UPDATE: In November 2016, Abercrombie & Fitch announced their Hong Kong store would be closing, as a result of the economic downtown – it had been rumoured for a while and what with Forever 21 also exiting their phenomenally expensive space in Causeway Bay, was not really a surprise. As part of their rebranding, A&F also removed all their #HotGuys videos from Youtube (and from the stores!); props to various gay YT channels for preserving Call Me Maybe for perpetuity, whilst I’ve plugged in some other fan/news videos to try showcase the mayhem of the opening. Let’s remember the good times…
So, in case you live under not just one rock but ten tonnes of them, Abercrombie & Fitch finally opened its first Hong Kong store in the iconic Pedder Building in Central.
At 11am, August 11, 2012, the doors finally opened (signature Fierce cologne filling the air). People queued overnight, lines of not just hundreds but thousands swarmed all the way around Pedder, an MTR exit was closed and police barricades were in effect. Don’t believe me? See the video above!
Living in Nottingham, all I knew of Abercrombie was the LFO song quoted in this blog’s title! Later, I visited the London store – and still didn’t ‘get it’. So dark you could barely see the stock, pumping music, suffocating smell, dancing staff, random half-naked man at the door… whatever. Next, outcry over those pesky Yanks strong-arming the quintessentially HK Shangtai Tang from the quintessentially HK Pedder Building by throwing insane amounts of money at the rent. Then… for ages… nothing. And then the hype machine started.
Kudos to the A&F Marketing Team, for masterminding what will probably be the greatest marketing campaign the HK retail scene ever sees. After months and months of no-one even knowing when Abercrombie would even open, the date was announced alongside the news that they would be flying in 100 #HotGuys (yes, it got its own Twitter hashtag!) from Abercrombie stores all over the world.
Top photo by Sabrina Sikora Photography
I was still blasé about the whole thing. I’m too old for Abercrombie, too old to be affected by topless guys… right? The guys arrived in HK (staying in the W hotel, lucky things), along with dozens of extremely well-made salivating teaser videos and buzz-building media visits, bearing gifts in the form of super toned abs and the 18+ A&F Quarterly. The first official photo-call with the #HotGuys was total carnage, people spilling into the roads, screaming, nearly in tears.
They got their own tour bus, waving, pointing, whooping and partying to the general public. They scattered themselves around HK (Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay, Elements, even Disneyland) and spread chaos wherever they went (they were eventually banned from Times Square). Twitter became one long Abercrombie-Watch and everywhere I went, conversations always came back to Abercrombie. Meanwhile, I rolled my eyes.
As the Editor of Sassy Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to be invited to the store’s media preview. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even really want to go. But I did – and I am now a total convert. The store is standard Abercrombie – dark, suffocating (but sexy) smell, dancing staff and all – but it’s the whole Abercrombie ethos that I now, finally, understand.
Photo thanks to Erica Fong
Having a huge four-floor store to share with only 20 other journos was an unreal experience. Intense, overwhelming and kind of awesome. We got to saunter past the masses still snapping pics of the #HotGuys on Pedder’s steps and entered the hallowed doors. First sight – four topless men on the stairs, dancing, smiling and shouting ‘Hey! How’s it going!’
The sense of fun, youth and exuberance is infectious… because the staff ARE all genuinely fun, young and exuberant (as exemplified by their masterly piece of viral marketing, the Call Me Maybe video below). Scouted on the streets, underground, unis and bars for having the Abercrombie look, they wave and smile and dance and are lovely sunny people all day long, and they don’t make it seem like hard work but like the best job in the world. Talking to the mostly teenage A&F Hot Guys, flown over from around the world, in Hong Kong for the first time, being treated like celebs and loving it, it probably is.
As for the clothes… Abercrombie is and always will be preppy classics, popped collars, all American casual-cool. There’s a little too much logo-ing for my liking, but dammit, their jeans are ridonkulously soft and flattering (why didn’t I snap up a pair there and then?!) and the clothes are classic, easy, accessible and unmistakable. Price points are reasonable enough (around $340 for tees, $640 jumpers, $840 jeans and dresses), especially when compared with Jack Wills here, and the jumper I picked up (soft, slouchy, so me) teamed with denim shorts is certain to become my autumn uniform (I put it on in this blazing hot summer just for you for the photo below!).
There were still teething troubles (staff were unable to explain sizing, no-one knew where a jumper I wanted on a mannequin was, so A&F’s PR from America had to find it!) but I’m now fully signed up to the Abercrombie cause. Although the 100 #HotGuys are gone (*sob*), A&F will still be flying in international topless guys for the photo opps in-store – because the brand is these beautiful clean-cut unthreatening but super-hot buff beachy boys and let’s face it, the HK equivalent isn’t quite the same. This PR campaign was utter genius and it is fantastic that a company as big as Abercrombie has finally treated HK with the respect it deserves and rolled out some mega-watt star treatment.
The teaser videos made teenage heartbeats flutter worldwide. Flying 100 #HotGuys into HK has made worldwide news (at least amongst the A&F demographic) – and the best bit about sending in 100? There’s one for everyone! So whilst the brash Americans trying to grab my hand and dance with me down the stairs didn’t really do it for me, the lovely Sam above certainly did. Boasting my much-missed English accent and the cutest smile ever (argh! Tiny gap in teeth! Charlie from Busted memories arise…), he was just so genuinely lovely and charming and personable to talk to that he made me feel special… and that is clearly what all the teenage girls professing love to them on Twitter, writing cards and letters to them, making their photo with them their profile pic, baking cakes to take to their hotel rooms (yes really!) and already mourning their departure feel too.
In a land of the ‘Welcome to ZARA’ ‘Welcome to SAAASAAA’ bot, where staff routinely ignore you, offer only the most cursory help and practically laugh you out the store if you don’t adhere to Asian sizing, then long may Abercrombie’s all American hospitality and warm welcome continue to rule the roost.
The tagline for the launch was ‘The Hottest A&F Guys Make History In Hong Kong’ – and make history they did. Can you think of any other store that could generate this level of hype, orchestrate a campaign of such scale… and execute it so successfully and effortlessly? I feel a little sad it’s all over and that we’re unlikely to see anything of its like again… but I can also say I was here for THE most exciting marketing campaign to hit HK, probably ever. Pretty cool, eh?
Abercrombie & Fitch, Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong
Abercrombie have done their best to wipe all trace of this opening and marketing campaign from their official social media channels (thanks to an extensive rebranding designed to revive falling sales), but you can still relive the hysteria with my favourite blog about the HK opening from my friend JJ, The Wanderlister.
Some photos from Abercrombie’s Facebook Page.