Every brand has an off season. A year, perhaps, where nothing it designs quite clicks. That’s a weatherable blip, solved by a pulling up of socks and realigning of priorities. Less easy to counter is the slow fade, the erosion of a label’s cool. When the look it stakes its fortune on dies, is replaced by something new, and it’s so invested it keeps blindly churning out what no one wants anymore.
Such was the fate of Abercrombie & Fitch, the brand more famed for its lack of clothes than what hung on its rails. It built a rep as the brand of choice for Zac Efron-alikes, men who cared more about what their polos hugged than the shirts themselves. Menswear’s boom brought the brand’s demise, as guys who’d once been content just to be dressed suddenly realised baggy cargo shorts weren’t actually all that flattering. And that maybe A&F kept its stores so dark not to frighten off older shoppers, but to hide all the oversized moose logos and cod-college branding.
And then, in came Aaron Levine. The man who’d made Club Monaco a go-to for guys graduating from J.Crew was an unexpected hire but one that, when the first lookbooks landed, suddenly made perfect sense. Because when you strip away the hunks and throbbing techno, you’ve got a brand with roots that stretch back to 1892, when David T. Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch founded a store to outfit New York gentlemen with luxury hunting kit. With that DNA rediscovered, skinny polos were usurped by luxury fabrics in subtler cuts, the kind of clothes made to wear, not remove.
That aesthetic shift extends to the new management’s debut fragrance, First Instinct, which is a world away from previous signature Fierce, whose nauseating blend of musk, firs and citrus is only slightly more tasteful than its abs-emblazoned bottle. First Instinct is a scent for the A&F customer who’s tossed his mortarboard and finally swapped keg stands for a cocktail, but just the one. He’s got work in the morning.
It’s a graduation embodied literally in First Instinct’s gin and tonic opening, served with a slice of melon for that signature sugar. But unlike Fierce, it’s not sickly; instead, notes of pepper and violet leaf, then sueded musk and amber, mellow the tang.
The nose behind the scent, Philippe Romano, hasn’t steered too conceptual. First Instinct is still a crowd-pleaser, what worked before updated for more mature tastes. But if the juice is this successful, then we can’t wait to see the fruits of its main collection.
Available from Selfridges, priced £30 for 30ml of eau de toilette.
Bottle: A rippling glass flacon, perhaps a subtle nod to Fierce’s unclothed abdominals, with the brand and fragrance name stamped in silver on one side.
Head notes: Electric gin, tonic, Kiwano melon;
Heart notes: szechuan pepper, violet leaves, citrus;
Base notes: sueded musk, amber.
Best for: retaining your youth, without smelling tragic.