8 Things We Learned About The End Of Abercrombie & Fitch’s Jeffries Era

This week, Bloomberg Businessweek asks the question: can Abercrombie & Fitch be saved? Now that the retailer is losing sales, it has removed logos from its clothing, introduced the color black, and started selling some clothes above women’s size 10. (Mostly online, of course.) Is that enough to save the company, which for years was controlled by a CEO who saw himself, at age 70, as exactly like his 25-year-old ideal customers?

The artwork for the story imagines the company’s famous black-and-white photos of shirtless dudes with elderly dudes instead of ripped models. The company that was a century-old outdoor equipment company (think L.L. Bean, but stuffier) when Limited Brands purchased it in 1992 tapped into exactly what teens wanted…and then stayed the same while American teens’ interests and tastes changed.

  1. The day before the company announced that CEO Mike Jeffries was leaving, he just stopped showing up for work.
  2. Jeffries tried to dress and act like a typical Abercrombie customer, wearing intentionally ripped jeans and dyeing his hair blond. He would wear flip-flops to work.
  3. Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters has a dog. A&F HQ consists of twelve buildings in a wooded area; it’s something like a college campus.
  4. Jeffries wrote the original employee handbook dictating the chain’s appearance standards himself; the one that describes in detail acceptable hair colors and shades of highlights.
  5. The kids’ store is officially named “abercrombie.” In lower-case letters. That is not how you should teach small children about proper nouns!
  6. When Abercrombie began a lingerie brand, Gilly Hicks, Jeffries decreed that bras had to be put in drawers. He didn’t like how they looked hanging up.
  7. Jeffries’ partner had no official job at the company, yet made site visits to evaluate stores as if he did. Some actual employees didn’t appreciate him acting like an executive when he held no official position.
  8. The board member who is now in charge, former Sears CEO Arthur Martinez, says that while Abercrombie grew and thrived in the ’90s based on precise staging in every store, they need to spend more time focusing on customer service and less time deciding what story a shelf of cargo pants tells.

The Aging of Abercrombie & Fitch [Bloomberg Businessweek]