Friday, 2 May 2008

Living the brand at Abercrombie & Fitch

This weekend I went to the new Abercrombie & Fitch store in London, for the first time. I know, I know everyone else has already been there and done that, but may I now please join you all in your astonishment? Its amazing, surreal, wrong and oh so right.

For those of you that haven't made the pilgrimage yet, Abercrombie & Fitch - Savile Row, is a shop second and a brand experience first. No wait, that doesn't put it strongly enough, the Innocent Village Fete is a brand experience. The Abercrombie & Fitch store is a living advert.

The shop itself is housed in a huge and imposing mansion, complete still with marble fireplaces and library shelving. As you walk up the stone steps, drawn by the palpable sense of smugness inside, you realise you have entered the brand. You'll have seen the actual adverts, black & white shots of sculpted boys and beautiful snap-thin girls living a teasingly homo-erotic Amercian dream. Well there at the top of the steps is one of each. The girl in her A&F uniform of size zero blue jeans and grey skinny rib vest and the boy, tanned and stripped to the waist. Behind them is a HUGE print of one of the adverts, but I have to say its not really that the eye is drawn to.

Around the corner and into the darkness, and the thumping music, and the scent of aftershave which I'd love to say was lingering on the air but I'm pretty sure was pumped through the air-con. And then we just stood and looked, as various beautiful clones came to ask us "Hi. How are you?". Up on the balcony overlooking the house was a size zero/skinny rib dancing to the music, and she remained dancing in exactly the same way, in the same spot for the entire time we were there. I found myself wondering if they have Abercrombie dance classes for all their staff. If they don't they really should - Danceworks is just down the road, they could sell branded dance classes hand over fist.

Anyway, my point being, not only is every last detail in the environment completely on brand, so is every last member of staff. They are each of them beautiful and cool and casual and all very much in an Abercrombie & Fitch kind of way. They are hired as models who serve - but mostly they just stand (or dance) around and smile. In this case Abercrombie have no problem in getting their staff to believe in the brand. The staff ARE the brand...

The Abercrombie and Fitch store ought to be a beautiful segue between everything that is dear to me - experiential marketing and employee engagement. But perfection I fear, is in the flaws and it seems that no-one at Abercrombie has a single one. For me, they've gone a step too far, and alas for all the "model servers" were smiling, they didn't look all that happy. Perhaps we all need something to aim for to be happy in our work? After all how much pressure must it be to be hired because you're perfect?