Abercrombie & Fitch unveils new store concept

US casualwear retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is about to unveil its first concept store for 15 years.

In a dramatic change of direction, customers will be able to actually see the stock on display, the brand’s heavy scenting has been toned down and stock will be visible from outside.

Only two images have been released by the brand, but these show the magnitude of the change of direction.  The concept store will open its doors on February 17, inside the Polaris Fashion Mall in Columbus, Ohio.

Abercrombie & Fitch previously took pleasure in assaulting customers’ nasal senses as well as providing never-ending entertainment for store staff members who could watch customers walking into mirrors, squinting as bright spotlight beams shining directly into their eyes – and for special kicks, watching mothers with pushchairs trying to navigate narrow aisles, staircases and darkened passages, or children crying because they were scared of the dark.

In place of the “mausoleum” style of store, the new design is a soft brown hue, strong lighting and subtle fixtures. The concept store was designed by MJ Sagan Architecture, which was also involved in creating the company’s New Albany headquarters.

An A&F statement says the prototype’s look and feel “is in line with the brand’s new evolution”.

However, A&F is in serious trouble. In November, Neil Saunders, New York-based MD of GlobalData Retail, described the company’s latest quarterly performance as “disastrous” by any standard.

“Not only are total sales sequentially worse than last quarter, but revenues at Abercrombie have slumped and net income is down by more than 80 per cent.”

At the core of the problem is the fact that consumers have grown out of clothing ranges bearing oversized logos.

“A&F is changing – moving away from its traditional brash, image-obsessed focus toward a more inclusive and more gentle approach with an emphasis on stylish, quality clothing,” said Saunders.

A&F concept store 2017

First of seven

Meanwhile, the new Ohio boutique, which covers 4860 sqft (451 sqm), is the first of seven to be built this year, providing the customer “with a new vision of the brand,” A&F says in a statement.

“In line with the changes that have taken place over the past 18 months, the space was imagined with the best customer experience in mind, encouraging the discovery of the brand’s new collections.”

A&F and Abercrombie Kids brand president Stacia Andersen says she hopes customers old and new will rediscover what is at the core of the American Heritage brand: “timeless, high-quality clothing you want to live in”.

“The new A&F store design illustrates a strong brand, with a rich history that is evolving and moving forward. A cohesive material palette, an elevated collection and residential-scale elements enhance the personal, more intimate aspect of the A&F shopping experience,” says architect MJ Sagan.

In place of the dark, product-devoid entrances more akin to a theme park’s “House of Horrors” than a retail store, the new storefront is transparent and features a metal sculpture of an A&F logo first used in the early 1900s. Inside, there are two shops-in-shops: a fragrance “apothecary” and an area for seasonal capsule collections. There is also a dedicated denim room.

Mannequins for both genders stand on a concrete platform running from the storefront through the middle of the store, showcasing key trends and ideas for the current season. Throughout the store, the collections are merchandised to inspire the customer and showcase how pieces can be mixed together.

“Looking to provide a unique and personal shopping experience, the updated layout includes accommodating features such as innovative fitting rooms and omni-channel capabilities,” says the company.

“The fitting rooms will serve as a comfortable haven from the mall or street, comprising two individual capsules within a larger private suite. This allows each guest to share new looks with a friend or family member while also enjoying privacy. Each suite has thoughtful amenities that heighten the customer’s mood, including separate controls for light and music, as well as a phone-charging dock.”

The interior features a cohesive palette of modern, tactile materials including cork, bronze, galvanised steel, concrete, “vegan leather”, wood and marble that act as a neutral but complementary background to the collections.

And that obnoxious olfactory assault that is a trademark of A&F will – thankfully – be laid to rest: “The store will be subtly scented with a lighter, cleaner, gender-neutral fragrance.”

Store staff members will help shoppers place and pick up online orders in store, and cash wraps will be located throughout the space rather than hidden in a back corner, which was a challenge for first-time visitors to find. Clearly, A&F realised it was too hard to find the register in the old store format, its statement conceding the new approach will “enable a quicker and more accessible checkout experience”.

Gilly Hicks in comeback

Meanwhile, A&F’s Hollister Co brand says it has relaunched its intimates brand, Gilly Hicks, in all Hollister stores across the US and will sell it globally online at HollisterCo.com.

Gilly Hicks, “the brand to start and end your day with”, includes bras, bralettes, undies, swimwear, loungewear and sleepwear. The company launched the brand in 2008 and built a network of 28 exclusive stores, but these were closed in 2013. An online store was rolled into Hollister two years later.

“We recognised an opportunity to redefine the Gilly Hicks brand, and we know our Hollister customer will enjoy another destination for fun and cozy bras, undies and sleepwear,” says brand president Kristin Scott. “We’ve designed our Gilly product to be effortless and comfortable to align with our customer’s on-the-go, busy lifestyle.”

Some US stores will host shops-in-shops to provide “a unique Gilly Hicks brand experience”.

The Old A&F look...(Image: A&F Canada)

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