It’s 4pm on a cold Thursday afternoon and clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch on Fifth Avenue, New York City, is pandemonium. To the innocent passer-by, the store could be mistaken for a nightclub. Customers are expected to queue to get into the store and a long line of chattering, cold shoppers has already snaked around the block, much to the exasperation of workmen trying to dig up the pavement nearby. Pounding music plays and 2 scary-looking bouncers stand on the door, filtering excited customers into the darkened store at their leisure. A topless male model stands in the entrance, posing for polaroid photos with customers and a protest group marches nearby, clutching banners saying “Stop the stench!” – a nod to the overwhelming fumes of aftershave coming from the store. The bouncers are unphased by the protest group, as they stand importantly on the door, acting like they are guarding a shop full of 40-carat diamonds, not sweaters and casualwear.
“Queuing to get into a store? Have you ever heard of anything so moronic?” a disgruntled New Yorker yells to no-one in particular as he struggles to get past the line of customers which has taken up the sidewalk. I had to agree. Never in my years of shopping had I encountered such a strange experience as Abercrombie & Fitch – and I wasn’t even inside yet. However, I had been instructed by my teenage sister to bring back one of their tops during my trip to New York and frankly I was too afraid of her wrath to arrive home without one.
After a ten minute wait, we are finally shown into the store and I feel like I have stepped into a nightclub. The music is pounding so loudly I can’t hear myself think, the store is dark with only a few nightclub lights lighting the way and customers mill about the three floors in a state of excitement. Plush leather seats provide a haven for bored non-shopping fans to rest on and the smell of aftershave lingers strongly in the air. The staff look like the cast of America’s Next Top Model, fuelling the rumour that only good-looking employees are hired. The friendlier staff stand on the stairwell yelling “Have a nice day!” randomly to passing customers who ignore them. The less friendly ones stand pouting and folding sweaters importantly. Photos of topless male models adorn the walls and a decorative crystal chandelier glints in the dim light.
There is admittedly a wide range of stock available on each floor and it is impeccably presented. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see anything properly in the terrible lighting and impossible to move in the crowds constantly moving around the store. As I peer hopelessly at the stock, I begin to wish I had brought a torch with me. Although expensive, the store is known for high quality and I eventually spot the top my sister had requested. I ask a yawning salesgirl if they have it in any other sizes and she quickly says no. Not to be perturbed, I settle on a small size and head towards the tills. Unfortunately, I was in for another long wait. Despite the craziness of the store, there were only three sales assistants on the tills. Was this just poor planning on management’s part, or a clever strategy to ensure weary customers spent even longer inside the store? I patiently waited fifteen minutes to be served, being constantly bumped into by other customers trying to navigate their way around the store. I decided that if Abercrombie & Fitch is masquerading as a nightclub, this was obviously the part where I had to queue at the bar. Unfortunately, when I reached the front of the line, instead of being presented with a much-needed drink, I was met by a beaming salesgirl. “Have a nice day.” She said as she shoved a bag at me. The design of the bag fitted in perfectly with the whole experience – a picture of a topless male model, and a pocket-sized photo of a male model thrown in for free.
Abercrombie & Fitch is well known for being a luxury brand. The flagship Fifth Avenue store opened in 1882 and the store has enjoyed high publicity in recent years. But are their clothes worth the bizarre and unique shopping experience? The answer is yes. The quality, style and choice of their range speaks for itself – but I’ll definetly be shopping online from now on.