Gilly Hicks is a lifestyle brand, from American company Abercrombie & Fitch, specializing in women’s “knickers from casual to sexy, relaxed PJ’s and beauty things.” Marketed for the female consumers of its parent brand, Gilly Hicks is officially labeled as “the Cheeky cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch.”
The brand is the fifth from A&F, and was initially known as Concept 5. The Australian theme of Gilly Hicks was originally inspired by the phrase “Down Under”. In saying, it is the only brand from Abercrombie & Fitch with a non-American image. The recent brand has been named as one of Michael Jeffries’ best new ideas for Abercrombie & Fitch’s portfolio of brands.
Like his other Abercrombie & Fitch brands, Michael Jeffries created a story to give more depth and meaning to the image of Gilly Hicks, wrapping together all the elements of the concept in an enticing manner.
The story centers around a fictional English woman, the eponymous Gilly Hicks. Jeffries has his female character, supposedly “born and raised” in England, moving to Paris to study fashion design in her 20’s.The fictional Hicks family later emigrates to Sydney, Australia.From France, Gilly follows suit and arrives in Sydney where “she [feels] an instant connection with the culture [and]…her spirited nature [thrives].”In 1932, Gilly opens an underwear shop within her family’s ‘British colonial-style manor house’ in Sydney’s Rose Bay neighborhood. The story states that she found success making “comfortable bras” while helping women feel “confident and sexy”, and that women flocked from all over Australia to be fitted into and to purchase Gilly’s bras and spend time in her house hearing her jokes and stories of travel. After two generations, Gilly’s granddaughter returns in modern day to reopen the “renovated” original store in the Hicks’ home.
The story is not meant to be taken seriously, but to be enjoyed and to give the shopper a fantasy to live in store. A&F markets the Gilly Hicks brand as “Australian” and being “established” in 1932, and the year is found on GH goods. The stores are designed as a home with multiple rooms, and an idealized “portrait” of the fictitious Gilly hangs in the stores.
Critics argue that the story merely makes the brand fake. There is nothing Australian about it at all, just like its creator Mike Jeffries who prides in American casual fashion. A&F Careers calls the brand American with “Sydney sensibility.” Nevertheless, the fabricated Australian image is being used as a factor to attract customers and it is working. The first location outside of the United States opened at Westfield London in Autumn 2010. A second Store opened in the Shopping Center CentrO of Oberhausen in Germany.
The idea for Gilly Hicks was inspired by the phrase “Down Under.” Development phase began in 2005 with an assembled “strong and talented development team”. By 2006 reports of a “Concept Five” from Abercrombie & Fitch began to circulate on the Internet. However A&F remained tight-lipped on their future brand. Furthermore A&F began to trademark the Gilly Hicks name and sea-related logos in the United States and in the United Kingdom.The August Trademarks Journal reported that the UK trade marking was under four ‘classes’ including footgear, headgear, intimate apparel and imitate apparel accessories, athletic wear and athletic wear accessories, swimwear and swimwear accessories, fashion accessories, bags, fragrances and jewelry. Furthermore, the names “Gilly Hicks” and “Gilly Hicks: Sydney” were filed for protection by A&F, including prototype logos encompassing conch shells, nautilus, scallops, and sand dollars (with the sea shell seen as the potential final logo). By October 2, 2007, select Hollister Co. stores began to promote GH through beauty products.
In the end of 2007, the brand’s official homepage was launched as a promotional website, featuring a sepia toned promotional image of five men & one woman all in underwear. By December 26, 2007, the site was made restricted to underage visitors because of its only feature, a racy promotional film.
When it came to store locations, Tom Lennox from A&F stated that “having a ‘portfolio’ of strong brands strengthens Abercrombie’s hand when negotiating with mall landlords for space.” During the expansion of the upscale wing of Natick Collection, A&F’s Concept Five was the first to be arranged an opening on the newly revamped level. Construction of the store soon followed. Employees for the future opening location were required under company policy not to divulge any information they had on the brand to the press or any other entity. They were not even allowed to view the merchandise until two weeks before opening.An employee who requested to remain anonymous mentioned before the opening that “[Abercrombie & Fitch has] done jeans and sweatshirts… The Abercrombie girl needs something for underneath.”
Investment figures on Gilly Hicks stand at $7.5 million USD in 2006 and up to $15 million USD in 2007.
Opening and reception
On January 21, 2008, the first Gilly Hicks store opened (measuring 10,000 sq ft (930 m2)) in the upscale wing of Natick Collection with high anticipation. Abercrombie & Fitch analysts were exclusively invited to the event, where Mike Jeffries introduced the brand. He called GH “the Cheeky cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch”. Afterwards, the analysts were encouraged to interact with the company’s senior management team.
After the event, analysts came out very impressed with the brand’s image and merchandise. Analyst Kimberly C. Greenberger enjoyed the “warm and inviting store entrance,” the GH bras collection, and called Gilly Hicks’s image “cute and sweetly sexy.” She further said that Gilly Hicks is a more “wholesome” alternative to Victoria’s Secret and that “mothers would not mind taking their 15 year-olds to Gilly Hicks to shop.”
After the event, the store became the target of interest for many shoppers. Anticipation that was built before the opening was displayed as the store became full of customers. Center officials of Natick reported an extensive line of customers outside the GH doors that went well into the afternoon. Michael McNaughton, vice president of General Growth (in charge of the expansion of the Natick upscale level and who expressed interest in the GH store at Natick), said that “the opening certainly created a buzz that was so huge on the internet. People from California all the way to Australia were talking about this concept and contemplating coming out to see it.”
A retail analyst named Chris Boring warns that Abercrombie & Fitch’s brands are a “little more susceptible” should recession hit, because their specialties are premium-priced goods rather than necessities. “But a great brand can overcome that,” he said. Boring later commented that the image is smart nevertheless, as Americans are intrigued by the Australian culture.
Four days after the opening, the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald published that GH coincidentally opened three months before the opening of Just Group’s Peter Alexander (an underwear store). However, its CEO stated that GH will not be a competition, as both brands offer underwear to a completely different consumer group. The CEO was also curious on A&F’s interpretation of Australia as a theme for an underwear store. Gillyhicks.com next became more informative with store locations and email subscriptions.
A total of 5 locations were open by the end of February. In months Gilly Hicks proved to very successful, gaining a great follow-up of customers from the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. The brand began expansion in the West coast on July 19, 2008, with the opening of an 11,000sqft store in Glendale, California’s Americana at Brand.Chairman and CEO of Caruso Affiliated and developer of Americana at Brand mentioned, “The Gilly Hicks brand has already created a tremendous buzz …So we are excited to give West coast consumers the first opportunity to shop in this one-of-a-kind store with its unique ambience and trendy merchandise.” In July 2008, a second promotional film was launched. Although 16 stores were planned to open in 2008, only 13 did.
The brand launched its much waited-for online store on January 28, 2009. For Christmas 2009, GH introduced its first calendar for the 2010 year and its entourage of male models visited the stores nationwide.
Website and marketing
Gillyhicks.com first launched as a promotional website. This marketing technique was first implemented on RUEHL No.925 from 2004-2007. Today, Gilly Hicks operates an online store. From 2008-summer 2010, it was the most conceptual of the A&F homepages using Adobe Flash Player extensively, but has since been converted to a regular website. The brand launched its much waited-for online store on January 28, 2009. GH also operates a careers website.
The same sexual marketing tactics used for the Abercrombie & Fitch brand are also implied on Gilly Hicks marketing. It is considered a “fine line between sexy and soft-core porn.” Mike Jeffries has stated that A&F is all about sex, and Gilly Hicks is the perfect concept to embody this aspect through exposing “a lot of skin” in its advertising. Photography is shot by Bruce Weber who does all other A&F brands’ photography. Weber has a history of sexually provocative imagery, most notably for Calvin Klein underwear. Unlike most marketing for female-exclusive brands, men also are included to appeal to heterosexual women. The marketing photos are rendered to Sepia tone. For Christmas 2009, a collection of psychedelic-colorful and racy photographs, akin to images from A&F Quarterly, were debuted, featuring a menage-a-trois picture inspired by the pop culture hype generated by Britney Spears’ 3. Since then, GH marketing has included colorful photography in marketing, also recycling previous A&F photography.
The catchphrase “Down Undie(s)”, which is a play on “Down Under”, also plays a key role in advertisement. GH sent out emails to its subscribers titled Welcome Down Undie and saying “[…] check back […] to […] see what we’re working on Down Undie.”
Gilly Hicks’s first marketing film was restricted to over-age viewers. Nevertheless, it was easy to simply access the video by using a fake name, birthdate, and zipcode. The film featured a large assortment of topless women parading around the beach and home, as well as swimming, in panties. Scenes of naked men, interacting with the women, were scattered around the video as well. The video made a splash on the internet and received much publicity. Ohio State University marketing professor H. Rao Unnava said that “it was like watching a Playboy movie.”
The second marketing film made its debut in late July 2008 on the official homepage. It focuses on a young woman who goes horseback riding, attends a Sydney café, enjoys the beach in panties (and bra this time), and sketches a nude male with whom she also flirts around. The only explicit imagery is an instance with her silhouetted/shadowed breasts and a see-through bra. The woman’s clothing while horseback riding is what Gilly Hicks wears in her portrait hung in stores, leading to the conclusion that the woman is a modern version of Hicks.
Both films are directed by John Urbano, who also does the films for all other Abercrombie & Fitch brands. In early 2009, a third film debuted which is a somewhat return to the raciness of the first film.
Jeffries called the intimate clothing “underwear, not lingerie.” In store, Gilly Hicks brand representatives mention a lot about a “boy-girl tension” with the clothing (and other elements). The character of the merchandise is casual with boyish hints (hence the “boy-girl tension”). Indeed, A&F Careers sums up the merchandise as “classic and vibrant with a little tomboy sexiness.” The mix of masculine and feminine design touches extends the store’s theme of ‘boy-girl tension’ which carries over to the design of some of the ‘boy style’ cotton panties and tank tops,” mentioned Vice President of GH. Gilly Hicks merchandise is priced to be affordable to Abercrombie & Fitch shoppers. Cotton underwear sells for $11.50 USD while lace bras are priced at $49.50 USD.
Similar to how Hollister Co. apparel is named after SoCal beaches, GH clothing and fragrance is named after Sydney-neighboring beaches and neighborhoods. All clothing is tagged with a GH label reading “Gilly Hicks / Sydney.”
The hip apparel is suited to every taste from skimpy to full coverage in a variety of colors. Items are categorized into six areas:
The Bra Library
- Hundreds of bras of 40 different styles are placed on display on dark cherry wood shelves in the “Bra Library.” This includes a variety of brassieres in an array of colors, silhouettes, and linings. The bras in the Library have proven to be very popular since the opening.
- This encompasses bloomers, thongs, “skinny thongs”, bikini, and boyshort panties.
- Intricately designed traditional lace and vintage-looking silk bras, panties, and camis are separately provided in this area. This was previously named “Fashion”.
- This category includes casual wear. It spans over tops (logo shirts, tanks, hoodies, knits, and sweaters), bottoms (fleeces pants and shorts), sleepwear, dresses, and flip-flops. This was previously named “At Home”. The denim pocket designs are attributed from A&F’s latter brand, RUEHL No.925
- “Scented body” (Body wash, body lotion, hand & body cream, and body mist), “Eucalyptus” make-up (bronzing powder, bronzing brush, body lotion, gradual tan lotion, lip balm, and lip butter), “Lip” (gloss, color, tint, butter, and balm).
- This carries five fragrances all Eau de Parfume. These are Tamarama, Castlereagh, La Perouse, Kirrawee, and Point Piper. In sleek bottles with a classic appearance, they are displayed in antiquated glass cabinets.
Photography books by Bruce Weber (photographer for Abercrombie & Fitch) and by other male-form appraising photographers are even on sale, meant to draw the attention of heterosexual women.
Design and concept
The Gilly Hicks store prototype is designed as a colonial-style manor house. However, the stores resemble more of a combination between that and a beach house. The interior is large with many varying-in-size rooms including fireplaces, chandeliers, and couches. Sofas are shabby-chic,the flooring is of oak, and the merchandise tables are of mahogany. Dressing rooms are designed spacious with an antique-styled cabinet filled with an array of sizes of the five anticipated top selling bras. A sign near the cabinet reads, “While your top is off, check out our drawers.” Stores have unique “Bra Libraries.” The bra library at Natick is 200 sq ft (19 m2). In regards to the display of the items, Senior Vice President of Gilly Hicks commented that “the bras [in the Library] are on pegs, not hangers, because it’s more irreverent.”The “Living Room”, which features comfortable sofas, end tables, and other residential furniture, measures at 1,000 sq ft (93 m2). Fragrance, lotions, and bath & body products are kept in glass cases in the center of the “Living Room” Also, the “At Home” area of the store is made to look laid-back and is home to loungewear offerings.Gilly Hicks stores are dimly lit within and loud music is blasted instore (a mix of the genres that play in Abercrombie & Fitch and RUEHL No.925 with and an inclusion of classics from 60s, 70s, 80s such as Michael Jackson, The Carpenters, and The Bangles).
The first four stores opened measure at 10,000 sq ft (930 m2). However, Abercrombie & Fitch will begin rolling out 7,000 sq ft (650 m2) locations by the end of 2008. The 10,000 sq ft (930 m2) stores encompass a dozen rooms.However, a 11,000sqft location was opened in July 2008 at Americana at Brand.Analysts see the expense of the stores as a drawback in the expanse of profitability.
Michael McNaughton stated that Abercrombie & Fitch has “created a store that inspires people to want to explore…people shopping for intimate apparel probably enjoy the discreet, closed setting. The lack of windows affords customers privacy, and that fact that the store isn’t laid out in one giant room probably goes a long way in making a shopper feel comfortable.” (See RUEHL No.925 for economical/customer issues involving no windows.)
In 2008, thirty-nine stores were expected to open by the end of 2010, but due to the economic recession, this did not happen. A&F roughly estimates a long-term potential for 800 Gilly stores in the United States. A&F CFO Michael W. Kramer said in a conference call with investors that “because our brands are not intended to appeal to everyone, an important characteristic of our business model is that we recognize its limits, how much we can grow each of our brands. We think we can open [Gilly Hicks] in every place Hollister does.” Hollister also has a potential for 800 locations.
From the start (2008), analysts viewed international expansion for the brand as a possibility because all other A&F brands have embarked on that endeavor. In May 2010, A&F released plans to open the first GH international store in the United Kingdom during its fourth quarter 2010 fiscal year (Christmas 2010). The store opened on November 29, in the Westfield London Mall. Gilly Hicks opened their 2nd UK store in the capital city of Wales, Cardiff on the 8th of December 2011. The store is located in the St Davids Shopping Centre, and is situated 7 units down from Hollister in units 56-58 of the Upper Grand Arcade, the first to feature a Video wall, the second largest of all A&F stores. The Cardiff store was A&F’s third European Gilly Hicks Store. In 2012 Abecrombie & Fitch opened the first flagship GH location on Regent Street, with a Hollister EPIC store in May 2012. Also on the same date, Gilly Hicks stores opened in Westfield Stratford City, East London & GH Bluewater in Kent and GH Bentall Centre in the Kingston borough of London.
There are no current plans for Gilly Hicks to open in Easton Town Center (close to A&F Headquarters) which houses all other A&F brands. Easton Town Center released their expansion plans for 2010, which do not include Gilly Hicks for its 2010 expansion.
It has also been reported by Abercrombie & Fitch employees that the real reason Gilly Hicks won’t open a store in the Columbus Metropolitan Area is because former Victoria’s Secret designers work for Gilly Hicks. Opening up a store in the region will be “disrespectful” to the company because VS is a Columbus, OH-based brand and are very popular within the area.
There are currently 25 Gilly Hicks stores, 18 in the US, 6 in the UK and 1 store in Germany.