Shortly after becoming CEO in 1992 Michael Jeffries took the old legacy brand Abercrombie & Fitch and endowed it with soft-core porn catalogs, derivative house music and the over-cologned stench of teenage aspiration, somehow convincing a generation of college-bound kids that the brand represented their wildest dreams: sex, money, and—most important—acceptance in the elite rings of their social surroundings (at least the realistically attainable ones).
It was a powerful alchemical combo. Which helps explain why over the years, despite more savvy consumers wanting to be marketed to in less overt ways and despite a series of embarrassing high-profile lawsuits and employee accusations, A&F has continued growing like gangbusters.
Until now, that is.
The Daily reports today that A&F’s same-store sales are on track for a 9% decline this year. The company’s stock price has lost half its value this year and it’s on track to close down 180 stores through 2015. Compare that to a 2,000% increase in sales from 1995-2008 and a 5,600% increase in net income.
Of all Abercrombie’s discrimination lawsuits the newest one with the pilot on the company’s private jet protesting having been fired for a younger, sexier pilot and complaining about bizarre in-flight conditions dictated by Jeffries might be the strangest. But it’s definitely not the most offensive.
If those other lawsuits didn’t slow down sales (coerced masturbation on a catalog photoshoot? hello?) I don’t think this one will either. Instead I think the reason young people are starting to steer clear of A&F is that they just got the cultural memo a decade late that it’s, you know, not 1998 anymore.