When the Abercrombie & Fitch team found out that a pair of its chinos that had been owned by John F. Kennedy was going to be sold at auction last year, the brand immediately knew it had to purchase the pants.
The khaki boating pants in a size 33 came with a letter of authenticity from Kennedy’s former secretary and a photograph of the President wearing them during a boating expedition.
The brand was successful in buying the pants and they marked the start of a project by the company and its creative director Aaron Levine to further dig into the brand’s rich archives and create a collection centered around the pants.
“We bought the pants last year and mixed them with other pieces from the archive,” Levine said.
The results of that project will debut Tuesday when A&F unveils the JFK-inspired collection at its flagship stores and online that includes an updated version of those chinos as well as nine other pieces of men’s sportswear.
The 100 percent cotton twill chino with a compact weave, tonal herringbone pocketing and natural corozo buttons has a slightly oversize fit, a high waist and a straight leg. It retails for $98.
“We kept the longer rise, the fuller leg and the heavy and rigid fabric,” Levine said, “but we played with the saddle shape so that it would be more flattering to our customer.”
In addition to the chinos, the line includes a replica of a white fleece hoodie from the Sixties that features an A&F “Sailing Club” logo; a sailing jacket with the A&F “storm” logo; T-shirts in garment-dyed shades of red, white and blue, and swim shorts with blown-out red, white and blue paisley prints, a white rope print and a navy colorblock with white stitch details.
“The opportunity to purchase JFK’s Abercrombie & Fitch chinos came through our friends at the Vintage Showroom in London, who have helped us build and curate the brand’s archives,” Levine added. “It is an honor to get to work with such a rich heritage, and to offer our customer products with authentic stories is a unique opportunity.”
The company’s history dates to 1892 when it was founded as an upscale sporting goods store by David T. Abercrombie. Shortly after, Ezra Fitch bought a percentage of the business, which was renamed Abercrombie & Fitch.
Levine said the JFK offering is being looked at as “a heritage collection,” and he hopes to be able to do others in the future. The brand counted Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Roosevelt, Hunter S. Thompson and other luminaries as customers.
Although A&F’s Millennial customers weren’t around when these men were alive, Levine believes their sense of style is timeless and contemporary.
“I love the way JFK communicated to people in a straightforward and honest way,” Levine said. “And the way he dressed and his impact on style is hard to ignore.”
Heritage was also a key component of the brand’s fall and holiday collections, with “dad” coats for guys and vintage-inspired denim for women. Oxford button-down with taping details, inside-out Fair Isle sweaters, patterned dresses and washed sweatshirts are among the key pieces for the season.
“We continue to redefine our pillars,” Levine said, “which are Old School prep, Old School varsity athletic, military and outdoor heritage. And in women’s, we mix ‘pretty’ with that and mush it all together. We’re creating an iconic, casual American line that is not pretentious.”
Levine joined A&F from Club Monaco in 2015 as chief men’s designer and was promoted to senior vice president of design the next year. Since he joined the Columbus, Ohio-based brand, he has been working to revamp the chain’s mix and returning to its roots. And it appears to be working. In the fourth quarter ended Feb. 3, the corporation, which also operates the Hollister chain, said net income rose 52.1 percent to $74.2 million from $48.8 million a year ago. Net sales rose 15.1 percent to $1.19 billion from $1.04 billion. Boosting the quarter’s results was a comparable sales gain of 5 percent at the Abercrombie division.