By  on March 11, 2005

NEW YORK — As it strives to be more aspirational, Abercrombie & Fitch is raising prices, upgrading quality and bolstering its ranks with leaders who have luxury on their résumés.

The company, which courts college students with sweatshirts and jeans, wants to be seen as the Rolls-Royce of retailers for the campus set.

The brand is working to reduce the promotional sale component of its business and has raised price points by double digits. Fabrics such as cashmere and high-quality denim are de rigueur. For example, the spring catalogue features Ezra Fitch cotton and spandex premium denim with a low rise and boot leg for $148 and Ezra Fitch’s cashmere handcrafted cardigan with rhinestone appliqué and a shrunken fit for $170.

A&F is growing the Ezra Fitch portion of its overall assortment in leading fashion markets such as New York and Los Angeles. In key cities, Ezra Fitch will account for 10 percent of a store’s assortment, up from 5 percent, a spokesman said.

It has even put in motion plans to open a 34,000-square-foot flagship on Fifth Avenue at 56th Street in the former Fendi space.

The company hopes to learn from Tom Mendenhall, senior vice president and general manager of A&F, how to approach the business from a luxury perspective. Mendenhall left Gucci, where he was worldwide merchandising director, last year. 

“We continue to take this brand upmarket,” the spokesman said. “Clearly, Tom’s understanding of the luxury market is of great value to this business. We continue to push this brand forward in an aspirational sort of way. We think we need to take it upmarket.”

Another Gucci alumnus, Bob Singer, the Italian firm’s former chief financial officer, became Abercrombie’s chief operating officer in November.

Unlike other vertical retailers, Abercrombie doesn’t have division presidents for any of its brands. Merchants from different businesses report to chief executive officer Mike Jeffries, a hands-on leader who relishes being in the fashion trenches. This has allowed merchants to concentrate on specific parts of the business.

To capitalize on their expertise, the company has realigned parts of its merchandising team. Rather than working within a particular brand, several merchants have been chosen to lead classifications such as denim and outerwear. They are responsible for those businesses across each of the company’s brands. The idea is to leverage and exploit their knowledge.In another personnel development, Chad Kessler, who headed up and began the Hollister division of Abercrombie & Fitch in 2000, has moved to Ruehl as vice president of merchandising for women’s and men’s.

No replacement is being sought for Kessler at Hollister. The development follows the departure of Carole Kerner, Ruehl’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager, who will join Donna Karan International on March 23 as president of the Donna Karan New York collection.

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