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Three days after Valentine’s Day, Abercrombie & Fitch will open a new store in Columbus, Ohio. The space is warm and bright, done up in marble and wood, and the lighting fixtures are many. The air, the company promised in a press release Monday, will smell of a “lighter, cleaner, gender-neutral fragrance.”
In short, the Ohio store will be nothing like the thumping, dark, thickly-scented A&F you grew up with. And it’s a harbinger of things to come: Six more stores in this style will be built this year, making manifest “a new vision of the brand.”
This store concept is the result of a brand overhaul that’s been in process since early 2015, after then-CEO Michael Jeffries, a controversial figure who once told Salon that A&F wanted to only “market to cool, good-looking people,” stepped down. Without a new CEO in place, the new executive team said on a March 2015 earnings call that it was re-evaluating everything from store music volume and darkness to how employees were trained.
By April, the brand’s famous “sexualized marketing” and shirtless models were on the way out, replaced by a more wholesome, good-natured tenor. In October, A&F launched an ad campaign explicitly telling shoppers that it was “wiping the slate clean” in favor of celebrating their “individuality and uniqueness.”
Despite its many turnaround efforts, Abercrombie & Fitch could still use a lift. In November, A&F reported that its third quarter net sales had fallen to $358.3 million, down 13 percent from the last third quarter.
With its Columbus store concept, A&F seems intent on driving home that all-embracing message. "It is important that our stores reflect what the Abercrombie & Fitch brand is today, so we've created a new space for our customers, that is warm, inviting, inclusive and open,” A&F brand president Stacia Andersen said in statement.
The brand describes the new fitting rooms, designed as two small rooms within a larger suite so that friends can try on clothing and show each other privately, as “a comfortable haven from the mall or street.” They’ll also have “thoughtful amenities,” like light and music controls and a phone charging station.
And there are more amenities beyond the dressing rooms — we’re talking spaces for seasonal capsule collections, a fragrance “apothecary,” multiple checkout counters, and the option to pick up online orders and place online orders while in the store.
A&F clearly wants to embrace shoppers, all of them. The question is whether shoppers will embrace it back.