Unveiled in Autumn of 2004, Ruehl No. 925 was the fourth concept rolled out by Abercrombie & Fitch, after the namesake brand (targeting the collegiate demographic), abercrombie (middle school), and Hollister (high school), but preceding Gilly Hicks (women's underwear). Ruehl began with a promising start...
The fictional backstory of a German leatherworker opening shop in 1850's West Village, which is then passed downed the lineage, eventually owned by his grandson, a huge James Dean fan, who introduces jeans, and then...is a appropriately complex, and the brand showed promise for possible rollout in upscale shopping centers across America. The initial brand imagery, shot by Bruce Weber (who helped craft the look of Ralph Lauren in the 80's and Abercrombie in the 90's), showcased slim ties, blazers, and crisp dress shirts. The consumer was said to be post-collegiate, with a sophistication level was supposed to be on par with Gucci.
The store design–NYC's shoebox excluded–fulfilled that brand promise. With exteriors modeled after a Village townhouse and a great maze of darkened multi-level rooms (including a "library", "lounge", and "study") the on-site sets high expectations with stores that were undoubtedly very expensive builds.
However, the merchandise itself didn't fulfill those expectations. The apparel (faded T-shirts and cargo shorts for men, tanks and jean skirts for women) was too similar to A&F and Hollister, only at higher price points.
With the apparel shifting expectations away from young urban professionals to post-collegiate clubbers, the last promotional film was pretty much perfect for their brand. It was a Disney-ized vision of Greenwich Village and while not entirely capturing the essence of the area, it featured terrific imagery and was a good representation of what NYC represented for their consumer.
It just seemed like Ruehl never got on the same wavelength as consumers, and attempted the same language and visual touchpoints that A&F had already established. Already being in a crowded category, the economic downturn proved to be the brand's undoing, which is disappointing because the bones of the idea were deliciously relevant–and which the slightly preppier Rugby has made successful.
If you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend visiting a location, before the final closings in January (2010). If nothing else, check out their colognes and perfumes, which are exceptional.