Every parent's nightmare: Fashion-conscious teens

Jack Wills was bad enough for the parents. How will they cope with Abercrombie & Fitch?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Simpsons called it "Abercrombie and Rich", because their clothes simply cost so much. So when the US clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch opens its doors in the UK for the first time this week, parents better come armed with their credit cards. Abercrombie's all-American "casual luxury" doesn't come cheap. Just one of their T-shirts will set you back £70.

Regarded by the fashion world as "affordable Ralph Lauren", these days the chain, with flagship stores in LA and New York, is famous for its chinos and pastel-coloured polo shirts worn by Katie Holmes in the US teen series Dawson's Creek. Yet the kings of the all-American preppy look bring with them a century of retail experience.

Founded in 1892, it was originally an elite outdoor clothing retailer that catered to almost every American president of the 20th century. These days Abercrombie calls itself a "lifestyle brand". It has courted controversy in recent years across conservative middle America because of its use of naked models in advertising campaigns and T-shirts for girls that bore slogans across the breasts such as "Who Needs Brains When You Have These?"

Yet Abercrombie & Fitch, which had a turn-over of more than $2bn (£1bn) in 2005, has survived. That, say fashion insiders, is credit to its enduring popularity. The mere arrival of Abercrombie, they swoon, is set to herald an entire UK summer season of preppy dressing.

"Think Jennifer Aniston in a crisp white shirt, rather than Wags in leather mini-dresses," says the trend guru Marian Salzman. "With the original purveyors of that look opening a store in London, casual wear is going to be big this season."

While Abercrombie says the firm is "thrilled" by the opening of the London store, the residents of Savile Row, where the UK store is based, aren't too pleased. Bespoke tailors on the street are anxious that the introduction of international high street brands to Savile Row, no matter how upmarket, will ruin their high-class reputation.

"The fundamental question is whether bespoke tailors play a part in the future of Savile Row," said Mark Henderson, the chairman of Savile Row Bespoke and chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes tailors. "So long as the answer is yes, I am happy. If not, then it's war." Indeed, Abercrombie's attempt to win over the UK high street from its position at the centre of British tailoring, may fail.

Other designer brands such as Jil Sander and Hackett have all tried and subsequently failed to operate successfully on Savile Row.

Battle is joined to attract the Townies, usually posh kids in designer labels, or the Hoodies, in low-slung jeans and hooded tops, or the "Bling-Bling" set: R&B loving youths permanently hooked up to iPods.

Abercrombie is expected to target Britain's Townies, attempting to bring American establishment chic to Britain's moneyed classes. The firm is pitting itself against hot brands such as Jack Wills Clothing, the British vintage sportswear and beachwear store which epitomises the classic public school look. And there is little scope for gentlemanly fair play.

When Britain's bright young things arrive at their first A&F store, they'll be blasted with loud dance music and the smell of the firm's signature cologne, Fierce. It is believed that nearly three quarters of the staff working there will be semi-clad models who will split their time between posing for photo shoots and helping customers to choose from the T-shirts, chinos and cargo pants.

But budding Abercrombie fans be warned: "It's a difficult look to carry off," says the Edinburgh-based fashion designer Laura Wilton. "The key is not to dress in it head to toe, otherwise you'll look like you should literally be in school."

So, it seems a little - but not too much - A&F is cool. That, at least, should come as a relief to Britain's parents.

Comments