Expensive stuff and boys in the buff
THE ABERCROMBIE BOYS don’t do body hair, body fat or even clothes, as a scandalised glance at the enormous torso draped suggestively over the facade of a building on College Green in Dublin makes pretty clear.
The waxed washboard stomach, superpecs and flash of denim displayed in one of the capital’s most prominent locations have been generating shock and awe, and the odd guffaw, for more than two weeks, and few people who have walked through the city centre will be oblivious to the fact that the company would like us to think something big is coming to town. That next big thing is Abercrombie Fitch, one of the world’s most successful retailers – and one that is often criticised.
During the boom, hoodies and T-shirts carrying the A&F logo (discreetly) and name (as indiscreetly as possible) were as much part of the Celtic Cub’s uniform as Ugg boots and Juicy Couture tracksuits. The clothes had to be sourced in the US, which only added to their appeal. Even though the boom has gone the retailer is confident it can get Irish teens to spend money on its high-priced clothes. It is putting its money where its mouth is by spending more than €7 million refitting the one-time Bank of Ireland building to improve their shopping experience. And make no mistake: the A&F experience is like no other.
When the store opens, in September, shoppers can expect to be greeted at the door by tanned, underdressed staff. There will be models working as shop assistants, very dim lighting, high-energy dance music, A&F fragrances wafting through the air-conditioning vents, and queues of well-heeled teenagers looking to spend their money on tight-fitting clothes that few people over 22 would be able to pull off, physically or metaphorically.
Dublin is not alone in feeling the A&F love: the shop on College Green is part of an expansion that will see the brand open at least half a dozen flagship stores across Europe this summer. It now has more than 1,000 outlets.
Abercrombie & Fitch’s baby brother Hollister has been here since last summer; its dimly lit shop at Dundrum Town Centre has been drawing Irish teenagers like tiny planets to a black hole. It says something about Ireland that, despite these hard times, the Hollister store in the south Dublin shopping complex is its second most popular branch, surpassed only by the shop on Fifth Avenue in New York.
One former employee from Dublin says he loved working at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York when he was a student, 10 years ago, as he got discounts “and was scoring two or three customers a week”.
During his job interview he was asked to take off his top, “so they could have a look at my build”, he says. “I was delighted to be put on the shop floor, but to be honest I’d say there was a thin line between my being on the shop floor and being in the stockroom.” He says a manager once warned him “to ‘catch a few rays over the weekend, because your skin’s getting a little pasty’. I used to look around the shop floor and marvel at how beautiful everyone was.”
Attempts to get a comment from the company this week failed.
That sex sells is hardly a shock, and A&F’s strategy, aimed at teenagers, continues to outrage grown-ups. Sometimes it pushes the boundaries way too far, such as when its Gilly Hicks lingerie brand sold children’s thongs with “wink wink” printed on the front and “push-up” bikini tops for seven-year-old girls. Such sales practices played well nowhere.