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Return To A&F

I feel like I’ve just crawled out from under the rock I’ve been under since early 2020. It felt like literally years since I’ve visited any overseas retail. Then In January 2022 I made it to New York, and just last month I was in France- both family visits but you’re never really off the clock. So seeing Abercrombie & Fitch at the CAP3000 mall near Nice brought back memories of the A&F heyday of darkened stores with light focused only on the merchandise, 90 decibel music, aloof but ripped young attendants and middle aged retail executives buying overpriced polo shirts for their teenage children (or maybe themselves) on Westfield study tours.

Of course A&F has changed greatly since then. Often criticised and even sued over their highly exclusive brand imagery and discriminatory hiring policies, never mind their extremely limited size range, the brand has evolved into something much more inclusive and accessible.

The current store concept has been around for a while- I last mentioned it in a blog post in 2017. The environment had become more open, lighter, and quieter. Changing rooms were more generous and offered a choice of lighting and music volume.

So what’s it like in 2022? Well, all the right parts are there: the branding, the smart dressing rooms, the video screens with a diverse range of models of all sizes. The merchandise looks on-trend and is reasonably priced.

But a store that wants to celebrate its newfound diversity and accessibility should be every bit as exciting, colourful and effectively lit as the previous incarnation. Here, the lighting provides ambience but much of the merchandise is effectively back lit. The colours and finishes are conservative and dull, and the storefront is monolithic. The design just doesn’t do the merchandise or the brand justice. Which is a pity- I’d love to see it truly and joyfully brought to life.


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