It’s been a rough couple of weeks for some of America’s leading retail chains, but it’s not all bad news out there. J. Crew, facing shrinking profits, replaced its women’s head designer, naming Madewell’s Somsack Sikhounmuong to that role. And Gap announced it is closing 175 stores, or nearly a quarter of its locations in North America. But one retail news alert caught my attention for the reason that it represented a little out-of-the-box thinking from Abercrombie & Fitch, which hired a new men’s designer, Aaron Levine, who spent the last four years at Club Monaco.
None of these stores face an easy road ahead as they search for their place in an increasingly online, trend-driven, price-sensitive, fast-fashion world. But to change consumer perceptions, sometimes it will take big moves. And Abercrombie & Fitch, which has shifted its marketing focus from naked torsos and casual chinos to trendier items (see Look Smart in the March 2015 issue of InStyle), could use a refined men’s wear eye at a moment when lots of guys are paying as much attention to the cut of their trousers as the cut of their abs. And Levine performed strongly at Club Monaco, introducing attainable styles with a reasonable degree of fashion flare, a consistent fit across jackets and trousers, and a few surprises each season. (I’m thinking of the waffle-knit cashmere union suits, and the leopard print swimsuits, for starters.) Levine previously worked for personality-plus labels like Jack Spade, Rogues Gallery and Hickey Freeman’s sportier Hickey label.
It will be tricky to convert Abercrombie’s customer base on the men’s side (largely college-age guys in search of more jeans and novelty T-shirts) to a more fashion-centric look. But Levine has a pretty good notion of who that customer is. Fun fact: After leaving college in the late 1990s, he managed an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Virginia during the retailer’s peak years of popularity.