|Mike, the man. | Image, Abercrombie & Fitch|
A powerfully revolutionary force of irrefutably sublime, unparalleled retail fantasy and theater, the Abercrombie & Fitch as reconceptualized by Mike Jeffries dawned significantly upon the turn of the new millennium. As I've summarized in the History section on A&F PROFILED!...
"By the late-1980s and '90s, change was in the air. The Cold War was coming to an end; the World Wide Web was to come into being; cell phones were on the rise; male underwear was no longer just about whitie-tighties, but a cultural obsession of cool and hunky models with game-changing ads; and Victoria's Secret was established as the first national chain of fashion underwear retail. What people rarely know and realize is that there was something truly special in the air at that time in that the '80s/'90s really became a period of rekindling and exploding-to-mega-iconic-status many brands, for a new time, with cool, sexuality, and youth, by bringing in new leaders with fresh, unprecedented ideas and pumping in new investments (e.g. Karl Lagerfeld for CHANEL beginning 1983; Anna Wintour for Vogue magazine beginning 1988; John Galliano for Dior beginning 1996; Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton beginning 1997) during a period in which fashion exploded to the masses in an ever connecting, globalizing world nearing the dawn of a new millennium."
It was a truly explosive, revolutionary period for all. Having been purchased in 1988 by Limited Brands (a fashion retailer which had by then success with turning around Victoria's Secret), Abercrombie & Fitch continued on in mediocrity, weighed down by more than two decades of decline – the original sporting goods business (founded in 1892 by David Abercrombie as "Abercrombie Co."; incorporated in 1904 as "Abercrombie & Fitch Co." with Ezra Fitch who had joined as partner in 1900) beginning woes in the '60s and filing for bankruptcy by 1977 and then experiencing further nastiness under the failing ownership of Oshman's Sporting Goods (now long-defunct) – and remained in a sort of development hell: "We had old clothes that no one liked. It was a mess, a total disaster," the great Leslee K. Herro – who'd stay with A&F until retirement in 2013; longer with the Company than even Mike and having contributed unforgettably to its success as executive vice president of planning and allocation – would later recall. And then a man named Michael "Mike" S. Jeffries walked in.
Mike – Oklahoma-born on July 15, 1944, though Los Angeles-raised – came from an upbringing he would later mention in interviews as classically American, and his father owned a supply store business – the young boy ever eager with all aspects of retailing. After obtaining his B.A. in Economics from Claremont McKenna College (1966) and M.B.A. from Columbia Business School (1968), along with a period at the London Business School, Mike proved ambitious and particular in his manner of work in fashion retail. By 1984, after a few notable positions in various businesses, he founded Alcott & Andrews, a brand focusing its consumer base on career women. However, after a promising start, ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1989 with overexpansion as having been a partial issue. He then took up place with retail chain Paul Harris. But Mike, as journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis wrote in 2006, was a retail genius awaiting his proper venue.
Brought into the business as president of Abercrombie & Fitch in 1992 after having had been picked out by Limited Brand's then-CEO Leslie Wexler, Mike came in, then wearing his oxford shirt and corduroy pants, and informed everyone that Abercrombie & Fitch was to grow into a prosperous "young, hip, spirited company": He wanted Abercrombie to "sizzle with sex." It was an unprecedented vision, and considering the state of A&F at the time, you could have possibly explosively snorted comically with disbelieve at the announcement. "We're all there thinking, 'Oh yeah, right. Abercrombie & Fitch?'" remembered Herro. "But in the end we were like, Well, why not? It can't get any worse." ...The world would never be the same again, and it truthfully makes me swell up with emotion every time I go over this gamechanging moment in history. It was the moment in history which ushered forth iconic greatness and all that's come to be with it for you and I.
Absolutely daring and spirited, Mike's Abercrombie & Fitch began rolling out that year. Born the same month as him, I had only turned one. The young men and women of the moment would be the first to experience the beginnings of the modern foundation of A&F.
Mike's Abercrombie was youthful, energetic, and bright. Classic. Clean. Cheeky. Fun. It was timeless, a fantasy paradise all about naturally beautiful, gorgeous young men and women. All-American, athletic, sexy, outgoing and popular. About love and camaraderie, between guys, between girls, between all. Above all, authentic and never cynical. It was, as TIME magazine heralded by 2000, a "blockbuster".
A herculean, monumental achievement, Mike took Abercrombie & Fitch from US$85.301 million in 1992, to US$110.952 million in 1993, to US$165.463 million in 1994 (by when there were 49 stores (665,000 gross square feet) in operation; an extremely impressive financial growth considering that, while store count only increased 36%, revenue more than tripled by 1994) and on to its first-ever billion by the end of the 1999 fiscal year with a historical ▲US$1.042 billion in revenue and ever continuing consecutive quarters of profit after profit. Many then though it a fad, that it would falter, but Mike proved them wrong blasting music on and ever flourishing to higher levels his Abercrombie & Fitch.
The next wave of growth came with the development and rollout of the inspired portfolio of brands, what would be dubbed "The A&F Family". Purveying a spirited childrens version of the original Abercrombie & Fitch lifestyle, abercrombie kids, then internally referred to as "little a", began catering in 1998 to younger fans and ran along the concept of kids aspiring to be like the older sibling. Very much satisfactory in the beginning, a92, as then initialized, would continue to grow ever more as the premium, outstanding elite label in childrenswear. A part of a campaign and on shopping bags during that premier year for a92, little Lindsay Lohan! (Another thing A&F would be renowned for: notable individuals who had started, or had as real prominent of early moments, with A&F). Within two years, Mike then introduced the great fantasy of Southern California to the world, and another monumental icon of fashion retail was born. Hollister was explosive, the mark of being the ultimate cool and popular teen on school campus though, as with Abercrombie & Fitch, would gain universal appeal and even surpass A&F in revenue in time. Abercrombie kids and Hollister (which made well more than the majority of new growth) fueled continuous levels of net sales and profit alongside parent A&F. The Company had by 2001 moved into its own headquarters (which would garner recognition for its architectural aesthetic), finally terminated remaining ties to The Limited (formally Limited Brands), and was living it up skyhigh.
Success came not with an intense flair for controversy, however. This initially came mainly from the original A&F Quarterly, and its publication period (1997-2003) I've dubbed "The A&F Quarterly Period" for many reasons: it was the defining branding effort of the day of what Abercrombie & Fitch was all about; the period would establish defining perceptions of Abercrombie & Fitch – all of today's stereotypes of A&F have roots in this period – and the legacy of The A&F Quarterly Period, the good and the controversial, would remain on into the present day. Among the top aspects, apart from the strong sexuality, expounded by marketing and instore practices was the notion of Abercrombie & Fitch as all about the ideal of All-American and hot, and accusations began gaining traction that anyone who did not fit into the notion was discriminated against. By June 2003, a group of individuals coalesced to bring to court Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. on grounds of clandestine ethnic and sexist discrimination by managerial associates in the chain. And on top of it all, by Christmas, the A&F Quarterly had crossed the line too far for folks who would have no more of it after all these years, and protests mounted nationwide. On December 5, the discrimination lawsuit gained national coverage on primetime television, and the A&F Quarterly was finally folded on December 9. The Abercrombie & Fitch brand had suffered its first minute drop in revenue in FY2002 and would drop yet again with FY 2003.
But was it to be over? Hell no. They were little bumps on the road, and Mike carried on by readdressing the image of Abercrombie & Fitch and the greater company by fine-tuning to show the world just how great Abercrombie & Fitch was and how greater it could get. The mid-2000s had dawned, and Abercrombie & Fitch was about to get even better yet...
With the coming of the mid-2000s came the greatest concentration of utmost premium, sophisticated creativity and operations which set the ultimate standards of Abercrombie & Fitch. By now, Mike acknowledged, "When a company becomes a fad, it can't sustain itself as a fad forever. Abercrombie's has come off its fad peak, but we are maintaining and building and increasing the profitability of Abercrombie & Fitch. The important thing is that I didn't overreact. When things start to go down, many retailers kill themselves; they throw out the baby with the bath water." Come the Fall 2004 fashion season, the refreshed Abercrombie & Fitch broke out with the July release of the A&F Stars on the Rise marketing campaign (which would later be recognized by the industry for having strikingly been spot-on in having had most of the included young rising stars go on to make themselves prominent individuals in their field) tied together by the all-new publication, A&F Magazine (though short-lived; just two other quarterly issues), profiling the stars also wearing Ezra Fitch – the all-new exclusive premium line of mens and womenswear with even higher-grade materials and commanding price points. By September, Mike introduced his greatest, most elaborate and luxurious concept, RUEHL No.925, and it enthralled us with its sophistication and romanticism of a Greenwich Village, New York City dream. Abercrombie furthermore agreed to a settlement with the plaintiffs of Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., and it became a benchmark in the Company's history: newcomer Todd Corley was immediately appointed head of the newly created office of diversity and inclusion which would become a monumentally transformative key aspect of the corporate culture – Mike and his Company had no tolerance, ever, for discrimination nor accusations of it in practice within, and the culture was to reflect the importance of an organically diverse, interconnected world. By Christmas, Mike had Abercrombie & Fitch showcasing Casual Luxury, the all-new defining branding effort which stipulated the ethos of the brand and its coveted wears – later coming to have its own stylized fictional dictionary definition – as being of utmost exceptional, premium spirit.
All-the-while, during this time, the beginnings of international expansion plans were taking hold since as early as 2004. So, too, was the development of a fifth concept which had begun in 2005 with great secrecy. The first A&F Flagship of the modern Abercrombie & Fitch – becoming a mecca for fans from around the world – then opened doors during Christmas 2005 on New York City's Fifth Avenue, one of the world's busiest and most prime real estate stretches, and scouting for premium real estate carried on for future flagship openings worldwide. Casual Luxury became more relevant than ever before and pushed further on. Fiscal 2005 then broke the $2 billion dollar mark, and the first international stores opened in Canada in early-2006. I myself, while having had first visited abercrombie.com during Christmas 2005, now began shopping full-force by Christmas 2006 instore – the December 2006 playlist ever close to my heart; and the models of that season, love you forever – and was enthralled, permeating, syncing and synthesizing with my psyche. I had found my rightful place, my paradise and at the height of Casual Luxury. Exclusivity, elitism, idealism, romanticism, classic, sophisticated, sensual, provocative, fresh, energetic, ecstasy, fantasy and all. The $3 billion dollar mark was then surpassed by the end of that very Fiscal 2006; louvers began being placed over A&F windows across the chain by early-2007 beautifully further heightening exclusivity, intimacy; and Abercrombie & Fitch went over the pond by opening doors to its London flagship in March 2007 to much international talk. Ever helmed steadfast by the utterly unquestionable practices, genius of Mike, Abercrombie & Fitch was an unstoppable EDM-pulsing, heavily-scented seductive icon, and the exclusive, elite parting just kept going and going, higher and higher, and none of us knew the notion of there ever being an end to the supremacy of Abercrombie & Fitch. Fiscal 2007 reached yet another consecutive Company peak to US$3.7 billion. Abercrombie & Fitch was eternally hot, epic and timeless. And then the Recession changed everything.
Having cultivated a near-luxury image, Abercrombie & Fitch didn't so really do promotional discounts. Who would even second-think of easily dishing out for select items like US$100+ for a fine cashmere sweater, $300+ for high premium jeans or paying full-price for any of the standard premium clothing and accessories. And when economic and industry analysts began forecasting of a downturn in the economy, Mike remained adamant and refused to entertain the idea of all of the sudden begin-rolling-out-discounts; it would hurt the image of the brand, after all. On January 21, Mike introduced what was critically acclaimed as his greatest concept furthermore, Gilly Hicks. The first brand I'd get the privilege of following since before its opening, I became particularly fond and close to it and even in anthropomorphying her with an unadulterated, unyielding love – a love based on that as set forth with the original founding codes of then as a young adult brand, sophisticated, sexy and classic, with its romanticism of "Down Undie" (Sydney, Australia). It was escapism at its highest yet, furthermore, and I relished losing myself in the emotion and psychology of frolicking in this exquisite fantasy of faraway natural Aussie-evocative beauty by Abercrombie & Fitch. I believed strongly with all my heart in Mike's Gilly Hicks and of its revolutionary potential. By April, the A&F Quarterly was brought fourth in a purposefully refined, upscale form in limited-edition with a hard slipcase – very much in line with the form of RUEHL Books of then – and sold exclusively in the London flagship for £100 (US$159, then's rate); it was subtlitled "Return to Paradise" – the photography, featuring the traditional nudity, taking cues from the mythology of paradise and also biblical references from the Garden of Eden – featuring a greater corpus of work of photography by Bruce Weber which he had realized for A&F Spring 2008, and it also featured worldly articles by Tyler Brule...overall a sophisticated, tasteful reincarnation yet still provocative and classic A&F. Throughout the year, practices remained without a move to begin adjusting to a necessary promotional environment; financial fall would have nevertheless happened. Mike began seeing his Abercrombie & Fitch taking hit after hit, quarter to quarter, and 2008 brought a great decline hitherto never experienced in revenue. It was happening. The most detrimental economic collapse since the Great Depression was unfolding, and the Great Recession of the early-21st century had begun. My heart broke when Mike then went ahead with the closure of RUEHL – announcing it during the summer of 2009 and the last store closing by late-January 2010. By which time, Mike would then go over earnings results for FY2009 which witnessed the Company's greatest drop ever in revenue in its history. Home Office began laying off associates. It was all a heartache, but a promise was made to reinvigorate.
Fortunes began improving with the release of the forever grand "A&F Screen Test" for the Fall 2010 fashion season. The A&F Screen Test campaign, artistically realized by Bruce Weber, was focused on the fictional "A&F Studios" with a golden, classic Hollywood theme and was all tied together by the glorious return of the A&F Quarterly. Harkening back to the original as paperback, this was nevertheless for the A&F of now and sold at US$10 and JPY¥1600, EUR€12, CAD$14, GBP₤10, DKK 100 (although the A&F Copenhagen flagship wasn't open yet that year) age restricted and baring a warning on the back on the clear plastic wrapping in English, Italian, and Japanese. With interluding diverse profiles of a separate set young men and women of various artistic backgrounds, the A&F Quarterly Screen Test 2010 edition features all manner of incredible grayscale and full-color photography of the great cast of official models – dubbed "The A&F Repertoire" – for the campaign including much partial and full nudity, though no frontal, and having been regarded by many as provocative and sexily "voyeuristic". And as part of a heightened sense of pure camaraderie and love, featured is considerable homoeroticism and same-sex love, but I explain that it's not to be considered "homoerotic" or whatever: what is captured in greater form, in all forms, is pure, unbound, unadulterated camaraderie and love between guys, between girls, between both, between all, variously. And a key aspect of understanding the psychology of Mike's Abercrombie & Fitch is how key authenticity is with a disdain for cynicism. It's not gay, it's not straight, it's not about labels. The ancient Greeks would get it (such concepts of sexuality and love that exist in modern time corrruptly, did not exist in Classical Antiquity; I personally expound the monumental importance and significance of seminal Classical Ancient Greek culture for our civilization, but that's neither here nor there at all for this post), and that's why I've, since reasoned 2012, regarded Mike's A&F as a modern, all-American embodiment of classical Greek ideals. It's there, and I've been the first to ever recognize this. You've no idea how intellectualized my fanaticism is. Plus, this furthermore fit more relevantly now at the start of the 2010s with the national cultural shift gaining traction with elevating diversity and inclusion and rights in general, and this was being reflected in national popular TV series, for example, as how permeating it was markedly becoming. Anyway, that little bit aside, having been 18 "of age" on the day of release on July 17, and turning 19 the following day, it was meant to be. With a further set of four short films also featuring nudity on abercrombie.com, and who can forget the complimenting playlist with the A&F Studios announcement interludes, the campaign was grand, magnificent, unforgettable. On August 19, I sat down and founded The Sitch on Fitch in what was then in rudimentary form and just a fun, side thing: Camille Rowe, lead female face of A&F Screen Test, was the first ever featured model on the blog's header of then, and it was all kicked off with a post highlighting anticipation for the opening of Gilly Hicks in London. Promotional discounts now began rolling out at A&F and picking up unprecedented pace in the American market: they became prevalent throughout the decade post-Recession. International hype over freshly new high-profile flagship store openings – events naturally stoked epically with the display of beefcake of A&F Hot Guys – then further boosted utmost intrigue and morale in consumerism with A&F on into 2011 and 2012. It became so explosively fun: fans out on location and fans there and internationally tuning in to TSOF skyrocketing pageviews, interacting with me sharing their love and passion for A&F and utter excitement...I've met so many great, beautiful, beautiful people since along the way. Exclusivity and elitism was strengthening to success again. The theme of A&F Christmas 2011 was "A&F Privilege", and the season established worldwide awareness of TSOF across the A&F community. People were buying back into A&F ever more, and Fiscal 2011 brought a historic US$4.158 billion in overall Company revenue. The party was back on, and in a new way! By 2012, and explosively higher and higher as the insane, incredible, and explosive year carried on – the party continuously rising just evermore skyhigh in what was just a monumental year in greater world affairs – TSOF had become a blockbuster in an of itself for its utterly unique fanaticism and insights into everything A&F. Home Office contacted me in April with recruiter Katie approaching me for a possible position, if anything just expressing appreciation for the passion as exemplified for the Company by The Sitch on Fitch. By August, TSOF had registered its highest grossing month of all-time by global hype over the entrance of Abercrombie & Fitch into the ever rising Greater Chinese market, A&F Hong Kong. So many amazing high-profile flagship store opening events; the Hot Guys, the super stoked fans! It was all talked about worldwide. It was the word of mouth. On the streets, online, everywhere. Abercrombie & Fitch was major again, and Fiscal 2012 comped the highest peaks since the financial plunge.
And then something happened, a dramatic turn of events. Comes the turn of the year, and as 2013 begins unfolding, interest and morale for consumerism with A&F begins falling. As the first quarterly earnings result came out, and then the next, reports that Abercrombie & Fitch was losing relevancy and progressive zest began being the subject of the industry. The main blame on lips, leadership and namely Mike. You see, as analysts so began touting, the development of the post-Recession environment was strongly bringing about a drastic change in socioeconomics. Primarily, while Abercrombie & Fitch reigned supreme with exclusivity, elitism, and premium clothes and logos being the staple of popularity and cool mainly pre-Recession America, fast-fashion chains, which were once on the sidelines, gained significant ground since the start of the Recession and are now part of the in-element with youths with fast, cheap, trendy wears offerings appealing to them. Furthermore, footfall in malls has been steadily declining as ecommerce continues to gain ground as well, ever evolving and more sophisticated and relevant than ever. And to analysts, it was becoming more and more evident that Mike was not adapting. He was not being progressive. And not at the pace needed, much evidently. He was not moving in tune to the world around him, and the Company beginning to dramatically suffer. So was as it was started to be attested.
Matters got even worse when in the springtime, remarks he made in 2006 during Denizet-Lewis' interview with him were resurfaced and placed up to public international condemnation. Mind you, a different world than 2006 and now marked by hyperconnectivity with social media. See, apart from socioeconomically, the world has also changed sociopsychologically. Later Millennials, the last of Millennial individuals and who were born in the '90s, although having been teens in the 2000s when certain attitudes were of being "cool", are becoming budding young adults (those born in early-1990s) and late-teenagers (those born in late-1990s) and have become part in a greater cultural shift of enhanced sense of diversity and inclusion (and this is picking up from earlier on in life with the incoming Generation Z born in the 2000s); the rest of the world has been molding to this shift since the decade's unfolding. Comments, attitudes from the 2000s did not sit well with a lot of people. (I myself never addressed the issue on the blog for reasons complicated and private, and, for the first time, I got considerable heat from readers). Mike issued a public apology, but the thing of it all has now left an imprint that's hard to shake off. Even to this day, more than a year later, it's not uncommon to see comments by social media users over the matter.
By the end of the year, Engaged Capital had sent out a letter to the A&F Board of Directors boldly calling for the removal of Mike from his position as Chairman and CEO of the Company and for great changes to the Board. Apart from the continuously falling financial results, yet another retail concept had faltered costly, Gilly Hicks, and all stores, having been invested on in the millions individually, were closed and gutted by the turn of the new year and on. Store closures of underperforming and lease-expiring units, mainly across the American infrastructure, continued on and significantly declining the peak that was highly invested in pre-Recession. When his 2008 contract finally reached point for renewal, A&F itself rather just came to relief Mike of his role as Executive Chairman and renewed his contract for one year while unprecedentedly having him being subject to performance.
Much having been announced weeks prior, the Company also began rolling out gamechanging initiatives as 2014 began. This included the new Hollister storefronts to appease conventionalism of window-display and spark new interest and encourage traffic, and the A&F-branded stores were striped away of louvers from the facades; lighting up A&F stores a little more, less spritzing, and a lower volume of music; faster, and more diverse items (this including the introduction of black and more varied sizes) more so with Hollister and in appropriate level with A&F with a focus for all brands for on-trend relevant fashions for their respective consumer bases; third-party business engagement; and the effort to generally individualize the brands more strongly through such developments including the appointment of brand presidents for A&F and a&f kids (Christos Angelides) and Hollister (Fran Horowitz). Furthermore, the newly appointed non-executive Chairman, Arthur C. Martinez, had been particularly engaged in aspects going on rather more than a typical non-executive. Stock began climbing progressively since the start of 2014, but then took a steep dive after the August earnings results report for the second quarter of fiscal 2014 with people having generally expected more promising results. Stock then hit a dramatic two year low after the November third quarter results update which proved yet again under expectations and worse in health in comparison to the individual comps of Q1 and of Q2. While the general consensus was there would be promising signs of improvement quarter to quarter in 2014, this has not been the case. It's been a continued struggle with headwinds. However, the greater notion (with hope) is that more positive quantitative results will finally begin showing up with Fiscal 2015 as the initiatives begin paying off after a more appropriate timeframe to settle in. And we were left with that by December 3, the full Q3 earnings disclosure.
Then suddenly on December 9, the Company issued a public release announcing that a great change in senior leadership had come with the retirement of Mike from Abercrombie & Fitch. The impact of the announcement set off headlines across media like wildfire. The end of a monumental era had finally come. At 70, the man, mind and heart, who gave us five awe-inspiring concepts that made our own minds and hearts soar, unifying individuals across space and time with one love – the A&F Family – stepped down and aside for good...
"It has been an honor to lead this extraordinarily talented group of people. I am extremely proud of your accomplishments. I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the Company forward in the next phase of its development." – Michael S. Jeffries, December 9
Contributor Will was the first to immediately reach me with it, and then Cameron, and at first I was blank about it. And then shivers began settling, and then my heart started to throb with a convulsion. I could feel it inside, you know the feeling. This feeling of, what, sorrow beginning to storm deep inside and like pounding inside to get out. It really was hurting deep in. And I got moments where I wanted to cry, honestly, though I remained firm, held myself back. I had actually placed my left hand over my chest as I was using my right one as I kept going through everything pouring in on my device. And then my head began throbbing. And I became silent. Just frozen, eyes fixated ahead in space, taking it all in and everything of it hitting me. It was the end of an era. It really was. 1992-2014, now the "Mike Jeffries Era". Closed, concluded.
I realize that it may come across as funny to outsiders or to a layman, but when you take into recognition how greatly it is that this man gave you so much happiness with his retail creations, his elaborate, painstakingly-detailed work of worlds. How he brought you joy with it. How elements of his visions inspired you personally in your own way and truly made your mind and heart SOAR. All the fond memories. All the people you came across because of your one passion and love for it all by his one creative being. It's powerful. And its moving enough to bring you to tears. You look around, and, in my case, as was at the moment when I got the news, you see the results of his guiding genius vision around you. The clothing, shopping bags, fragrance bottles, even the packaging of things, every little detail and even, perhaps, aspects of your room or whatever. It's there. And it's in your mind, too. To imagine what would be had Mike's Abercrombie & Fitch not been realized is simply unfathomable. It's incomprehensible! My brain, my electrical neurons, can just not compute how it would have been, a world without Mike Jeffries' Abercrombie & Fitch. He is Mike, the Man Behind Abercrombie & Fitch!
And then I got to thinking of how, as we get older, this is just going to accelerate. The world will change. And it's a total "duh!" thing, but it literally hits-you, hits-you when it really happens and specially with things so meaningful to you.
I went to sleep bothered Tuesday night (really, it was early Wednesday morning). It was so unsettling. I've had a handful of incidences in my life which have left me with some sort of level of emotion storming in my heart and mind after an incidence from which things turn out displeasing or whatever. The most recent one happened in early-August 2013. And when I look back on such moments, I wonder, How the fuck did you even go to sleep. I woke up, read/mulled over it again, and it surged up the want to cry over it allover, but it was repressed. It was repressed, and so it was when I first got wind of it, too, because at the same time it was particularly inevitable and imminent, and it wasn't a shock. (It feels weird being on abercrombie.com now. So weird. And I can't imagine how I'll mull over things as I survey everything he left instore). There's just a sadness to it lingering deep inside me.
But I personally think Mike doesn't want that. His legacy should be remembered for the great joy it brought us, and we should focus on Abercrombie & Fitch as devoted as we are to it for he's an irremovable part of it. Whether he's there or not. He's an irremovable part of it.
For now, Martinez has been given the role of Executive Chairman (giving him officially power to be more involved hands on with managing operations at the Company), and he will be the head of the newly conceptualized Office of the Chairman – also made up of Jonathan Ramsden (Chief Operating Officer), Christos Angelides (Brand President of A&F and Kids), and Fran Horowitz (Brand President of Hollister) – which will oversee corporate direction of the Company and daily operations.
"It is impossible to overstate Mike Jeffries' extraordinary accomplishments in building Abercrombie & Fitch to the iconic status the brand now enjoys. From a standing start two decades ago, his creativity and imagination were the driving forces behind the company's growth and success. Going forward, we are confident in our talented senior leadership team and the steps we are taking to revitalize our brands and business. We are also confident that our search will identify a new leader with the skills and expertise to enable Abercrombie & Fitch to capitalize fully on its growth opportunities and build shareholder value." – Arthur C. Martinez, December 9
Meanwhile, the hunt is on for the next successor to Mike, and the Company furthered that it "has engaged a leading executive search firm to identify and evaluate both internal and external [candidates]." Martinez elaborated, "We’re never going to reinvent Mike Jeffries, and we shouldn’t be trying. The next step forward requires someone with somewhat different skills than Mike, and someone who’s acutely aware of the disruption that’s coming in the industry — the emerging dominance of online and omnichannel retailing — someone who can strategically navigate those waters."
My primary concern is how they will go about with this in continuing the modern Abercrombie & Fitch Mike founded as iconic fashion retailer with its outstanding, cherished, distinct elements. Naturally, it's the number one concern on everyone's mind. You can strip away the lame from a business which has already been through the low and calls barely anything to its name in terms of worth, but you cannot come in and significantly strip away at a billion dollar business with a global core image and fanbase that's permeated, iconic, and highly valuable. Not unless you want the majority of people to start leaving you, net sales really dropping like you haven't seen yet, for moving far away from the founding codes of the business by the founder. You can stupidly say, Oh, well his "codes" aren't working obviously. But so, too, you could have said of Chanel by the '70s and on, and then who came in in 1983 and reinvigorated the House for a new era, Karl Lagerfeld who took key codes transcendent and reworks, reinterprets them every time afresh and to-the-moment for the moment as however it may be in the present...every time! I've studiously, observantly seen it done for six years now not just there, but across various other houses. (What is needed at Abercrombie & Fitch is indeed a new, but higher, elevated, radical different way of thinking things because Abercrombie & Fitch is not your typical mall shop, it's a great American establishment! No fashion retailer in America can claim the unique greatness of the Abercrombie & Fitch legacy. Wake up). Codes that are transcendent are codes that can be reinterpreted across time and remain relevant. It can be done. To say it can't is to be lazy and shortsighted. It's up to them to realize what those authentic codes are and to uphold the greatness of Abercrombie & Fitch as it has been and its legacy.
I want the emotion of utter awe and inspiration back, translated for the now, progressive. Powerful, irrefutably captivating and for a consumer base who will actually support it without the whims of a fickle sector of the industry.
Whoever comes in as CEO will have the biggest shoes in fashion retail to fill. Good luck. I'll be around when you come in. And you can call me Mike's pet.
Meanwhile, in this organization I've founded for us, the around the world fans, I'll be upholding the beauty of his legacy – keeping it relevant – for the now and future generations for as long as I remain, and I will instill the wondrous elements that made his Abercrombie great onto new and future contributors – making sure they understand and are inspired by what I and many others were privileged to experience first-hand – and my successor, too, one day, most importantly.
And on an ending note, I want to clarify how monumental Mike has been to modern retail. No retailer in the world as ever come close to the greatest of the fantasy and theater, and all the emotion with it, as was conceptualized by Mike's vision. No one. No one. He is the Father of modern retail theater. And for however there has been people who have always loved to hate on it, there are just as many more and greater people who have been capable of appreciating it to various personal levels. The entirety of his retail corpus for Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is a marvel of awe, and history should remember the greatness of his genius with respect far over whatever controversies may have ensued because it towers over anything else.
He definitely left a monumental influence on an uncountable number of individuals from the Millennial generation that's now growing to become movers and shakers of the world throughout the various plethora of fields they'll venture in, and you'd be surprised how and where his influences are and will show up even though it may not even be conscious, evident and obvious, but it will be there. Worldwide.
This man's parents knew not of the utter globally influential greatness and impact their son would achieve on into the early-21st century. It's so beautiful. And you respect that.
Mike Jeffries is a god of retail, and, having made his great mark on the greater world, is here to stay. He isn't gone from Abercrombie & Fitch. Not really. Not ever.
Love you, Mike...
The Sitch on Fitch