Abercrombie & Fitch has made a drastic move to improve its women’s assortment, naming Aaron Levine senior vice president of design in charge of both men’s and women’s wear.
Levine, who had been head of men’s design, takes on the role held by Kristina Szasz, who joined the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer in August 2015 as head designer for the women’s collection. Szasz had been design director for Tommy Hilfiger Europe and Karl Lagerfeld before joining A&F. Her first collection was for fall.
For Levine, a highly respected designer and merchant who joined A&F from Club Monaco in June 2015, this marks his first foray into the women’s field.
“This is my first time doing women’s,” he said, “and it’s really exciting.” But he stressed that he won’t be working in a vacuum. “The most important thing to note is that there is an exceptionally talented team of people here in women’s.”
He said that by having one design director for both genders, it allows him to “unite the brand’s vision. I truly believe we are the iconic American casual luxury brand — and we deserve to be that.”
Levine hopes to create a “cohesive and elevated” collection for both men and women with the “same reference points and point of view.” He believes there are “huge opportunities” in denim, sweaters, wovens and outerwear, as well as in “great layering pieces.”
This is similar to what Levine has had success with on the men’s side. “The first thing I did was rebalance the fit and elevate the fabrics,” he said. As a result, he said A&F found success this fall with shirt jackets as well as the revamped chinos assortment. “And we think there’s a wonderful opportunity in knitwear, outerwear and denim.”
His fall collection retained the company’s collegiate elements but was less sporty/varsity and more prep school, with cashmere and washed wool sweaters, garment-dyed henleys and jeans. Key outerwear pieces included a suede trucker jacket, a long duffle coat, a black shearling bomber and a duck-down parka that Levine paired with lightweight sweatpants and military chinos with a subtle herringbone pattern.
Levine has no plans to name a replacement for the men’s design director role but instead will work to “empower the team” to take on a larger role. “It’s a wonderfully collaborative relationship, we’re all on the same page,” he said.
Like many apparel retailers, A&F has been struggling of late as it negotiates a changing retail environment. Last month it reported net income of just $7.9 million, versus $41.9 million in the year ago third quarter. Net sales fell 6.5 percent to $821.7 million from $878.6 million, with total comparable-store sales down 6 percent.
Arthur Martinez, executive chairman, characterized the quarter as “challenging” and the performance at A&F “disappointing.” He said the business is expected to remain difficult through the rest of the fiscal year.
Levine’s first women’s collection is expected to be unveiled in April for the fall season.