Since I can’t get worked up enough about the latest Fed minutes (short story: Mr. Market is unhappy because he wants his QE and doesn’t see evidence that it is imminent), it might instead be worth examining something quite curious: that Ambercrombie & Fitch is having trouble making sex sell.
You have to understand what a total fail that is. The advertising industry is largely devoted to using sex, either overtly or covertly, to get consumers to buy stuff. This is most true for products like clothing for target customers under, say, 50, cosmetics, and accessories. Just flip through the front of a Vanity Fair or a fashion magazine. I avoid them precisely because you get an overload of messages of how cool it would be to be somebody else. For women, that’s a size two woman with pouty lips and often drugged out looking eyes whose life aspiration is to be kept by (and per the subtext of some ads, dominated by) a rich man (as in they are clearly attired in a manner they couldn’t pay for themselves). The message for men is a bit more confused. You now see men treated as sex objects too, starting with those Men’s Health covers. Do you want to know what it takes to look like that? Bodybuilders prepare for MONTHS for contests, with the last six weeks a dieting down to get cut (they live on chicken breasts, egg whites, broccoli and it seems not much else) and the days before the shoot, diuretics. One slice of pizza after the contest, and it’s over. The lesser version, the ripped abs, can often be helped along with meth (the last Gay Pride parade I attended, a buddy of mine could pick out which of the boys displaying a lot of skin had achieved their cut with meth, it produces a very specific look that you see a lot among male models).
In my youth, hemlines were seen as a leading economic indicator. Recall the miniskirts of the 1960s, versus the dowdy below the knee length of the 1970s? That’s now broken down since women have more latitude regarding attire than they once did. Nevertheless, as Lynn Parramore pointed out in a recent Alternet article, being worried about money is an anti-aphrodisiac. So the real question is whether Ambercrombie & Fitch’s tsuris are company specific, or a sign of how the lousy economy is undermining libido to such a degree that people won’t spend as much as they used to on hopes of getting laid.
Bloomberg sees the problem as generational, as an outbreak of excessive individuality, the bane of a producer of branded products:
Today’s teens are underwhelmed by the half-naked models and blaring, dimly lit stores. And they’re less inclined to wear Abercrombie’s uniform of denim and graphic Ts….
Today’s teens are “radically different” from other generations, including Millennials now in their 20s, because they are rejecting uniforms, according to Marcie Merriman, founder of retail and brand strategy consultancy PrimalGrowth in Columbus, Ohio.
Dubbed Generation C — for creative and connected — they have a bevy of clothing options thanks to the boom in fast- fashion from Forever 21 Inc. and Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M…Gen C also has developed a more individual style from the Web and social media, she said.
Abercrombie must “look at ways to tie in with this creative class in a way that their brand will continue to resonate,” Merriman said. “They’re 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, but right now the product mix doesn’t communicate that or facilitate it.”
I can’t relate to this since I’ve hated prevailing fashion for the last 20+ years. Even skinny cute girls who look good in the stuff you see in store windows would look better in something else. At the same time, I’m not sure I buy this “individualism” as a product of creativity as much as necessity. For the last few years, it’s been fashionable to make your own clothes. Huh? It takes a lot of skill to tailor well; in fact, one of the status markers of bespoke and haute couture is the tailoring. Since I always hated art classes, I can’t relate to craft impulses, but this trend strikes me as at least in part borne of necessity: if you are short on dough and long on time, you can either make or tart up inexpensive to mid range clothing for less than it would cost off the rack.
What is your reaction? Is Ambercrombie just a one trick pony that has become stale and is having trouble adjusting, or an indicator of our zombified economy?