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Which Fitch? Does A&F have an identity crisis?

Ian Wright

What’s that you say? More scantily clad models standing across the frontage of a roped off, darkened shop that you can’t see into while a horde of shoppers with money burning a hole in their Ivy League chinos wait excitedly outside?

What’s that you say? More scantily clad models standing across the frontage of a roped off, darkened shop that you can’t see into while a horde of shoppers with money burning a hole in their Ivy League chinos wait excitedly outside? Yes, it’s a tried and tested store launch strategy (if a little West End nightclubby) but when Abercrombie & Fitch opened the latest of its Gilly Hicks stores last week in Bluewater, it brought the group’s one-size-fits-all tactics into sharp focus and questioned what it means for the company’s fascias.

Bluewater provides the perfect compare and contrast opportunity as the new Gilly Hicks store is right next to an existing Hollister shop. Aren’t these two stores essentially doing the same job for A&F? Yes, Gilly Hicks has gone for a big and mysterious video wall with a doorway while Hollister is typically columned but you can’t see in and there’s a rope across the entrances, both of which are A&F trademarks and both of which contradict every retailing instinct going. And that’s just in Bluewater – had Gilly Hicks got the same fit-out as in Westfield London the colonnades would have been even more generic.

I’m all for a strong brand identity but the positioning of the group’s three lines is so homogenous it makes them very difficult to differentiate between them. And it’s not just the muscle bound/skinny Minnie models, dark interiors and unwelcoming shopfronts – the products are pretty similar too. No matter whether you venture into the murky confines of Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister or Gilly Hicks, you’re still likely to find the same all-American, seen-it-all-before stuff give or take. But why would A&F care? It must be doing something right – it’s rare you don’t see queues outside the stores at the weekend, but I wonder how long it will be before the loyal subjects stop buying the emperor’s new clothes.

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