No matter what the story is about, the cover of the current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek is an eye-catcher: a shirtless man, thumbs in the waist of a pair of unbuttoned jeans to expose a little extra pelvis. Only the chest and pelvis on display is that of an older man. It’s an artful piece of black-and-white fashion photography, shocking on its own but made even more so when you read the headline: “The Aging of Abercrombie & Fitch.” Oh wow. I have to admit, my eyes widened when I first clapped eyes on it.
The issues facing Abercrombie have been well-reported over the past couple of years. Declining sales, comments from the former 70-year-old CEO Michael Jeffries, issues with merchandise… all of it was chipping away at the retailer’s reputation and driving efforts to revamp.
But perhaps nothing sums up the company’s decline like this image. Its reputation is based entirely on its appeal to young shoppers. Abercrombie has a notorious and pathological obsession with youth. So to portray it as aging, washboard abs replaced by a loose belly, Photoshop-smooth skin stripped away to reveal spots and freckles… it’s a powerful image. It’s force is magnified by the fact that we so rarely see older bodies on display anywhere.
There’s another image inside that’s equally interesting: three older gentleman (who all look great in a different context, BTW), shirtless again, engaged in a tug of war and wearing Abercrombie sweats.
The article itself charts the rise, fall and various business moves of the company under Jeffries, who, himself, is noted for a focus youthfulness (his plastic surgeries are mentioned a couple of times) and the company’s marketing.
“He created a fantasy world, and plenty of teens wanted to be part of it,” the article says. For that bubble to burst this way must sting, even if he isn’t running the show anymore.
The company is still searching for a new CEO and a marketing message that will once again resonate with shoppers. This cover won’t help, but if the current execs can find a new way to present the company and its wares, they can overcome it.
“The shirtless men are mostly gone, or at least wearing shirts now,” the article notes.