LONDON — The sales assistants are decked out in leather flip-flops, there are two muscled shirtless Welshmen standing guard near the door and the dance music thumps loudly.
Can this be a store on Savile Row?
Abercrombie & Fitch unveiled its first European unit Monday at the corner of Burlington Gardens and Savile Row, the traditional home of Britain's bespoke tailors and a quiet street where everyone from Beau Brummell to Winston Churchill to Gianni Versace has had clothing made. Despite the apparent culture clash, Abercrombie chairman and chief executive officer Mike Jeffries believes there's a good reason to be there.
"We have a common sensibility with the people on this street: quality, taste and a sense of style,'' he said during a walk-through on Monday. "So we don't make suits. But we are about luxury — casual luxury. We see this as a destination store, and we think the location fits."
The store, which opens on Thursday, is a study in contrasts. It is housed in a building that dates to 1721 and features original marble fireplaces and mirrors, a sweeping central stone staircase and delicate moldings around the doorways and on the ceilings.
Today, it is a temple of youth — and Americana — with stacks of Hawaiian-print bikinis and surfer trunks, rows of braided leather belts and racks filled with T-shirts, boxer shorts, HotPants and cotton shirts, their sleeves artfully rolled to the elbow.
The jeans bar is front and center, across from the entrance. The store also stocks merchandise common to other Abercrombie flagships such as handmade T-shirts and handcrafted jeans.
The interiors are similar to those of the brand's Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan, with dark walls and floors, dramatic lighting and painted murals depicting sportsmen surrounded by their football, rugby and tennis gear. At the entrance, a wood and glass cabinet showcases bits of the Abercrombie & Fitch heritage as a purveyor of outdoor sporting goods, which explains the vintage shotguns, snowshoes, skis and poles.
The store spans 24,000 square feet, about half being dedicated to selling. The rest houses a design and concept office and stockrooms. Real estate sources here say the annual rent is 950,000 pounds, or $1.84 million at current exchange.
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