Sex sells clothes. Since the evolution of fashion, brands have always embraced sex and sexy imaging as a tool to market and sell its wares. In the 70s it was the seductive quality of the Guy Bourdin ads for Jourdan. In the 80s it was Calvin
Klein sending the world into frenzy with Brooke Shields in his jeans. In the 90s it was Abercrombie & Fitch, with its saucy catalogues and model staff, and in the noughties it was American Apparel with its teenage bedroom shoots.
throughout the decades sex appeal itself has changed as much as fashion has. What was appealing in the 90s, doesn't necessarily appeal today. A&F can no doubt attest to this, as the once superlative retailer, whose entrances are guarded by shirtless male models and girls in bikini tops, has closed numerous stores this year with a further 180 boutique closures planned over the next 2 years.
So perhaps sex doesn't sell so well. According to Business Week, the collegiate retailer has lost a third of its market value in the past year as it is battling with falling sales in Europe and the U.S. While Abercrombie blames the economy for its woes, brand consultants say it also has failed to change with the times.
Whilst A&F's quarterly catalogues photographed by Bruce Weber were once a fashion bible must-have, the originals still sell for over a hundred dollars on ebay, sexy imaging is so widely accessible these days that today’s teens are simply bored by the half-naked models and bass-thumping, dimly lit stores. They’re also less inclined to wear Abercrombie’s longtime uniform of expensive denim and graphic T-shirts, which can also be bought from Topshop and any other high street retailer for a much better price.
U.S. revenue at Abercrombie’s namesake stores and its Hollister chain slipped 2.5 percent in the first half of fiscal 2012, reports Business Week, and the retailer is bracing for lower sales in the second half at stores open for more than a year.
Today’s teens are “radically different” from other generations, including Millennials, now in their twenties, because they reject uniforms, says Marcie Merriman, founder of retail and brand strategy consulting firm PrimalGrowth. They have a bevy of options thanks to the boom in fast fashion and they’ve developed a more individual style from exposure to fashion via the Web and social media, says Merriman. Abercrombie is “positioned well to take advantage of this group’s desire to be rebellious and indie and different, because that’s what the brand is about,” she says. “But right now the product mix doesn’t communicate that or facilitate it.”
Passersby outside A&F's central London flagship are treated not only to topless models greeting customers, but also to a cloud of its cologne, which is sprayed so generously it can be detected from across the street. Perhaps not everybody wants to smell like a teenager on a college dancefloor. However sexy they are dressed.
Image: A&F Quarterly