• The Columbus Dispatch

Abercrombie to open prototype store at Polaris

Abercrombie & Fitch, which has been talking about redesigning its stores for more than a year, will use Polaris Fashion Place mall to roll out a prototype of the new look in early 2017, the company said.

It’s part of an effort by the New Albany-based fashion brand to revive its fortunes.

The new store design — details weren’t forthcoming — and updated merchandise selections are intended to satisfy longtime Abercrombie shoppers and lure a new generation of shoppers, said Fran Horowitz, president and chief merchandising officer, in a statement.

The location, “right in our backyard, ... will allow us to receive customer feedback firsthand,” she said.

In May 2015, Abercrombie opened a prototype for its Hollister Co. chain at Polaris. Hollister’s old surf-shack look was replaced with acontemporary, open design that featured a glass front.

The redesigned Hollister stores “didn’t destroy the brand; they just made it more modern, more different,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a Dublin retail-consulting company that worked on the Hollister redesign but not the Abercrombie prototype.

Although no one outside Abercrombie knows what its prototype will look like, the design will have to bring back some of the old stores’ elements or replace them, Peterson said.

“You can’t strip the soul out of the brand without replacing it with something,” Peterson said.

Abercrombie was the greatest brand in America for a while, he said. “They have to get it back."

Although many people came to dislike “the smell, the shirtless dudes, the dark, the music — nobody else did those things,” Peterson said. “Whether or not you liked it, it made it different."

Abercrombie has gone through several years of wrenching changes. In December 2014, longtime CEO Michael Jeffries retired, prompting the company to create a new management structure and radically reshape its image.

During Jeffries’ tenure, Abercrombie was known for using semi-nude models, making T-shirts with phrases that insulted various groups, and going for years without selling larger-size clothes.

The new A&F prototype store will be on the lower level near Madewell, Polaris officials said.

They said the choice of the mall made sense. The Polaris mall “has long been a test market for nationally recognized brands and new retail concepts,” said Bruce Goldsberry, general manager at Polaris Fashion Place.