Summer girls no longer shop at Abercrombie & Fitch

America's top retailers in trouble
America's top retailers in trouble

Quick! Somebody call Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of MTV's "Jersey Shore" fame. Abercrombie & Fitch might actually want him wearing their clothes in public again.

Abercrombie & Fitch reported a bigger-than-expected loss on Tuesday. Same-store sales at its A&F stores and Hollister chain fell in the second quarter too. The company also warned that the outlook for the rest of the year will be "challenging."

Abercrombie (or should I say Abercrumble?) & Fitch stock plunged nearly 20% in early trading on the news. A&F's stock is now down more than 30% this year.

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), like many other mall-based apparel retailers, has struggled to stay relevant. The song "Summer Girls" by LFO, which praised the look of girls in Abercrombie & Fitch, was released way back in 1999. Nobody's singing about A&F now.

Younger consumers are less interested in clothes with a company's logo on it and are instead opting for cheaper, fast fashion from the likes of H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and Forever 21.

Pacific Sunwear and Aeropostale both filed for bankruptcy this year. American Apparel did so last year. Gap's (GPS) sales are hurting. And more diversified retailers like Macy's (M), Kohl's (KSS) and JCPenney (JCP) are struggling to attract teens and young adults too.

Related: More trouble at the mall. Gap sales sink again

But investors were hoping that Abercrombie & Fitch might be able to turn things around thanks to the efforts of executive chairman Arthur Martinez, who ran Sears (SHLD) back when that retailer was still an American icon.

Under Martinez, the retailer has de-emphasized much of the logo-based apparel that were once hugely popular at A&F and Hollister.

The company also has toned down its controversial, overly sexualized imagery that was prevalent under the leadership of former CEO Mike Jeffries -- who left the company in December 2014.

Jeffries was criticized for comments he made about only wanting "cool, good-looking people" to wear his company's clothes. It wasn't until late 2013 before the company finally began to offer plus sizes.

A&F was also attacked for having young-looking, scantily-clad models in many of its catalogs and advertisements.

Related: Retailers all across America are closing stores

An ex-pilot for the company-owned Gulfstream jet (since sold) said in an age discrimination lawsuit filed against the company a few years ago that Jeffries had an aircraft manual that listed dress requirements for male models working on the plane.

But even though A&F has been changing its image under Martinez, consumers aren't flocking back to the stores. The company's overall sales have now fallen for 14 quarters in a row.

Martinez said in the earnings release that lower traffic at its flagship stores were weighing on A&F's results.

He added that weak sales at stores in popular tourist locations in the U.S. are also hurting the company. Economic uncertainty in Europe and Asia and a stronger U.S. dollar have made foreign travelers less willing to come to the U.S. to shop.

Related: Nearly 44,000 retail workers have been laid off in 2016

So can A&F turn things around? Or will investors start longing for the days of Jeffries again? Sex did sell at the company after all ... for a time at least.

Martinez urged investors to remain patient.

"We are focusing on the right priorities and we expect to see traction in our business as we introduce new product and invest in marketing to drive awareness and relevance for our brands," he said, while adding that it is "a challenging environment."

Wall Street is still skeptical though.

Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen is taking a wait-and-see approach. He wrote in a report Tuesday morning that "changes will take time as the company needs to generate renewed awareness and traffic."

FBR & Co. analyst Susan Anderson noted that it was also troubling to see that sales were down in both the U.S. and the company's international stores. So the company's problems may run deeper than a decline in tourist shoppers in America.

Related: Why Americans aren't shopping till they drop

Analysts do seem to appreciate the fact that Martinez has toned things down at both the A&F and Hollister stores. But the company may now wind up being just a little too plain vanilla. There's nothing to make it stand out.

"A&F still has much work before its brands are restored to full health," wrote Neil Saunders, CEO of retail research firm Conlumino, in a report Tuesday.

"The brands still need a stronger sense of identity and focus in what remains a very crowded and competitive marketplace," Saunders added.

Don't expect A&F to bring back its controversial clothing anytime soon. But the company clearly needs to do something to convince young consumers that A&F and Hollister apparel can be cool once more.

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