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Exclusive: A&F’s New Ruehl

A&F chief executive officer Michael Jeffries lays out the strategy for Ruehl, the firm’s latest chain aimed at post-college shoppers, set to open next...

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NEW ALBANY, Ohio — The chairman wears jeans and flip-flops to work and his 650 associates follow suit at the sprawling, campus-style Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters here.

That’s just the veneer, though, because for Michael Jeffries and the youthful army of workers he greets informally more like a big man on campus than the company chieftain, the approach to brand-building is anything but casual. The intensity is as evident as ever with A&F’s latest retail brand and its Teutonic-sounding name, Ruehl.

And Ruehl is just the first of three new retail concepts being developed by the group, Jeffries disclosed.

The first Ruehl store opens Saturday in the International Plaza in Tampa, Fla., followed by one Sunday in the Woodfield Mall in Chicago and a third on Tuesday at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. A fourth unit will open in time for Christmas selling at the Twelve Oaks mall in Detroit.

In an exclusive preview of Ruehl, WWD was led through a model-store setup at A&F headquarters that totally replicates the real Ruehl store environment.

“Ruehl is the fantasy of college kids of America moving from Indiana to the big city. What do you want to do after college — move to New York and make it there,” explained Jeffries during the tour. The Ruehl concept is based on a fictitious story, conceived by Jeffries, about a German leather goods family that decades ago emigrated to America and opened a studio in a sophisticated town house in Greenwich Village. “They’re lovers of art, literature and music,” Jeffries said.

The store, which bears the official logo RUEHL No. 925, has the trappings of that town house, with a brick facade, wrought iron fence, antiqued windows (mannequins verboten) and a cement sidewalk. Inside, there are 10 800-square-foot rooms, each merchandised with different categories, and a corridor of artwork, which will give customers a sense of discovery as they move from one area to the next.

Ruehl is aimed at women and men ages 22 to 30. A&F’s other divisions target younger audiences: A&F for 18- to 22-year-olds, Hollister for 14- to 18-year-olds and abercrombie for seven- to 14-year-olds. There’s a lot of overlap — they all sell casual sportswear and are all high energy with loud music, sexually suggestive posters and youthful, good-looking staff that closely reflects the demographics. “There is cannibalization bound to happen, which will affect your comps, but what’s your long-term strategy?” Jeffries asked. At A&F, “It’s to own the casual sportswear business, by age.”
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