Are Ambercrombie & Fitch’s Difficulties in Making Sex Sell an Economic Portent?

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?

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    1. Chauncey Gardiner

      Are you suggesting that ubiquitous pornography has not only played a role in decreasing advertising effectiveness among both males and females in the A&F’s target market, but that porn has a counterintuitive effect of actually diminishing libido among many in the broader population?… If so, are you aware of any studies that support your view? Thanks.

      Freedom of speech/expression is a critically important civil right, but not always in ways that are healthy for a society or even individuals (hate speech targeted toward a particular demographic group, for example). Understanding the potential effects of media on oneself and society are important in making prudent personal choices IMO.

  1. F. Beard

    My reaction is delight! I cannot stand the insipid commercials my own jaded, corrupt, nihilistic, smug generation puts out; it’s nice to hear they have no traction with the new generation.

    (the last Gay Pride parade I attended, … Yves Smith

    Must be a female and/or strong stomach thing. I would barf at such a shameful display but then I’m the sensitive sort or so my mother used to say.

    1. reslez

      Wow, how does a mere mention of a generic “gay pride parade” elicit such a strong and hate-filled reaction from you? You are either very sheltered or very ignorant, likely both. Lighten up with the barf comments and blanket assumptions and you will probably enjoy life more.

      1. F. Beard

        Wow, how does a mere mention of a generic “gay pride parade” elicit such a strong and hate-filled reaction from you? reslez

        We all have weaknesses but it’s quite another thing to be proud of them.

        But I am probably unusually sensitive. Growing up in the Deep South before the widespread use of air conditioning, I remember as a child being revolted by the thin dresses women wore revealing as they did a riot of bra and slip straps! So untidy! And don’t get me started on Klinger of “MASH.”

        1. YankeeFrank

          TMI Beard, stick to the corporate stock as money meme. The company store has never sounded so good to me…

          1. F. Beard

            And don’t get me started on piercings and tattoos!

            No, I’m not interested in enslaving us to company stores but genuine private monies do provide an alternative in case a free spending MMT style government policy (which I generally approve of) overdoes it.

        1. Up the Ante

          “All gays, all the time — Anything less is a hate crime!”

          “What a laughing stock you are. ”

          Ahh, yes, both of the above brought to us by the TV Militant Programmers Advertising Dept.

          such clarity

          1. F. Beard

            Kate has a point; the Left can be just as (more?) intolerant than the Right.

            Me? I say keep it in the closet so as to not frighten the horses.

            But of course some people can’t keep it in the closet since they desire to be accepted as normal. Well, too bad. I don’t even accept myself as normal and the best people I know have problems too.

      2. Phil

        In spite of being brilliant and the first thing I read each day, Yves is a fag hag.

        A woman who likes hanging out with certain guys because she feels more comfortable.

        That brings up a certain question about why there’s no
        Mr. Weber? Even if she’s a lesbian I’ll read her commentary.

        1. F. Beard

          Generally, women are not so offended by male homosexuality and vice versa.

          And heck, my cubemate claimed he was a “male lesbian” yet I never thought less of him.

          1. F. Beard

            You’re welcome though Phil was rude; Yves is no hag!

            But the deeper issue is that we should shelve unnecessarily divisive issues in our common cause against banking. Gay Pride Parades have NOTHING to do with monetary reform yet they unnecessarily offend some. I was trying to point that out in a gentle way.

            And btw, the loyalty to homosexuals is often not requited, I’d bet. How many rich homosexuals are more interested in staying rich than social justice, knowing that no one really cares what they do in the bedroom anyway?

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          I really shouldn’t take the bait, but this sort of thing deserves a smackdown.

          So we have a bigot, don’t we? Any woman who recognizes that marriage is not such a hot institution for women is a lesbian? When I got my job at Goldman, the 87 year old grandmother of one of my college friends remarked, “Isn’t that wonderful! It means she won’t have to get married.” This was in 1981. Similarly, it was one of my married women friends who pointed out that every study she’d ever seen found that married men were the happiest group in the population, single women the next happiest, and married women the least happy. Now obviously with big populations you have lots of exceptions to the rule, but this is a pretty striking finding.

          And didn’t it occur to you that women can get laid pretty easily and there’s no compelling reason to get married if you don’t want kids? And what exactly is wrong with having some gay male friends?

          1. Susan the other

            My daughter has lots of gay friends, as I always did. When she was pregnant she didn’t want to know the sex of the baby – spoil the surprise. And she said her preference was a girl, and second a baby gay guy. She got a 10 lb. baby boy. Time will tell.

        3. DANNYBOY


          You punk-ass bitch. And don’t try to deny it. I know a loser from a mile away, and you are not even that./ You are too low to even smell Ms Yves shoes.

          You read her and then insult her.

          Try me punk-ass.

          1. JustAnObserver

            This whole sub-thread is starting to sound like one those rant-streams on ZeroHedge … do we really want to lower the tone of this blog that far?

          2. DANNYBOY

            This sub-sub thread sounds like a critisism disguised in a high-tone.
            JustAnObserver are you just an observer or is there something you want to say to me?

        4. citizendave

          I’m late to this party, but I feel compelled to observe that Phil’s comment indicates what Tammy Baldwin is up against in the race for US Senate in Wisconsin. Former governor Tommy Thompson, beloved by many here, is Ms. Baldwin’s opponent on election day in November. By everything I see, she has been an excellent Member of the House of Representatives, reliably progressive, and I believe she is a fine human being. But I fear that the fracking bigots, ceteris paribus, will vote for Thompson because of her non-traditional sexuality. She has represented a very progressive district that includes Madison. In the last Senate election, Wisconsin voters chose a T-P business man instead of Russ Feingold, a traditional citizen with solid progressive credentials. There are many people like Phil in Wisconsin.

          This year I vowed to get the money out of politics in a personal way by not donating to anybody. But I changed my mind and sent a few dollars to Tammy Baldwin.

          As for advertising, I think saturation leads to indifference. Spice adds flavor, but it should be subtle to be most effective. However, in current political campaigns, repetition apparently equates with truth.

    2. Clive

      Just when I got thinking that Americans are generally an alright bunch because of people like Yves and the inspirational NC blog(I can sort-a block my mind to the third-world level — actually, it’s an insult to the third-world — politics, the barmy religious right who seem to think The Handmaid’s Tale is a policy document and your lousy corporate culture) along comes F. Beard to restore my cynical streak.

      I was going to say that, if only he knew how he and his ilk make the US a laughing stock to the rest of us he might reconsider. But then again, he probably knows that already and is past caring.

      1. F. Beard

        Oh come on Clive. Forget religion. Even If I were a blazing atheist, I would still be repelled by deliberate, public, perverse, in your face ugliness.

        The Religious Right has problems and I point them out on occasion but don’t expect me to bow to the gods of the Left.

        1. patricia

          What the heck is wrong with you today, Beard? You make a dumb comment about TINA means anti-status-quo commie. Then you flick some guilt by implying it’s not possible cheat an honest man. Now you are foaming about what you think is ugly and getting all self-righteous when people are offended by your crudity.

          You must be having a fundy relapse. Go to bed for a few days and come back out when you’ve recovered.

          1. F. Beard

            You must be having a fundy relapse. patricia

            Nope. This is me. I don’t like today’s culture. If I were more fundamental I’d probably be MORE tolerant. I mean what should one expect of a sick culture but sickness?

  2. PQS

    Both a one trick pony and an indicator….for a certain class of shopper.

    Kids go through styles like they go through pizza, so if A&F is in need of a rebrand, well, isn’t that what happened to The Gap?

    Abercrombie caters to upper middle class teens who like to shop at the mall. I just checked their website, and they have tank tops for $58. I would bet that lots of parents in that class don’t have it to give to their kids anymore, so they aren’t buying. Now, those parents in classes above that are doing fine…so I would wonder if the brands in the next groups are ALSO having trouble selling with sex…I bet they aren’t, since the 1% is doing fine and shopping up a storm.

    1. Richard Kline

      Regarding A & F specifically, I’m with PQS and Frankzappaguitar, it’s brand-specific. Aber & F have LCB Syndrome; last cadre’s brand. Remember, some of you, when _the Gap_ was the hot teeny-something place, back before Big Adz heisted that for A & F? The Gap was the last cadre’s brand. Now, A & F can’t be hott because your neighbor in college was wearing it back when your pink backpack was bigger than you were. I for one won’t miss the lost mojo of this particular firm. They were very, very white, and _heavy_ on conspicuous consumption; y’know, very 2007, the epitome of the era for the age group in question. The garb itself was ugly, shoddily made, ridiculously priced, and archetypal west-of-the-Pacific sweatshop dudz. Tasteless.

      And while I’m all for the body beautiful, A & F.’s photomontages always struck me as . . . bizarre. To begin with, they were selling clothes, but the models weren’t wearing much of anything, so obviously the product wasn’t worth putting on the wall, was it. Then, that age group _does not_ stand around with their clothes about three-quarters off, they’re dressed or they’re horizontal with some particular one. Sooo, who were those ads for, exactly. Those ads were to draw 30-something eyes in the corporate media to make a buzz from. Soo, the actual tastes of the putative customers rated between irrelevant and nonexistent. Any way, that dress for the TV cam, spare no money excess _is_ dated at the moment.

      But _making_ ones own clothes has become in? I’ve missed that one, not that I’m up on these things. I’d tend to say it’s going to be a mix-and-match style for the present cadre. I don’t see that the same as actually being independent-minded, which is the very _last_ thing I would expect tweens and such to be. Riding the road to success is all about conformity, and as we see that road to success has a lot of indebted, semi-employed grads alongside it in the breakdown lane with their thumbs out, with all the meanings of the gesture implied. So while I don’t see evidence to confirm it, it would be no surprise that the New New is in someway a reaction to the conspicuously expensive brand conformity of the last cadre. That’s supposed to be ‘indy’ (hah!), but at least would be defineably different which is the real point. I’m dubious that there is any reaction to ‘those sexy ads’ of A & F in that regard, though. Those ads weren’t there for the customers the last time, and as frankzappaguitar said tweens can look at all of the nekkid people they want on their own time so that’s no reason to walk into a mall destination. If there’s an economic indicator in all of that it seems to me the choice for a down market clothing vibe is dictated more by the ex-pen-sive and NUMEROUS personal electronic devices it is mandatory for those between 10 and 30 to have adorning their persons at all times in public. Those devices, and their operating costs, are doubtless soaking up all available cash flow, and with everybody squinting at tiny screens nobody notices when you’ve got on your feet or the patch on your pants. —And you can always Photoshop a fix for that when you post up your daily pics on Facebook, so who needs the real thing?

      1. Peripheral Visionary

        I agree, I think it is brand-specific.

        Your “very white” hits on what I think has been the schtick of the chain: selling the culture of young affluent white America to people who aspire to the same. It’s not a coincidence that most of their photoshoots are of young white people of very Anglo-Saxon features, in carefree recreation typical of wealthy college students on break. The demographic they are selling to is not that demographic; rather, it’s the people who wish they could be part of that demographic.

        Hence, much of their sales volume is overseas, and specifically in Asia. You can’t turn a corner in some of the newer parts of Asian cities without seeing an A&F. Their products have sold very well in Asia’s new conspicuous-consumption-oriented culture; particularly since young Asians have such a strong tendency to romanticize the lifestyles of young Americans.

        If all that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a derivative of the strategy employed by an even larger and more respected brand: Polo Ralph Lauren. Polo has long been in the business of selling the culture of white American affluence to people who are not in that demographic (people who really are in that demographic, of course, go to Brooks Brothers and Nordstrom). Polo is not as shameless in the “sex sells” side of its advertising, but it is just as shameless in its “private school-educated scions of New England patricians enjoying their trust fund money” themes in its advertising, as A&F.

        So if A&F is down, that may say less about the American economy than it does about shifting attitudes worldwide; away from conspicuous consumption, away from shameless envying of old-school American privilege, and away from aspirations of class mobility.

        If you want an economic indicator, igore the fashion retailers and stick with energy consumption.

        1. Up the Ante

          fixed it for ‘ya

          “So if A&F is down, that may say less about the American economy than it does about shifting attitudes worldwide; away from conspicuous consumption, away from shameless envying of old-school American privilege, and away from aspirations of class mobility towards increased production of ambivalent store managers connected to each other over the net. Ambivalent store managers, the new ‘in’. ”

          as skippy would say, ambivalent store manager exceptionalism, barf!!

        2. Richard Kline

          So Peripheral, your association to Ralph Lauren is apt, I didn’t go that fat but the correspondence is the same. And I find particularly astute your observation that those putatively shown in those brands don’t actually _buy_ them; rather it’s the aspirants who do. Something like that was in my mind, but I didn’t articulate it until reading your comment.

          I’ll agree with your last paragraph also regarding an economic indicator; but only for that. What we are talking about with fashion is more of a mood indicator. There are lots or reasons (and some scholarly literature) concerning the cyclicality of social moods, which relate in my view to the patterns I raised in my second comment. And mood does correlate to economic patterns in my view, but the linkage isn’t consistently tight. So: a fairly tightly coupled, near-term economic trend indicator would be energy consumption. A moderately coupled, mid-term contextual indicator of cyclical phase (and transitions thereof) would be issue of mood, such as conspicuous consumption. Sexualized marketing is so pervasive nowadays that oscillations in sexual display, in fashion and otherwise, which might once have been more evident and telling are simply swamped by a ‘forced signal,’ as it were. In that regard, I don’t think flutters in sexual advertising trends matter in a larger sense. . . . Just in case somebody was wondering. : )

    2. Richard Kline

      On a divergent subject, the ‘generationa cadres’ used in common parlance for the US cited in the article—Millennials, Generation C, as for Generation Y, etc.—are inaccurate in their delineation. Yes, these particular terms are pervasive in the meme space. Yes, there _was_ an original model which framed sequences for some of the earlier ones ‘defined’ in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve read the model for the authors in question, and was profoundly unimpressed, not that that’s kept them from becoming a kitchen table industry of their own churning out their brand. The key data for their model _they never published_ but only state their ‘interpretation’ while the sequencing of their phases was radically dissimmilar at different points in time. Just not particularly good work.

      Not that I disagree with the concept of ‘generational’ cadres. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that these exist in mot places and times. They vary for different locales; Korea, the Congo, California (and the US as a media-ted whole), and so on. And cadre formation strikes me, having studied it, as malleable to a limited extent by major exogenous impacts like, say, WW II or the Collapse of the Soviet Apparat, or the Great Leap Forward. Things like that can nudge a turning point a year or two and also dampen or exaggerate the significane of a particular cadre.

      As I would articulate ‘generations’ and ‘cadres,’ the former run on the order of 13-17 years, but for purposes of age-group identity their four constituent cadres of 3-4+ years duration are salient to observation. The sharper breaks in an historical sense are between ‘generations’ but the clearer delineations in the lived experience of one’s own times are more likely the cadre distinctions. The timeframes of the Gen X, Gen Y, Millennial in common usage don’t match this kind of sequence: That is to say, the latter usage is simply made up and imposed on our sense of the times, not a substantive assignment of cadres to timeframes.

      For those interested, here is the recent sequence of cadres and generations as I would articulate them for the main trend in American socio-culture:

      1943 – 1947 – 1950 – 1954 – 1958 ))
      1958 – 1962/63 – 1966 – 1970 – 1973 ))
      1973 – 1976 – 1979/80 – 1984 -1 987 ))
      1987 – 1991 – 1994 – 1998 – 2001 ))
      2001 – 2004 – 2007/8 – 2011? – 2017?? ))
      2017?? –

      Nominal transition points are in the autumn of the year indicated. Cusps of change are wobbley such that 3-4 year periods will have months of overlap, while 13-17 year periods will have a year or even two of overlap. Not all individuals in a culture shift at the same time, obviously. We see at least two exogenous impacts large enough to break off a zeitgeist, the official end of the Vietnam war in 1973, and the events of 2001, with the latter clearly ending the era ‘early.’ Similar sequences can be found in other cultures, I mention these because they will be more familiar to an American audience. All such sequences are much, MUCH older in duration than the series above.

      As far as assigning individuals to cadres and generations there are two possibilities: what year one is born, and what year one becomes an autonomous individual participating in events ca. 14-15 years of age. I tend to lean toward the latter, since zeitgeist and ‘generational identity’ appear substantiall a matter of mass socialization to the events and conditions of the time (though there are significant cyclical dynamics underlying the whole). In that regard, the ‘current cadre’ would consist of those who were 15 in 2007/08 to those who turned fifteen in 2011/12. Obviously, there is some alignment between grouping by birth year and grouping by ‘year of majority.’ I wouldn’t get to fine in making hypotheses there, the underlying issues could be determined by large-scale sociological and social psychological studies. (If academia really carried it’s weight rather than chased it’s grants, these would have been done a century ago, as the concept of social generations has been raised repeatedly over the last 150 years but never gotten the study it really deserves. That’s whay we’re left to marketers and pop psychers on the make to name these things.)

      My hypothesis is that cadres in generations are _not_ of equal weight in determining styles and symbols. The earliest one is always the most impactful unless a massive exogenous event damps that. Your older sibs just always carry more weight, that’s how it is. There seem to me other dynamics at work as well, but that is a long discussion (for a book unwritten). Make of it what you will, sez I!

      1. s.n.

        fascinating. I admit that I haven’t given much thought to Abercrombie & Fitch –or much anything else fashionwise- until I –this past weekend- noticed that they’d opened a shop on Copenhagen’s priciest shopping street, and window-dressed it with lots of props evocative of early 20th century American upperclass sports –i almost expected to see a lifesized stuffed Teddy Roosevelt standing just inside the doorway– and I wondered how they were doing (a lot of shops in trouble there these days). I had thought that A&F was trading on its early (first half of the 20th century) preppie / High WASP associations in order to cash in as an aspirational brand for non-preppies/non-WASPS. All of which wouldn’t really translate outside of the American context, which is not atypical for American marketeers in this part of the world, who evidently presume that American cultural idioms are universal. Hence my curiousity about A&F’s Copenhagen. Then it occured to me that if they’ve done enough product placement on hiphop videos they might just have a buzz going over here. Or not. And now I can see from reading your interesting commentary that my presuppositions are totally invalid. damn.

    3. petridish

      Not only are the tank tops $58, but they are sooooo thin you have to wear three at a time to look like you’re actually wearing a top. I always thought that was a pretty brilliant way of selling a top for $174!!! (This tactic was adopted by some of the other “teen” retailers like Hollister.)

      Additionally, the person wearing this junk is a walking A&F billboard and paying through the nose for the privilege. If this shipwreck of a retailer is really going down, I’m not shedding any tears.

  3. FrankZappasGuitar

    I was in junior high and high school when A&F started to dominate the clothing of my peers. The risqué and aggressive sexual message certainly worked on “all American” white kids who were listening to Britney Spears and Blink 182 and who wanted to get laid.

    While I can’t speak about the general economy’s role in A&F’s downturn, the internet has definitely played a role in turning A&F into something that most middle class kids now regard with contempt on as a uniform. However, I don’t think it’s solely due to the distribution of social media or an emphasis on individualization in the culture. Remember, A&F’s success was based on overt sexual messaging, but today kids are looking at hardcore porn on mobile devices by the age of 11, 12 or 13. I don’t think overt, jock-cheerleader type sexualization is quite as effective as it used to be as an advertising gimmick with kids these days.

    1. KnotRP

      Families are pulling the plug on cable
      tv, and traditional paper based sewer
      pipes….it should not be a surprise
      that the “influence” business is losing

  4. monday1929

    Mr. Prechter’s Socionomics would posit that as the social mood declines there is less pro-creation but more of an interest in sex, S&M etc.

    Also, expect gender roles to blur (Bowie in the ’70’s) and women to take a larger political role.

    There are always cross-currents, especially at major trend changes. Yes, there are always horror movies being released, it is the box office success and level of violence that will increase in a Bear market and decrease in a Bull (Batman was a satire on TV in the Bullish 1960’s).
    Yves, we may not get to see you in a mini-dress until after 2016. We will wait. :)

    1. monday1929

      And to relate this to Abacrombie, and as frank zappa above alludes to, A&F would need to introduce themes of torture and fetishism to stay “relevant”.
      But, Socionomics aside, don’t all restaurants (CMG) and teen fashion fads come and go?

      1. Up the Ante

        “A&F would need to introduce themes of torture .. ”

        Now there’s an idea, barely-dressed teens torturing security camera addicts, aka store managers, before the photographers ..

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      1. I don’t wear dresses for the most part

      2. When I do wear skirts (with jackets, power outfit) they are well above the knee, black hose. Any other formula isn’t flattering. I’ve dressed this way for 20+ years and have no plan on changing until I am too much of a dinosaur to wear skirts at all.

      1. DANNYBOY

        black hose…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….hmmm…………………………….

  5. donna


    1. scraping_by


      Sorry, are you under 25 and that’s a nearly unsurpassed complement, or older and have inconsistent views about our esteemed hostess?

    2. YesMaybe

      I actually enjoyed this comment, as a bit of comic relief. Of course, if it was one every day it would lose its charm.

  6. ScottS

    Abercrombie & Fitch creeps me out second only to American Apparel. I don’t have delicate sensibilities to offend, just an over-developed reasoning compulsion — which is why I’m baffled by advertising campaigns that use virtually nude models to sell clothes. What the hell are they selling exactly? Washboard abs?

    Also, being inside the store is like being in the worst rave in the world. WHOOM WHOOM WHOOM WHOOM goes the PA, while I talk to the mannequin thinking it’s my girlfriend since I can’t see anything or hear anything other than WHOOM WHOOM WHOOM WHOOM.

    As for the macroeconomic implications, I can’t really tell you what it means. I live and work near a giant mall, and it certainly isn’t empty. The aforementioned girlfriend likes to point out the apparent absence of any recession every time we go there. A tale of two Americas.

    1. Waking Up

      The next time you are at the mall, notice how many people are actually purchasing items. Some people are so accustomed to being at the mall that they can’t break the habit…even when they can no longer afford to be there. Also, parents were more likely to put that $58 T-shirt on the credit card adding to their debt. Now they have to think twice about those types of expenditures at a time when losing a job can mean extended unemployment.

      It would be interesting to get Naomi Klein’s take on this (author of “No Logo”).

      1. ScottS

        Waking Up,

        True, one shouldn’t confuse heat with light. Our public space has been gutted and replaced with malls, so where else would people go? Except, as the mall was apparently designed to do, anyone who isn’t buying anything is excluded. The homeless across the street from the mall might have some stories to tell about how friendly the mall security is to those who are window shopping.

    2. CaitlinO

      Agree with you on the music. Our local A&F store seems to have been deliberately, methodically, and efficiently designed to be a major migraine trigger. There’s something about the lighting, too.

      On the three or four days a year I indulge in spoiling my god-daughter with a shopping trip, A&F is the one and only store in the mall that’s off limits.

  7. scraping_by

    Silly me. I just glanced at the headline and thought the frontiers of privitization had taken a great leap forward.

    You read the literature of measuring everything in money, with the subtext of making it all a priced commodity, and there’s usually faux outrage at a large amount of activity going on outside the market. I’m just waiting for some howling about personal services underpriced because of stodgy attitudes and government interference.

    As I say, amazing ideas when you don’t read closely. These days, there’s no real separation between satirists and capitalist ideologues.

    1. tom allen

      I glanced at the headline and thought that, while it’s nearly impossible to get economists to agree, it shouldn’t be that hard to get the verb (“is”) and the subject (“difficulties”) to do so. :-P

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Maybe I should have said “market portent”. Stock pickers look for all sorts of indicators to get an edge on the real economy. When I was a kid, hemline length really was on the list. Garbage volumes, small container shipments, orders for cardboard are often used. There is also the lipstick theory, if cosmetics counters show a higher mix of lipstick relative to total sales, that’s a bad sign because women supposedly treat lipstick as a cheap cheer me up purchase.

    3. Up the Ante

      “These days, there’s no real separation between satirists and capitalist ideologues. ”

      And with that, J. Edgar spins in his grave.

  8. Max424

    I wear full battle armor when I go out, because I look sexy in it, and because I know it turns the ladies on.

    Yes, my attire can be troublesome when I score, for it takes me a full two hours and three attendants to get undressed. But I consider this dis-armoring phase a form of hot foreplay, although I’m not always sure that milady thinks the same, as quite often she’s disappeared.

    Here’s an illustration of me from the proceeding eve. I was out cutting rug ‘neath the stars, and charming all the damsels in the vicinity in distress.

  9. Warren Celli

    Abercrombie and Fitch — Vanilla Greed for Profit Evilism — which creates products for the culture, meets Pernicious Greed for Destruction Xtrevilism — which creates the self destroying culture as the product.

    Generation C is really Generation Afraid

    Generation Afraid,
    Formed by fear and rejections,
    Has scant little time,
    For desire and erections…

    A&F needs to design clothes for robots if they want to survive.


    “A sex scandal is raging in Chinese politics after photos of an orgy went viral on Chinese social media websites with allegations that the men at the centre of the sexcapades are government officials.”

    Read more:

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  10. Renee

    There is a whole group of teens and young adults who are embracing the crafting thing for both economy and individuality. Sewing and knitting are way up. It’s also related to local economies, and buying your stuff from a local store rather than a conglomerate that imports it all from China.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      I’ve yet to find the “local store” that doesn’timport their stuff from China.

      1. DANNYBOY

        finally helping those starving kids in China that I heard about when i didn’t finish my dinner.

  11. Sufferin' Succotash, Legitimate

    The last decent item A&F sold were those Big Shirts.
    Still have a couple of them.


      those were those Boyfriend Shits sold to girls without boyfriends to make them look like girls who had boyfriends, who took their boyfriend’s shirts.

      Sold more of the ersatz kind. Again.

  12. Dale C.

    I was with my teenage boys at the mall recently, and we went right by Abercrombie & Fitch. They weren’t interested. A&F seem to be passe’ now, in the same way that happened to Tommy Hilfiger or any other fashion that gets too popular. The kids don’t want to be seen doing what too many other kids are doing, because that means that they are not really cool, but just cool wanna-be’s. An interesting study in non-linear system behavior. But not a meaningful indicator about the broad economy in general.

  13. rjs

    i must really be out of it…my first reaction on seeing the headline was why would a credit rating agency be interested in selling sex?


    Imaging my satisfaction to find you, Yves writing about sex instead of that boring Finance. I hope that I had something to do with your change of heart, as I did comment just this morning that:

    “I began my read of NakedCapitalism with a quick browse of the headlines and links. After reading these headlines…
    I felt too sickened to continue reading. I guess that I’ve read enough, written enough, and talked enough.

    So, thank you Yves for the digression. And you’ve chosen my favorite topic in the world!

    I’m not an expert on whether sex sells anything anytime (I know I never confuse good sex with cosmetics or other shit, but maybe some do. Who knows, sex is such a pervasive drive.

    Well, back to the article, did you note that more sex is for sale than ever. That’s a sure sign that folks can’t make their bills, QE or not QE.

    And these photo ads. I must point out that those hulky men in Health are eyecandy for not-so-hunky men; so I guess photos sell magazines. And those photos of ‘drugged out looking’ girls (?) are not meant to appeal to men, rich or poor. I know because I’ve been both (rich and poor, not hunky and not-hunky).

    I thought that I’d get this off, even before I finish your post, just to let you know how much I love this new Topic of your, and to let you know that I plan to devotedly read every upcoming work.

    It may even be more important than the PE Expose!

    Back to the post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. acmerecords

    check the rise in shopping at thrift stores by the young crowd and it doesn’t take much cogitating to realize that the GenCs are aware : we are in a depression…

    1. dSquib

      My local Village Discount underwent an expansion recently, and it’s stuffed to the gills with discarded A&F t-shirts.

      Why buy the 2012 line when the 2005 line is the same?

      1. psychohistorian

        There is a story to be told here.

        Where are the graphs tracking the evolution of hand-me-downs, thrift store usage and the consumption machine in relation to disposable income and employment rates?

        Kids are on the whole more perceptive than the system can handle and major social rejection is starting, like in the 60’s. This will test the propaganda and control capabilities of the global inherited rich as they continue to play countries against each other for strategic advantage… they need more since they OWN the US and all its nukes to scare folks.

        1. Waking Up

          Increasing awareness of the environment and sustainability amongst the younger generation may also lead to an increase in the motto “reduce, reuse, recycle, restore”. Shopping at thrift stores fit well into that dynamic.

          1. Eclair

            I agree, Waking Up. An artist friend made me aware of the ancient Japanese form of clothing recycling/art, known as “boro”, or patchwork.

            Related to “boro” is the uniquely Japanese aesthetic known as “wabi sabi”, rather untranslateable, but roughly, the appreciation of “the modest, the rustic, the imperfect, and even the decayed.”

            Out of necessity, we might want to acquaint ourselves with boro and wabi sabi.

        2. Knut

          Although my wife still occasionally indulges herself (she bought a $2000 Missoni outfit yesterday), we have been taking our clothes to be refitted by a seamstress. For a fraction of the price of new clothes ($50 to redo my suits and jackets), we get something that looks good and up-to-date. I should think that there is an opportunity here for people with the requisite skills. Unfortunately, they are hard to acquire. Our seamstress is an immigrant who did a full 6 year apprenticeship in Italy. She works from her basement.

          1. kareninca

            Knut, rich people of your ilk creep me out. You spend $2,000 on a dress, yet pay a seamstress slave wages. Just because you can. Just because she does not have the leverage to ask for more. Disgusting.

            I see it all the time around me: Rich lowlives who will spend 1.5 million for a home remodel, and pay the guy who cleans the koi pond $8 per hour – indirectly of course; he’s hired by someone else who makes more.

            There are other ways. My parents overspend on the people they hire to do things. On principle. Even though they aren’t rich. So do I.

          2. F. Beard

            My parents overspend on the people they hire to do things. On principle. Even though they aren’t rich. So do I. kareninca

            I like that!

            And really, if one can’t afford to be generous then one is not really rich.

  16. abelenkpe

    “Is Ambercrombie just a one trick pony that has become stale and is having trouble adjusting, or an indicator of our zombified economy?”

    A bit of both.

    Todays fashions are overpriced, made of cheap fabric, with low skilled labor. Most of the styles for women’s tops look like rags. Many of my friends have taken up sewing lately altering purchased pieces and vintage clothing for two main reasons:

    One: nothing fits properly without making adjustments and two: to save money.

  17. dSquib

    Do people care less about “the brand” now? I’d love to see the brand die in my lifetime, whether through economic or cultural changes, or legal. If anyone can put a nike swoosh on a cheap t-shirt, then who cares? For a company like A&F over a century old that doesn’t innovate, the brand is everything.

    H&M clothes aren’t great, but they aren’t heavily branded at least, and seem less likely to be ironically badly made.

    1. JTFaraday

      “A&F offered Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and other cast members of the MTV reality show Jersey Shore a “substantial payment” if they stopped wearing Abercrombie-branded clothes, stating “We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.”[33]

      In November 2011, Sorrentino filed a lawsuit against A&F after the company violated his copyrights in making shirts that said “The Fitchuation” and “GTL…You Know The Deal.””

      That’s funny. I heard somewhere that Chris Christie changed NJ’s tax laws to make them hostile to on-site filming in order to get Jersey Shore to leave.

      I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s what I’ve heard.

  18. rps

    Hooray for this generation of teenagers, who refuse to become a free walking sandwich board advertisement for A&F. The logo blasted uniform rags are obnoxious. Perhaps the teens are refusing to be the free endorsement of name brand cultural assimilation, and finally reversing the Gloria Vanderbilt outside label trend. Let’s hope these teens are more secure in their own identities than the mimicking generations of wannbes who’s ideal of humanity were the selfish hypocritical greed is good monied class. Just maybe, this is the sign of the times and the end of mankind idol worshipping of royalty and greed? N’est-ce pas Marie and Louis?!

    1. DanD

      I love HOWARD DAVIDOWITZ’s comments on RETAIL. His analyses are sometimes on YAHOO! FINANCE-DAILY TICKER. He would be especially interesting on A&F.
      I MISS MERVINS! that’s hilarious!

    2. anewman

      rps. Your right. It has begun again. We are all free to be what we want. Without the need for brand recognition. The new paradigm of the 21st century prides tasteful individuality over schlock. Simple.

      Also, sorry about the grammatical errors in my post above. I guess I know I can spell encyclopedia so im not too worried about a few thens and thans.

  19. anewman

    Its firstly, both stale∞and zombified. Not either/or. That will help you understand the deep rooted genetic emergence of meta-cognition that we as a species is undergoing.

    As for why so much trite, archaic marketing simply doesn’t capture the attention span of people anymore~
    In the Dawsons Creek days of the late 90s Abercrombie and Fitch was a look already stale and zombified. I was a high schooler than, and only a few of the extremely wealthy and boring kids at one of our nations wealthiest schools were interested in it.

    Has Abercrombie ever made more money than Target? Lets get super real, super quick. Have fossil fuels ever been a better Idea than renewables? Had fracking ever made any more sense than wind power?

    So. The upper crust crustiness continues to crumble.

    Last I checked, The French Revolution was +300 years ago. Elitism might spike in temporary popularity, but in general, humanity seeks concordance, not class ranking and separation.

  20. Dustbowl Daze

    If Ambercrombie & Fitch still want to get the attention of the jaded, blase, hardcore porn public, they are going to have to jump straight to fisting. Maybe change their name to Abercrombie & Fist.

    1. rotter

      Thats probably what the actual problem is anyway – people are bored and desensitized.At this point fisting is tame. You can get US govt POV-drone snuff films on the evening news and the sickest, most toxic audio-visual sludge imaginable on the internet.

  21. anewman

    Dear Dustbowl,

    Respectively, a great disservice is done to marginalize youth and generalize that they are all obsessed with porn.

    So, more information is available, and there is a tone of voyeurism…

    I doubt that absolutely indicates that people are now entirely reduced to wanting sexual gratification without content.

    Maybe the seeking of orgasmic delight instead indicates a more passionate, sensory perception based being.

    Just a thought.

    Perhaps after all it was evolution to being more present, sensing pleasure in multitudes; and not any more of this passive aggressive bent to cynically chock everything yet unknown up to a vacant, hollow generality.

  22. Jimmy

    Mainstream is not cool for me.
    I agree with the first post.
    Brains and energy are hot for me.
    Seems to me you are doing just fine on both counts.
    Smart and sexy.
    Of course I am 64 years old and brainless.

  23. auntinene

    I still have an old plaid shirt after my aunt from the original A & F. She and my uncle had his and hers shirts for going fishing. Must be at least fifty years old.

  24. Jimmy

    OK.. one more comment…
    I liked the “old” levi 501’s, but I can’t get them. I take what I can get.
    I grow to appreciate my favorite t-shirts, wear them until they literally fall apart and fall off and when they do I feel sad having to give them up.
    I seem to get a pretty steady supply of wonderful Hawaiian shirts from friends and family who browse thrift stores all over the place.
    I hate it when one of my favorites gives up the ghost and separates at the shoulder and really becomes unwearable.
    Shopping for me is really not the answer – but I do appreciate a lot of cast offs that come from people that like shopping.

  25. rotter

    “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.”

    and for the money you lay out its just one more far-east asian made piece of garbage product, made in the same sleazy, slave labor OEM factory (and probably the same day with all of the same materials) as every other crappy brand…I cant say enough good things about making your own consumer junk…it almost sanctifies the desire to have consumer unk…my only comment to DIY garment manufacturers is, where and whenever possible, use American Made fabric and thread, and mchines…if theres only few items left that are US made, use them, and also look for and buy old US made stuff..its almost always better than newer stuff anyway, and its always hip-er. …find it on craigslist, ebay, and at fabric stores (i bought a bunch of old American made pleather at a retail franchise store recently, to cover a speaker cabinet)

  26. Tim

    “Is Ambercrombie just a one trick pony that has become stale and is having trouble adjusting, or an indicator of our zombified economy?”

    The answer is obviously yes. It is a shame because they have very unique fabric quality that you can’t get anywhere else.

    There styling has gotten more conservative and narrow in terms of variety over the last decade. It is no wonder they are struggling.

    Although, whenever I need a new T-shirt I just head straight to the back of the A&F store to the walls full of discounted T-shirt. 15 bucks for a T-Shirt with material quality and fit second to none is a great deal!

    People will wear T-shirts to the end of time so I’m not convinced A&F will disapear completely any time soon.

  27. KFritz

    I suspect that A&F’s marketing woes are a result of a decentralization, a hollowing out of the ‘great middle’ of American culture. Once upon a time when there were 3 television channels, one musical best seller chart (with ancillaries), and a limited group of pundits who propagated a national narrative, a retailer who could appeal to the great middle could succeed.

    The dissipation of the middle has been underway for a long while, and A&F’s troubles may be another milepost of the process. Or not. The immediate future of style and fashion may be exploited best by niche market specialists. Or not.

  28. alex

    from the Bloomberg quote: 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.

    Reminds me of the line from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the crowd shouts, in perfect unison, “we are all individuals!”

  29. bulfinch

    This is weird, because what I witness more than anything is the hyper-average, anti-sartorial look; you’ve got either the big puffy white booties or the flip-flops — even in pouring rain in February, the knee length shorts — lousy with pockets, and the T-shirt made from a tent with two sleeping bags for sleeves. Top it all off with either the ubiquitously shaved head or that awkward gel’d-up Frisch’s forelock and the latest I-phone as accessory and you are good-to-go. If it’s really cold, maybe a fleece gets drug out along with a ballcap or sun visor. Cary Grant, eat your heart out!

    Sorry to say, females are terrible, too. They all have that yoga’d-out look with the same super short satin-y gym shorts and teh same dark eyeglass frames. Maybe a tattoo somewhere that looks like it was randomly flung there.

    That is the dominant look I see across America, and I travel a fair amount. It’s gotten so that when I do see anyone with a natural sense of grace or style, I feel half-compelled to photograph them like they’re a dying breed or something.

  30. avg John

    I can’t imagine giving such nonsense over 15 seconds of thought, let alone a national conversation. Fashion behavior for frightened neurotic monkeys in cages. “Beeple are the kwaziest monkeys”.

  31. YankeeFrank

    $58 for a shirt? Ding! Oh, that and the fact that A&F were so hot with that lame pop song about 10 years ago. They are now stale and tired. Also, I agree that the whole DIY thing is growing huge — kids now can sew glowing thread and piping, led lights onto their clothes, and making your own is truly unique — nothing like a bit of genuine in a sea of corporate blandness.

    Think about it — the number of people who can afford their prices is dropping every day, and its just not cool anymore anyway. What are the pop stars wearing these days?

    1. Up the Ante

      “What are the pop stars wearing these days? ”

      The smart ones are wearing ‘U Out’, lol.

      This is an approved brand, btw, for the majority.


  32. Dan Kervick

    Does there have to be a reason for this? Don’t youth fashion trends and companies come and go rapidly like any other fad? My son worked in an Abercrombie & Fitch store when he was in high school, but then a couple of years later was telling us that he hated Abercrombie & Fitch and they weren’t cool any more.

    I hear the kids don’t wear Benetton any more either. Go figure.

  33. bhikshuni

    The idea of kids learning to sew their own clothes gives me hope and reminds me of London in the early 1980s; small business schemes from councils like Camden and Brixton leveraged youth design creativity into small businesses.

    Thirty years later and I am spoiled by south and east where quality custom tailoring with premium fabric is cheaper than store-bought clothes.

    May the entrepreneurs among us support our young people in taking up tailoring skills and ventures!

  34. Garrett Pace

    Now it’s generation “C”? Sheesh, seems like a new generation is coming along every six months. You know this “generation” business is just marketing segmentation made public, right? They create personas and then offer them to kids to try on.

  35. IdahoSpud

    Hate to bust your ballon, but sex still sells. Just take a look at the stock of Limited Brands (ticker: LTD), owner of Victoria’s Secret and Bed,Bath,Body. More importantly you can still get a free catalog ;)


    Reporting here, from the streets of NYC, the trend for ladies this year is for the ladies to be wearing next-to-nothing (or maybe it’s my imagination, again?).

    Is this new sort-of-naked look for this season only (I sure hope not!). Is it a sign of our economic time (Sell, Buy) or are the ladies broke?

    I leave it for the more erudite to analyze as I need to return to my research.

  37. alan

    re: Sex (suddenly) not selling being an economic portent. An economic portent of what, exactly? We are in an awful economic time. Dead in the (hopefully) middle of a really bad economic time. I don’t think Anything
    is really selling anymore, is it?
    As lonely and very much in need of an ego boost as I am, if I’ve but $10.00 left to spend, it’s getting spent on food, or gas to get me to my next job interview, not on mate attraction devices…not that that ever really worked for me, but still…

  38. Stephanie

    Is it that sex isn’t selling, or just that the Abercrombie vision of sex is losing out to the American Apparel vision of sex?

  39. ep3

    i say both yves. The days of the long standing brand spanning generations is (bankruptcy of GM, bankruptcy of Hart, schaffer & marx. which, by the way, where was mr. “i will stand with striking workers” during that fight?). So the market dictates now that you get in, get 50% returns, and as soon as there’s a slight performance drop, you sell or close the business.
    And then there’s the economics of life. When in high school, mommy and daddy are paying for everything, so that the child as a status symbol is risen higher than everyone. Once the child goes to college, and then graduates, that funding is cut off (usually, except for emergency bailouts) and the child/now adult can’t afford Harts suits while working at walmart. Don’t forget the stigma that goes around now about the hard working individual. The hard working individual doesn’t overpay for anything; he/she lives frugal. They brag about driving the same 10 year old vehicle, about buying clothes at goodwill (how many sucessful college grads do this? really!?), about living within their means. You know Yves, the fantasy BS that warren buffet still lives in the same home he bought 55 years ago (i am sure he does. But I seriously doubt he’s “living” there. A multibillionaire is gonna have a fortress somewhere that he can run to if and when the rabble rebel.

  40. Susan the other

    Existential crisis maybe. Not all bad. Maybe A&F is not doing so well because it is getting pointless. It will be hard to remake fashion into something relevant in this day and age. Putting make up on again seems very weird after you quit bothering. But don’t mind me – I’m old enough to have long since decided fashion just takes too much energy and usually makes me look like a fool anyway. I’ve never shopped at A&F – but when I was in NYC I did notice long lines and engaged consumers in the new Whole Foods.

  41. Matt

    Brands come and go… one of the selling points of a new brand is always that its not what your parent or older siblings wore. I wouldn’t interpret A&F issues as a sign of change any more than the decline of AMC meant people didn’t want cars.

    As for the DIY movement, that’s just a minor trend too. Doesn’t mean anything more for clothing retailers than hipsters with chicken coops means for Tyson. If you’re really poor, you’re buying cheap stuff at Walmart and not modifying it, because who has the time or money to do modifications.

    Of course, I’m 31 now, so maybe I’m too old to get it :)

  42. AA+ Bonds

    “Dubbed Generation C — for creative and connected”

    By whom? People who should be fucking shot, stomped, stabbed, etc.

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