Let’s look back at all the Abercrombie sister stores we’ve loved and lost
Our malls will never be the same
by Amanda Ross
Kids these days will never understand the social currency that came with plastering brand names across your ass. But it wasn't enough to have a random collection of consonants or the name of an Australian beach spelled out in terrycloth — there was a hierarchy, you know? Like Tolkien books, Bionicles, and Russian aristocracy, the stores of our youth had a strict pecking order and accompanying lore. It wasn't enough to hawk 95 percent acryliblend polo shirts for $70 each — Abercrombie had an entire network of sister stores complete with elaborate backstories that all tied together. For a single glorious moment, they ruled the mall only to vanish as mysteriously as they arrived. Remember the scene in Titanic when Ancient Fossil Rose gets swept up in her memories and the decaying steel bow on the ocean floor transforms into back into the chandelier-studded liner is was pre-iceberg? Okay, let's do that but with your hometown mall:
Just like Days From Death Rose can still smell the Titanic's fresh paint (no, we're not stopping these similes any time soon, hang on), I can perfectly recall the suffocatingly floral smell of this store's signature perfume because my friend Micaela shattered a bottle of it in my car 9 years ago and the interior was never the same again. Gilly Hicks was the underwear store in the A&F universe, I guess supposed to be the beachy alternative to the spangly pink offerings of the Victoria's Secret Pink line. While the store was ostensibly designed to shill lacy navy panties to chill teenage sluts, every high school girl knew the real treasure trove were the hoodies and sweatpants shorts (sweatshorts?) sold in the dark corridors of GH's interior. Overpriced status loungewear was the girl uniform on standardized testing days. Like Saharan elephants instinctually returning to watering holes over generations, wearing Gilly Hicks sweatpants the day of our PSAT and TAKS tests was just something written into our DNA. It was nothing we planned — it just was.
My freshman year of high school, I made friends with this fabulously bitchy guy named Ryan ( I'm pleased to report he's still my fabulously bitchy friend today, my office is like 10 minutes from his apartment) and one day we were standing by the bus loop and making plans to go to the mall that weekend. Ryan heard they just put in some new Abercrombie store but we were not allowed to shop there until college, he told me. According to Ryan's Rules of Order, Ruehl was Abercrombie for older kids and we had to wait to access it. The outside of the store was designed to look like a West Village townhouse and fittingly, the mascot was a French bulldog. This makes me groan now as I regularly encounter both West Villagers and French bulldogs, but at the time I thought it was terribly exciting. The thrill of the store's exterior and a discreet sign alerting us to a sale was too much for me and Ryan, so we had to go in and buy things with our allowance. I got the best pair of denim cutoffs I've ever owned (my ass is way too big for them now, but I just can't part with them) and an angora cardigan that looked and felt like it was made of boiled monkey fur. Every Ruehl store was closed in 2009, dashing Ryan's dreams of an obnoxiously preppy collegiate wardrobe.
If you knew, you knew. Tucked into the very back corner of my hometown's extremely excellent outdoor mall (La Cantera, I love you, Abercrombie Kids was the key to every crumb of popularity I collected in middle school. My parents were sympathetic to what a suburban 14-year-old needed to survive in the halls, but not so sympathetic that they were regularly shelling out for full-priced Abercrombie. But here's the scam: Abercrombie had a preteen outpost with clothing that looked virtually identical for for a fraction of the price. The only difference was the name, stylized all lowercase: abercrombie. Jackpot.
Fun fact: In sixth grade, when I first observed a fellow child in the wild wearing a Hollister shirt, I searched the entire mall for the store several times. Because how was 12-year-old me supposed to know that the random tiki hut with palm trees and Christmas lights next to Macy's was Hollister? I think it was themed to ride the Laguna Beach/OC/We're-all-obsessed-with-California wave with its beach motifs and wow did it succeed. It's the last A&F stronghold, still thriving after yet another redesign. In fact, the last time I visited home, I caught myself peering into a bright, LED screen-lit store and thought a few dresses look cute before my bitchy little brother informed me I was in a Hollister. The times they are a-changing, I guess.