While curating pieces for an upcoming auction, employees at the The Vintage Showroom — a London-based organization that collects and sells vintage menswear pieces — were rifling through the wardrobe of the late John F. Kennedy when they stumbled upon an expected item: a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch chinos.

While today the mall retailer mostly caters to Gen Z and millennial shoppers, the company has a storied history as a late-19th-century upscale sportswear brand, worn by the likes of several notable figures. Upon finding the pants, The Vintage Showroom tipped off Abercrombie & Fitch, which decided to not only purchase the chinos, but also use them as the inspiration for a capsule collection that celebrates the brand’s history. According to Aaron Levine, svp of design at Abercrombie & Fitch, the capsule will likely serve as the beginning of a series of collections that honor historic individuals that formerly wore Abercrombie & Fitch products, including Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Roosevelt and Hunter S. Thompson.

“Once we saw exactly what they were, we knew we wanted to have them, and the concept for the collection came from there,” Levine said. “Obviously, we had to win them first.”

The JFK collection, which Abercrombie & Fitch is calling the “Archive Collection,” is the latest move by the mall retailer to rejuvenate after several years marred by poor sales, controversial marketing and corrupt leadership. Last year, the company launched a new campaign style focused on increased diversity and moved away from the half-naked models it had become synonymous for. In January 2018, Abercrombie & Fitch launched a unisex collection and continued to build upon its refreshed social media strategy, efforts led by its new CEO Fran Horowitz that are translating to results. In its March sales call, the brand announced a 5 percent sales increase in the fourth quarter of 2017, coming off a six-year slump.

After the team had secured the chinos, they built out the rest of the collection, aiming to both maintain the classic Abercrombie & Fitch look while honoring the vintage style. The capsule includes Americana-style pieces constructed with a 1960s sailing aesthetic in mind — as the water sport was a favorite of the former president — and features swimwear, fleeces and chinos.

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The John F. Kennedy-inspired chinos

“We drew other ideas from our archive and built this little capsule that feels both intrinsic and authentic to the brand, but also fresh, new and exciting,” Levine said. “The team is big enough to be effective and small enough to be collaborative. Once we had the inspiration for this, the collection came together both organically and quickly.”

The effort is also a clear play for the coveted Gen-Z demographic, which has increasingly taken a liking to throwback pieces driven by tactful nostalgia marketing and social media. This trend has grown especially in the streetwear market, where teens are gravitating toward heritage brands and old logos. According to a Piper Jaffray survey of 6,000 Gen Z and millennial shoppers, heritage brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Champion entered the top 10 list of popular brands this year, making significant gains thanks to demand for the classic styles.

“Abercrombie & Fitch is still digging itself out of a hole with Gen-Z consumers,” Rachel Saunders, insights and strategy director at Cassandra, told Glossy in a previous article.

The company is also taking a cue from fellow mall brands that have hearkened to the past in recent years in order to profit. Among them is Urban Outfitters, which has both launched vintage collections and forged partnerships with heritage brands including Champion and Fila.

“We have an extensive archive, and I hope we’ll be able to do [similar collections] in the future,” Levine said. “We are sure to find more gems that we want to work with for our customers, and we know that our rich heritage is something that resonates with them.”

Image courtesy of Abercrombie & Fitch