other clients included Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt.”
Up until the 1980s, the company struggled, due in part to the Great Depression, poor management, and a failure to realise America’s shift in focus away from the great outdoors.
In 1988 the company was purchased by Limited Brands, which decided to refocus the company around fashion. Through the early 2000s, the brand exploded in popularity and interest thanks to its emphasis on sex, entertainment, and exclusivity.
Abercrombie & Fitch was for the beautiful people — young men with chiseled torsos and women with flawless physiques. If you weren’t sure if you fit the bill, Abercrombie & Fitch provided you with examples in the form of massive photograph displays, the A&F catalogue magazine, and in-store models who grooved to blaring music. In terms of clothing, the brand pushed the limits of decorum. Women’s skirts barely covered rear ends and men’s T-shirts featured frat boy jokes. And yet through all this controversy, Abercrombie’s “we don’t give a shit” attitude prevailed.
By 2000, Abercrombie & Fitch was one of the most popular brands in the country, edging out the likes of Levi’s. In 2005 the company netted more than $US2 billion in sales across its four different brands (abercrombie kids, Hollister Co., and Ruehl No. 925). Then the music stopped. And dancing alone in a pair of ripped jeans and no shirt was Abercrombie & Fitch.
(Full disclosure: That’s about when they hired me.)
Shoppers were buying clothing online. Brands like American Eagle and Old Navy catered to the less-than-perfect-looking shopper with smaller wallets. The age of exclusivity was also over. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter were bringing people together in ways never thought possible.
Today the company is in shambles. It plans on shuttering 180 stores by 2015. Its stock plummeted 18 per cent in August.
Leading up to the release of the the FOX GRAPHIC TEE — an “online exclusive” that came out weeks after the Ylvis buzz had died down — Abercrombie & Fitch released its own YouTube parody of “The Fox.”
“The fox says ‘nobody shops at Abercrombie anymore,'” one anonymous YouTube user commented.
Abercrombie & Fitch has become the things it once despised: pathetic and ugly. The hot young models have been replaced with lawyers defending the company against discrimination lawsuits and a truly scary looking CEO.
This past weekend, I visited one of its stores in Lexington for the first time in over a year. Sales signs were posted everywhere and clothing overflowed onto the floor. In the back corner of the store was a shelf stacked with simple shirts featuring the Internet’s favourite acronyms, like NSFW (not safe for work) and SMH (shaking my head).
This shirt in particular summed up my entire experience. And maybe much more.
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