Abercrombie & Fitch

AuthorMark Lane

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6301 Fitch Path

New Albany, Ohio 43054


Telephone: (614) 283-6500

Fax: (614) 283-6710

Web site: www.abercrombie.com


Once renowned for supplying the rich and famous of America with outdoor gear, Abercrombie & Fitch (A & F) went bankrupt in the 1970s and was reinvented in the late 1980s as an apparel retailer for college-age teens and young adults. After going public in 1996, the company began to focus on marketing itself as a lifestyle brand, selling a freewheeling collegiate image more than engaging in any sustained pitches about product quality. With the help of Sam Shahid and Bruce Weber, the creative director and photographer who had together created such sexually explicit ad campaigns as those on behalf of Calvin Klein's Obsession fragrance in the 1980s, A & F in 1997 launched a hybrid of consumer magazine and product catalog—an increasingly popular marketing tool commonly called a "magalog"—that became the focus of its branded advertising for the next six years.

The "A & F Quarterly," as the publication was called, leaned heavily on magazine-like editorial features and art photography, with much less emphasis on traditional catalog fare like product specifications and pictures in which the clothing was central. In keeping with Weber's past work, the photos were notable for their focus on male bodies and for an open attitude toward sexuality in general. Many of the features in the magazine were controversial, including one encouraging the consumption of alcohol and another focusing on group sex. Though the magalog aimed to showcase the college lifestyle in a way that appealed to A & F's target market, many believed that it had the simultaneous goal of intentionally inciting controversy.

When the "A & F Quarterly" was discontinued in 2003, opinions were mixed as to its effectiveness as a marketing tool. There was little argument about the fact that it had raised the brand's profile immeasurably, but A & F sales had been consistently underwhelming since 2000. Some commentators observed that the company had reached a point beyond which further escalation of the magalog's shock value would become virtually impossible, and the company's future marketing course was uncertain. Nevertheless, the "A & F Quarterly" was a groundbreaking entry in the emerging magalog field.


Abercrombie & Fitch began life as a lower-Manhattan-based purveyor of high-quality hunting, fishing, and camping gear, and in the early twentieth century the store developed a loyal customer base among wealthy outdoors enthusiasts, including numerous famous Americans. Teddy Roosevelt visited the store to prepare for his numerous big-game expeditions, and every subsequent president through Gerald Ford was said to have been an Abercrombie & Fitch patron. Aviators Charles

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Abercrombie & Fitch store in Bridgewater (New Jersey) Commons Shopping Mall. © Najlah Feanny/Corbis. Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were notable Abercrombie & Fitch customers, as were screen stars Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Clark Gable. The author Ernest Hemingway regularly bought gear and guns from Abercrombie & Fitch, including the shotgun he used to commit suicide

By the late 1960s Abercrombie & Fitch had expanded substantially, with stores across the United States, but the company's fortunes nevertheless declined through the late 1970s, when it went bankrupt and was purchased by the sporting goods chain Oshman's. Abercrombie & Fitch fared little better under its new corporate parent, and in 1988 it was sold again, this time to The Limited, Inc. (later called Limited Brands). The Limited, Inc., had experienced success with concept-store startups including the women's clothing retailers The Limited and Express as well as the lingerie emporium Victoria's Secret. During the 1990s Abercrombie & Fitch's image was drastically recast. Though still retaining hints of its rugged outfitter's roots, the company became a maker of high-end casual wear for teens and college students. Abercrombie & Fitch went public in 1996, and The Limited divested itself of equity in the company.

Abercrombie & Fitch marketing was helmed in-house by Sam Shahid, the company's creative...

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