|What were we in for, my Meister Mike... | Image, Abercrombie & Fitch Co.|
"And Ruehl is just the first of three new retail concepts being developed by the group, Jeffries disclosed." - A&F's New Ruehl, Women's Wear Daily, September 2, 2004
Fueled by the success with abercrombie kids and the explosive growth of Hollister, development for new concepts reached utmost grandiose and high-scale proportions going into RUEHL No.925 - a concept which rolled out as the most elaborate, high-detailed yet of the A&F Brands: if people thought Hollister was already intriguing with its nicely walled-off beachshack interior and welcoming, cool exterior, RUEHL was overwhelming, unprecedented, and, to some, intimidating with its grand enigmatic upscale-modern-sophisticated-Village-brownstones stores featuring pavement, wrought-iron fencing, little styled windows, and a model(s) at the main entrance of three like a "club bouncer"...once in, an interior so expansive and walled-off highly complex, well dimly-lit with a luxurious interior and house and lounge music and what else RUEHL pumping throughout with a heavy hint of the brand's Signature cologne. Furthermore, if one thought A&F was already exclusive enough, RUEHL, in every respect, was something else that and more; it was, figuratively, the parfum, the highest, finest, most exquisite expression in the lineup of offerings based off of the original Abercrombie & Fitch lifestyle. And then after that was done with and rolled out, then next-up came Gilly Hicks: a detailed trip to far-flung Australia was involved, getting acquainted with the culture in Sydney and familiarizing with manor houses there; a private corporate concept booklet was developed as reference throughout development; expensive antique Parisian stone for the developing store prototype's floor was brought in, just to see how it'd look, and then was all just jackhammered UP because "it became too bulky". As Beverly House - the original VP for Gilly Hicks and who worked on the development and rollout of the brand under the overall say of godman Mike - shared in 2015 with BloombergBusinessweek, "We went way over budget, but that was Mike's world." The romanticism of Down Undie was previewed to the world with the debut of the highly-produced premier Gilly Hicks promotional film, on December 26, 2007, which went down as an iconic classic (and I will never forget that day it played out before my very eyes; age-restricted on the recently launched gillyhicks.com, I, then 16, accessed it underage, oops!, like as if I even cared); it was directed by John Urbano (who did many A&F Co. promo films at the time, and who would go on to direct OneDirection's "What Makes You Beautiful" music video) and was a slow-paced sepia-tone dream of breathtaking natural landscapes and gorgeous topless women and full-naked chiseled men frolicking about. People traveled, literally, from far-off locations to be present at the January 21, 2008, inauguration, at Natick Collection in Massachusetts, of this utterly-unprecedented underwear brand by Abercrombie & Fitch: the store, a remarkable, expansive (and expensive), highly-detailed play-out of the grand fantasy of the brand being founded by the eponymous Englishwoman in her parents colonial manor house, beach-side, in the Sydney neighborhood of Rose Bay. Master lensman Bruce Weber's captivating, romantic, evocative-of-Australia photography illustrated the GH dream during its debut and adorned, as visuals, the interior, and there was even a hung painting of the fictional founder, Gilly Hicks, in the store's Living Room area. When asked about the developing negative economic situation, Tom Lennox, the then-head of corporate communications, stated that the brand had been in development and waiting was no option - the Company was in it for the long run. By 2008, when the Recession had begun (though whose unfolding as the Great Recession was completely unbeknownst before it got bad), the Abercrombie & Fitch Co. portfolio of brands comprised of the most sophisticated, premium ideals, in unparalleled high retail theater, which were the result of efforts which took utmost inspired concentration in the golden mid-2000s.
But if, in 2004, RUEHL was indeed the first of three concepts being developed, as WWD stated Mike confided, then Gilly Hicks was the second and rolled out in 2008. The Company did not expect the Great Recession and its effects (and did not do a good job at quickly adapting either). RUEHL slowed down before plunging and being fully shuttered by January 2010; Gilly Hicks, which just down-hill denigrated creatively, in marketing and assortment, time after its debut (while, as it happened, only being supported by self-created fleeting hype of the early-2010s which did no good), never broke in profit, stores were finally closed by April 2014, and the brand is basically done-for and abandoned as even the "Gilly Hicks" trademark was left to go "abandoned" in status in 2015. With RUEHL having necessitated closure, Gilly Hicks having been a complex multifaceted issue in attaining profitability (and in the Recession, no less), and with the great effort needed in keeping established brands Abercrombie & Fitch, abercrombie, and Hollister strong and stable, naturally seminal plans for a Concept 6 would have fallen into "development hell" (stalling in whatever initial development work was going on without moving forward) and ultimately floored.
But what could it have been?
The inherent nature of the A&F Portfolio was in covering sectors of the market by way of a brand-hierarchy structured by targeted consumer age groups and level of aspiration: from children with abercrombie kids to the professional young adult with RUEHL, and Gilly Hicks as the underwear purveyor for women. At the time of RUEHL (2004) being launched with positive high-believe in it at heart, to have had visualized a future in which RUEHL did indeed become a great contributor to the Company (as Mike said back then he expected it to become), and in one which the future Gilly Hicks (2008) would go on to also become a staple brand, would only have definitely supported the idealization of a sixth to debut in the 2010s. Remember, all this then without knowledge of the Great Recession to happen. So if a sixth concept was then-visualized to continue on the streak of success following Gilly Hicks, what indeed could it have been?
The most probable and more evidently clear, a brand beyond RUEHL's targeted 22 through 35 year-old young adults. Considering the development of the brand-hierarchy in regards to retaining Abercrombie & Fitch customers, it would only be the most logical next piece in the puzzle to be set and done. By the 2010s, the A&F customer who was in their 20s in the 1990s - and assuming those who stayed with A&F and mingled with RUEHL in the 2000s in their 30s - would be entering their 40s. Would he have dared? God-man Mike? An iconic brand catering to the established, well-off adult post-your-early-young-adulthood-RUEHL. The possibilities are endless as to what that could have been, if we are to run along that idea...even a chance to venture into core luxury (the Company had cultivated utmost refined high-ideals and escalating aspirations in the mid-2000s and carried on years after until recently and had the Recession not happened with its aftermath). Then that would have become the parfum in the lineup of A&F Co. lifestyle brand offerings. It would have been epic (from what I myself, with my high-imagination, can just visualize and feel with preliminary thought on it); it would have required the highest-level of complex work.
A baby brand is an intriguing thought, but it couldn't have worked as a standalone store on a scale as the rest of the Family. If anything, an infants and toddlers line would have been more pragmatically well set as offered through abercrombie kids stores and online...or maybe in select standalone branded boutiques and majorly based on e-commerce transaction. There would have been very unique, new potential with it, and it also would be nice in addition to the portfolio, such a targeted brand. If not a wholly uniquely conceptualized brand (though a completely newly created brand would actually work best for everything), an Abercrombie baby label as just for clothing would be to go mad for in cuteness. haha.
The idea of a Concept 6 has been lingering in my mind for ages (the mythical Concept 6), and I felt I finally needed to put it out there - the fact that seems to have actually been hinted at and not just something of a fan's dream of what-if. No, it was actually hinted at as the third concept after RUEHL and Gilly Hicks. Or maybe WWD didn't hear Mike correctly or misconstrued what he said? Or let me throw in a curveball that may burst some bubbles: the Ezra Fitch collection of clothing and fragrance had just launched - so could, then, the statement meant RUEHL, Ezra Fitch, and Gilly Hicks? Something like RUEHL and Gilly Hicks are bonafide retail concepts, but Ezra Fitch? I'll leave that all up to you to think about. Whatever it was, and most specially with the Company of now, were there a Concept 6 it truly may never see the light of day. Fans would die for a return of RUEHL, would die!, but if that won't happen at all in the near-future - it sure as hell will not happen fully-fledged standalone with the state of the Company now, and only probable in a time when the greater fashion retail market stabilizes in a rekindled, positive economy, and even then would have to be totally redeveloped from the original incarnation - then the release of a Concept 6, whatever could have been idealized in the 2000s, wouldn't in the foreseeable future for sure. The idea of Concept 6 is the most peripheral, mythic of anything in our great A&F Culture...
The Sitch on Fitch Co.