In 1892, great outdoorsman David Abercrombie opened his waterfront shop, Abercrombie & Co. in downtown Manhattan, New York. His all-you-need sportsman store for hunters and fisherman was inspired by his own skills as a trapper, topographer, railroad surveyor, prosecutor, inventor and designer of tents, rucksacks, and other camping equipment (Wikipedia). His essential love for the outdoors sparked his New York store’s initial popularity and success. The company was quickly known for outfitting some of America’s most influential leaders and celebrities on their sporting excursions- “Every president from Theodore Roosevelt to Gerald Ford …
[as well as] other famous people including American Aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, American Artist John Sloan, Swedish and Hollywood Actress Greta Garbo, American stars of film, television, and stage, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable, and American novelists John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway” (Wikipedia). At the beginning of the 20th century Abercrombie moved to larger quarters on Broadway and took on a partner, Ezra Fitch, a successful lawyer.
Together they brought Abercrombie & Co.into an incorporated store in 1904 donning their names: Abercrombie & Fitch (“History,” Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ). But this partnership quickly turned sour as both men held different views of the new store’s environment, target market, and possible expansion. David Abercrombie wished to keep the store more conservative and focused on selling professional outdoor gear to professional outdoorsmen. But Fitch had visionary ideas to further expand the ever-growing company and to bring the outdoors to the general public.
The two finally dissolved their differences in 1907 when Abercrombie sold his share of the company to Fitch and returned to manufacturing outdoor goods (“History,” Abercrombie ; Fitch Co. ). Ezra Fitch began building his vision and revamped the entire store’s concept. He brought all of the stock out of the glass casings and cabinets and put them on display “as if they were in use” (Wikipedia). Tents were pitched on the floor, a campfire blazed in the store, and there were real outdoorsmen instead of sales clerks dedicated to educating their customers.
Abercrombie & Fitch became a place for the general public to hear and trade hunting stories, to gain advice on the best locations to camp and fish, and to ultimately become well-equipped in their outdoor adventures. Fitch even risked near bankruptcy to provide his customers with a free mail-order catalog in 1909. Costing nearly one dollar a piece to publish, (“History,” Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ) ” Abercrombie & Fitch mailed out over 50,000 copies of its 456-page catalog, which included outdoor clothing, camping gear, articles, and advice columns” (Wikipedia).
It proved to be a clever move on Fitch’s part, and his company gained the expansion he sought- moving them to more fashionable and accessible midtown New York on Fifth Avenue in 1913 to accommodate their new sportswear for both men and women. In 1917, Abercrombie ; Fitch moved yet again to an astounding twelve-story building on Madison Avenue, becoming the largest and most impressive outdoor gear and sporting goods store in the world (“History,” Abercrombie ; Fitch Co. ).
Here, Ezra Fitch’s visionary nature filled this flagship store with various amenities: In the basement there was a shooting range, on the mezzanine there was paraphernalia for skiing, archery, skin-diving, and lawn games, the second through the fifth floors were reserved for clothing that was suitable for any climate or terrain, the sixth floor furnished a picture gallery and a bookstore that focused on sporting themes, a watch repair facility, and a golf school fully equipped with a resident professional, the seventh floor included a gun room, stuffed game heads, and about seven hundred shot guns and rifles, the eighth floor was dedicated solely to fishing, camping, and boating, it also included a desk that belonged to a fly- and bait-casting instructor who gave lessons at the pool, which was located on the roof alongside Fitch’s log cabin (Wikipedia).
The front of his store boasted the slogan, “Where the Blazed Trail Crosses the Boulevard” and Fitch remained at the unprecedented Abercrombie and Fitch until he retired in 1928 (“History,” Abercrombie ; Fitch Co. ). Post-Ezra Fitch saw further expansion and a new catchphrase “The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World” (Wikipedia). Abercrombie ; Fitch stores sprouted in Illinois, California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Michigan.
“Despite the chain’s apparent success, the company began to falter financially in the late 1960s and went bankrupt in 1977” (Wikipedia). A year later, Oshmans Sporting Goods bought Abercrombie ; Fitch but struggled to develop a new identity. It wasn’t until 1988 that the ailing brand was taken up by The Limited, Inc. in attempts to revive it. The Limited had been very successful in their concept stores such as Express and Victoria’s Secret, and they thought they could use this same energy toward bringing new life into Abercrombie ; Fitch. Under the ownership of The Limited, Abercrombie ; Fitch began rebuilding the brand as a teen apparel merchant through CEO Mike Jeffries. “The company began opening stores in upscale malls across America …
beginning primarily in the Midwest and finishing with a major West Coast expansion” (Wikipedia). Jeffries began to develop their target market of teenagers and collegiate students aged 18-24. He proclaimed the brand as “casual luxury” and maintained a preppy image of polo shirts, cargo shorts, miniskirts, woven shirts, and t-shirts. Careful marketing of large photos of nearly naked, athletic models made the Abercrombie ; Fitch name synonymous with “understated, sexy, classic casualwear” (Wikipedia). In 1996, The Limited took Abercrombie ; Fitch public on the New York Stock Exchange and progressively phased out its ownership of the company until it fully divested into Abercrombie ; Fitch Co. in 1998.