Monday, December 10, 2012

Wearing Abercrombie and Fitch in Singapore - How declasse

One of the things I've written about in the past is on how as mass immigration has enlarged our working and spending population in Singapore, international brands are increasingly finding it attractive to locate flagship stores here to capitalize on a lucrative market.

Hence, Singaporeans no longer need to venture out of the country for their togs from the likes of say,  Topshop, Gap, Banana Republic, H&M and Abercrombie and Fitch.

The irony is that now that the clothes are widely and easily available here, they've noticeably lost their edginess and exclusivity. It was one thing to wear Gap when it was not available here, it's quite another when it is now easily available and no longer exclusive.

[Sidenote: Up until several years ago, Gap in fact manufactured some of its clothes in Singapore. This was before it started distributing its clothes here.]

Worse, unbeknownst to many, some brands have become totally uncool in their home countries, like Abercrombie and Fitch for instance.

Disclaimer: I am not a fashionista. I hate shopping for clothes. In fact, I hate shopping period. So, don't take what I write as fashion criticism, cuz it's not. This post is a meditation on how ironic it is that the people who think that they're being fashionable wearing A&F are in fact the height of uncool.

Frankly, I'm amazed every time I see an otherwise well-groomed person on the street wear Abercrombie and Fitch (or Hollister). If I meet someone new for the first time, and they're wearing Abercrombie and Fitch, I automatically dial down my impression of that person.

Don't these people know what the brand stands for?

Abercrombie has carefully cultivated the youthful preppy WASPish look, and coupled it with its racy catalogs adorned with half-dressed models. I have nothing against the latter, except that it's boring and unremarkable in today's increasingly porned world (see The Porning of America in my reading list), but the former is certainly something I reject completely.

This is a company that has been subject to lawsuits for racial and sexual discrimination. A simple Google search would throw up the results for anyone curious enough to find out more.

Just a few months ago, controversy struck in South Korea over the bad behavior of its models at a store opening.

For most Singaporeans who are ethnic Asians, to aspire to wear the vaguely white supremacist label of A&F is, in a word, bizarre. And if you're a straight male, a little weird too, seeing as how the advertising for the brand is famously homoerotic.

But all this is probably intellectual claptrap for the trendy wannabe fashionista in Singapore still wearing A&F.

Problem is...the brand itself is rapidly losing cachet among its target demographic in the United States, as well as among youth fashion tastemakers. It's "passe", according to a group of high school students in the US, who were unanimous in their dismissal. That's the true fashion death sentence.

The sex-soaked marketing campaigns are looking dated, and it's not just me saying that. One article here and one article here for reference. The money quote from the second article, from Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Abercrombie is still running an offense which is a huge banner of a bare-chested guy with a cute girl who’s not wearing enough clothing,” says David Maddocks, a former chief marketing officer for Nike’s Converse label who now runs a brand consulting firm. “It’s vacuous, there’s no core idea there anymore.”

A&F is an object lesson in how NOT to market to Millenials. They're dropping the ball on reaching out to this key demographic. And the final flourish at the end of the article:

So far, Abercrombie’s woes at home haven’t hurt its popularity in untapped markets. Its Hong Kong flagship, which opened in August, logged more than $1 million in sales in its first five days. Abercrombie is considering more locations in China and the Middle East. Still, in a hyperconnected world, it won’t take long for the brand’s fading cool to catch up with shoppers in Dubai and Shanghai, says Lindstrom.

"Vacuous" is an accurate description of the brand's adherents. The really cool fashionable people in Singapore wouldn't be caught dead in A&F, and that it takes an unfashionable person like me to point that out to the wannabes, well, that's just the patina on their rapidly fading cool.

PS: No moose (meese?) were harmed in writing this post.

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