Entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch, Savile Row, Mayfair, 2008, Ravish London

Abercrombie & Fitch, Savile Row, London

A Psychological Death on Savile Row

The Abercrombie & Fitch store on Savile Row, London, offers a disconcerting experience, a psychological death. The store is located in a Georgian mansion on a street corner in Mayfair, a stone's throw from the Royal Academy of Arts and across the road from the famous tailors of Savile Row. The mansion has no signage or shop front, so the two young men stationed outside, employed to open the front doors for customers, look, on first sight, as if they were doing security for a private party. Dressed in blue hooded tops and jeans, the two men gaze into each other's eyes and chat. As you approach the entrance, although you may not realise it, you make a pact with the Devil, deigning to play a game you are destined to loose. The men open the doors but make no eye contact with you, looking through or above you as you pass between them. A sense of insignificance takes root as you cross the threshold. Inside the double doors, at the back of a large cloakroom, a fresh-faced young man, possibly in his teens, is looking awkward and abashed in equal measures. He is dressed in a jacket, unzipped and bares a ripped stomach and sculpted pecs. Affronted by this pornography you recoil but not wanting to appear affected you steady yourself and observe the man inserting himself amongst several girlfriends, all of whom pose for a photo taken by a female employee with a polaroid camera. Aware that you have neither the genes nor the gym membership to attain such a figure, nor the quality of meat hanging from your frame to be invited into such a gathering, you begin to feel you are not welcomed. Nevertheless, a competing need not to be defeated and a perverse sense of adventure propels you onwards. Into the shop proper and your eyes experience a blackout; no natural light is let in, the windows are boarded up. Clothes shop is conflated with nightclub. Your ears are gratuitously assaulted by pounding dance music. Low-level lighting illuminates the clothes, focusing your attention. Queues for the changing rooms snake across the floor. It can take up to forty-five minutes to try your garment on. On the first floor, which overlooks the ground floor, two employees are stood against a balcony, engaged in faux dancing, smiling and having fun. One of them, as instructed, flashes you a smile. The staff are so beautiful, that if you too are stood by the balcony when receiving such a smile, you might well fall off it. Beautiful people attract beautiful people, angel faced customers step slowly in this low light environment, peering softly and searchingly into their own reflection provided by large mirrors positioned around the shop. Idling your way around the shop, you cannot help but stop to contemplate the beauty of each shop assistant you pass, only to find he or she looks up at you with a warm smile, which causes you to scurry away like a dormouse. You notice how the models sidle up to one another, share a few words, smile sweetly and part with elegant touches; you imagine they are confirming attendance at some Kensington town house party planned for the evening. You think of the few friends you have, of the decidedly dogged looks of those in your social circle, and recall that whilst there are a few hours in which everything could change, you have, up to now, been invited to a grand total of no parties for the evening. Suffering, you try to protect yourself by denigrating physical appearance as a superficial phenomenon, but the sickening laughter, which hangs in the air of Abercrombie & Fitch, like a mist, reminds you of your Faustian pact. For the rest of your visit you will be wrestling with the Devil.

Entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch, Savile Row, Mayfair, 2008,

Brand Objectives

What is the objective of the marketing department of A&F?

Become beautiful by buying A&F

It might be that A&F are trying to convince shoppers they can attain the reproductive fitness inherent in their shop floor assistants, who A&F call models; both for themselves; and/or in a partner, by consuming and wearing their clothes. Apparently incumbent models are briefed that they are "selected to work... because [they are] 'aspirational people'. They are told 'People see [you], and they want to be [you]'... Maybe A&F is intended for those who are resigned or devoted to the idea that their only asset is their beauty, or that, even more desperately, the only thing that matters is beauty.

Clothing for beautiful people

Rather than appealing to people who want to be beautiful, it might be that A&F are trying to corner the already beautiful market, to create a kind of private members' club.

You get the feeling that A&F, by ensuring a high level of fitness in their staff, are creating an atmosphere which sends a message that if you are not good looking you shouldn't be in the shop. Beautiful people attract more beautiful people, and A&F has good looking customers, women and men alike, who walk round the store slowly, looking softly but searchingly at their own reflection in the several large mirrors located around the shop. Tom Michelson who worked at A&F in London in 2007, commented, 'I thought that if the law permitted it, managers would have exercised quality-control over the customers.' However, in practice, any single-minded or deluded average looking person can storm in and providing they have the reddies, come out with some A&F merchandise, relatively unscathed.

A respectable symbol of sexual promiscuity

It might be that A&F are trying to create a global, coded and respectable symbol for sexual promiscuity, i.e. a brand, which communicates that the owner is fit and up for it. The models, more on the pictures and posters than in the actual shop, emit a brooding sense of desire underpinned by the fever of a predator. This look and attitude appeals to and is familiar to a generation of people fed on MTV videos; those with an insatiable and unreflective desire for power, sexual domination and youth.

Why do some people compare A&F to Hitler Youth?

Reproductive fitness, marketing and aspiration

"Pounding, bad, cheesy house music; so dark that people were walking into each other; and staff who are obviously employed by a body fascist with an Aryan fixation". comment left by an anonymous reviewer on the internet.

The Germany that fell under the rule of the Nationalist Socialist Party of the 1930s and 1940s is often cast as a pariah state by contemporary historical standards, but there are more similarities between contemporary liberal democracies and a totalitarian Nazi state than we might care to admit. Both societies create temples for the worship of reproductive fitness, the perfect body, good genes, youth and beauty. In the totalitarian Nazi state it is the state itself, which promulgates an aspiration towards reproductive fitness. Under the Nationalist Socialists of Germany, certain notions of attractiveness and reproductive fitness were used alongside discrimination against those who didn't hit the mark, to 'improve' the genetic stock of the population, creating a society where people of one type started to want to be people of another. In the liberal capitalist state, the state leaves this work, by and large, to the marketing departments of major corporations. Marketing men influence behaviour with the tantalising notion that attractiveness and the attractiveness of the mates available for selection can be increased through purchasing (and sporting) a certain brand of clothing. Marketing men, by promoting reproductive fitness, denigrate, implicitly or otherwise, anyone who doesn't hit the mark.

It is therefore interesting and bizarre that in liberal capitalistic democracies a kind of doublethink operates, where the state espouses equality with regards to the law, diversity and anti-discrimination, whilst allowing clothing firms and other commercial concerns to make it clear that you only mean something if you are reproductively fit. But perhaps this is as it should be, as we shall now explain with a pop-Freudian analysis. The search for a mate, or a sexual partner, to the exclusion of others, is a drive in most if not all humans. In Freudian terms we might call this drive the id. Of course in purely Darwinian terms all it requires to be reproductively fit is to propagate, and ugly people are as capable of that as good-looking ones. And yet it seems there are certain human features and characteristics, which predispose humans to being more able or more likely to achieve this feat, features which we instinctively recognise as attractive in each other. The harsh bit, the bit that feels uncomfortable, is that by selecting those who are as attractive as we are likely to get, we exclude others, who are not so attractive, from our lives, company and favours. And we all do it.

The superego is that part of the person's mind, which criticises its own impulses, and tries to constrain them, in a manner which ensures a degree of social harmony. OK, pick a mate, and exclude the rest, but don't be nasty about it, and act if possible, as if it's not happening. Besides, your own survival depends on being nice. You may not want to mate or be associated with a person who is not reproductively fit, but don't rub it in, else that reproductively unfit person might spite your loins to save his face. In liberal democracies, in complex specialised capitalistic societies, the marketing men take on the id and the political apparatus takes on the superego. Marketing men by definition have to have a strong id. For a clothes company trying to convince passers-by they can improve their reproductive fitness and attain a sexual partner by purchasing their clothes, having their clothes worn and sold by ugly people, people who lack the qualities assumed to confer reproductive advantages, flies in the face of capitalistic endeavour. It would be the road to ruin. Nevertheless we also find within the mind of a fashion house or clothing store space for the operation of superego in the tempering of its id, i.e. in the tempering of its desire to use reproductive fitness to sell. Whilst clothes company often use attractive types to sell their gear, they tend to do it in an underhand or understated way, as if the models were just everyday people. That is they do it with a degree of decorum, diplomacy, deceit and delusion.

The thing is A&F haven't got any time for that, they have a very thin superego. They are not interested in playing by the rules. They want to make money at any cost. They are the school bully. Mike Jefferies, chief executive of A&F was quoted by Fashion United (26th February, 2007) as saying, "We get asked by big malls to turn our music down the whole time. We do and then we turn it back up an hour later." Similarly A&F use sex, beauty and youth in a rather unabashed way. Apparently when Abercrombie & Fitch started building work on their Savile Row building, they erected a barricade on which was posted, 'a two-story parade of buff young men, chests bare and jeans riding low on their hips' (Hazlett, 2006). A&F then are the George W Bush of the clothing industry, what The Daily Mail calls 'vulgar commercialisation'. In 2009, a disabled woman sued Abercrombie & Fitch for discrimination, claiming it made her work in a stockroom because her prosthetic arm didn't fit its public image. The girl described being left feeling 'utterly worthless' The tribunal ruled that Dean was "unlawfully harrassed for a reason that related to her disability". Tom Michelson, who worked in the store for a while, noted that a less attractive group of staff, known as the "impact team" often worked behind the scenes. He added 'The unattractive, the overweight and the disabled just don't seem to make it on to the shop floor.' It's the aggression or honesty of A&F, the way it refuses to be constrained by regulation and social conditioning, the way it lets its id burst through its terribly weak superego, that causes some to draw comparisons between A&F's approach and the zeal of Hitler Youth and the German nationalist socialist regime of 1940s.

The untrammelled id will eventually lead to burnout and ruin; to exclusion, expulsion and destruction.

Abercrombie and Fitch, Savile Row, London, 2007, M.J.S.

Love for Abercrombie & Fitch

Despite criticisms of Abercrombie and Fitch appealing to baser instincts, kids and adults just love the images of sexiness and youth, which the A&F brand promotes, as bees do honey. Youtube videos on A&F only get comments from what I imagine are fresh faced dreamers whose lives, aspirations and youtube names are tied into the romance of the American Dream and silver screen. 'CrazyGirlie22' for example, says 'i love this shop, i go all the time !' Thanks for sharing that with us CrazyGirle22. 'Jamesbond728' with all his 'omgs' and 'likes' said "omg i went there 2 days ago in mayfair london!! it was so packed with like 80 ppl in the queue!! and btw have u noticed that the sexy chicks that work there ALL were flipflops? why is this? they are soo cute!' In response 'Chloebloom' said "they all wear flipflops because they have to wear a whole outfit of abercrombie and the only shoes they do are flipflops haha". Jamesbond728 not to be outdone said "cool haha cos they look cute in fliflops :P". Some kids are truly enchanted by the cute sexy world created by A&F. A reviewer on another internet site said, "The store is AWESOME!! The music is BEYOND AWESOME. The workers are all beautiful, starting from the first floor then going up."

Enticement and Faux Joie de Vivre

Apparently Abercrombie and Fitch actively train their staff to take a certain approach to customers. Tom Mitcheslon, who worked in the shop for a while, was told to be 'friendly, outgoing and portray a sexy image.' One model had told Mitchelson he'd been instructed to smile till his jaw ached.

According to the Daily Mail in 2009 the firm issued shop floor staff with a 45-page handbook detailing the company's strict Look Policy. According to the Mail, "It stipulates that staff must represent a 'natural, classic American style' and instructs them on everything from how to wear their hair (clean and natural) to how long they should wear their nails (a quarter of an inch past the end of the finger)."

Apparently Abercrombie and Fitch employ a visual team who go round making sure the shop and its staff look up to scratch.


One customer left the following account of his experience on the BBC website, "On my only visit to the London A&F store, none of the clothes seemed to have any price labels on them. The unspoken message was very clear: If you need to know how much things are, then you're obviously worried about spending too much. I ended up buying two polo shirts for what turned out to be an eye-watering amount. I didn't have the nerve to cancel my purchase, because I would have received looks of smirking disdain from both the sales staff and the other customers around me. That, and the fact that the 'model' who served me, a golden-haired Adonis with a lean, athletic physique and a perfect tan, was impossibly, knee-tremblingly gorgeous, and I was completely hypnotized by his beauty, like a rabbit in headlights of his dazzling smile, so I handed over my card to him before I was even aware what I was doing... Note to self: only shop in stores where the sales staff are hideous."


The history of Abercrombie & Fitch stretches back to 1892 when they were founded as an elite excursion and sports retailer in New York. In the 1970s the business went bankrupt. The name was purchased by The Limited, who repackaged the company as a populist clothing manufacturer. Clement R Knorr from Arizona wrote, 'The present operators of Abercrombie & Fitch purchased the name and drove the brand into the infamous state it is today. To an old New Yorker like me it's enough to bring tears to the eye.' In the 1990s The Limited created A&F stores across the United States, and then relinquished ownership selling A&F off as a publicly traded company.

The London store is the first of a number that A&F plan to open in the UK.

Abercrombie and Fitch and Savile Row

The arrival of the aggressive and sexually overt Abercrombie & Fitch on the corner of Savile Row in 2007 caused consternation amongst those keen to protect the interests of Savile Row's heritage of bespoke tailoring. This is partly because the A&F brand is seen as rather crude and distasteful and a corruption of the brand that the tailors of Savile Row have worked to build up. Savile Row, which has been selling bespoke men's suits for hundreds of years, personifies the classic English personality, of being understated, conservative and quiet. Abercrombie & Fitch is in contrast a rude, arrogant, unsophisticated G.I. dragging his prostitute date around town looking for the nearest burger bar. In March 2006 more than 150 cutters, finishers and waistcoat makers took to the street; in protest against rising rents and redevelopment plans, which included the introduction of Abercrombie & Fitch to Savile Row. Protesters lined the street clutching shears, swatches and tape measures (Derbyshire, 2006). According to James Hall, writing in 2006, both local tailors and Westminster City Council feared the 'the introduction of mass-market retailers could jeopardise the street's illustrious heritage'. An anonymous Savile Row source was quoted as saying, "I don't think anyone objects to moving forward, but a chain store selling crappy clothes to ghastly people isn't really the direction in which we should be travelling." Barry Tulip, designer at tailors Gieves & Hawkes, expressed a wish that shoppers at A&F might, "look into the window and say, "Crikey, that's amazing! As soon as I've got rid of my hankering for Abercrombie, I'm going to grow up and come to Gieves".

Second the arrival of A&F was seen as the thin edge of the wedge that would eventually destroy the bespoke tailoring tradition of Savile Row. It was said that Pollen Estates' intentions were to introduce fashion chain stores, who were willing to pay higher rents, to Savile Row, the effect of which would be to force tailors, who cannot afford to pay the rents, to leave. Indeed in 2006, Derbyshire reported that rising rents had forced Anderson & Sheppard, a tailor established in Savile Row since the 1920s, to move to a smaller shop around the corner in Old Burlington Street. In this sense one can understand the opposition to A&F, the question ringing in the minds of tailors must be, 'Could Abercrombie & Fitch be the first step in the end of tailors on Savile Row?' It would seem that in actual fact Pollen Estates have not been so naive to think that getting rid of all the tailors would be in their interest. Ian Herbert and John Walsh from the Independent reported that Pollen Estates had decided to attract chain stores to the area while retaining what it calls the "tailoring flavour". This seems to be the case, because despite the fears aired in 2007, in 2013, tailors were still a conspicuous part of the street. It seems Pollen Estates wants to 'squeeze' a bit more money out of both Savile Row and the tailors, rather than get rid of the tailors altogether.

Nevertheless some have questioned whether replacing tailors with chain fashion stores will prove to be more profitable in the long-term. Mark A.V. Henderson, Chief Executive of Gieves & Hawkes, a tailor on Savile Row, was quoted as saying, "Exploiting the Savile Row name to attract high-paying retailers and businesses at the cost of this world-esteemed industry is shortsighted." (see Hazlett, 2006). Attracting in chain stores may destroy the very reputation, which makes Savile Row a place people want to shop. Could this be a case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg?

Abercrombie and Fitch juxtaposed against the tailors of Savile Row, 2008, Ravish London

Abercrombie and Fitch building

The Abercrombie & Fitch building was built as a home in 1725, but was at one point a branch of the Bank of England.

Abercrombie and Fitch Children's Store

In 2012 it was announced in the press that Abercrombie & Fitch were intending to open up a children's store at No.3 Savile Row.


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