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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For Jeffries, creating brands is also a lot like creating movies. Both have stories built in, and an important part of the story relates to “sex and attraction.”

Ruehl, like other A&F formats, emphasizes casual sportswear and is sprinkled with suggestive posters on the walls. The stores will generally be 9,500 gross square feet in size, with 8,500 square feet for selling, which compares with Abercrombie & Fitch stores at about 10,000 square feet gross. The left side of the store is devoted to women’s products and the right side features men’s, with some shelves stacked with antique books — all for sale — and there’s a gallery for art in between.

But that’s where the similarity stops. The mood at Ruehl is more seductive than sexually raw, with softer music, subdued lighting and posters with partial nudity and couples embracing.

Also, the merchandise is priced 22 percent higher than Abercrombie & Fitch (which raised prices 10 percent this year compared with 2003) and the Ruehl assortment is anchored in denim, with a variety of fits, washes and price points, and long wood tables or “bars” to place the jeans on to help customers examine them. It’s a category where the company’s other brands have sometimes fallen short, though this year, A&F launched Ezra Fitch, a venture into the premiere denim realm.

Whether it’s the “Barrow” straight-leg, the “Jane” boot-fit, or the “Waverly” flair-leg model (notice the Greenwich Village references), the jeans are offered in three washes priced from $78 to $88. There’s also the hand-painted Studio jean, priced at $148.

Other categories are women’s and men’s casual sportswear, including woven shirts from $58 to $68 and cashmere sweaters. There are also leather jackets at $398, accessories, outerwear, intimate apparel and accessories, as well as a Ruehl men’s and women’s fragrance for $58 in a 3.4-oz. bottle shaped like an antique ink flask. There are no shoes or tailored clothing, products the other divisions also exclude because Jeffries considers them very difficult categories to master, much less to make a profit on.
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