It was a remark from a teen that ruined everything. At the time, I was a 23-year-old rookie high school English teacher. One day, a student sniffed the air around my desk and said, “Yum, you smell just like my boyfriend.” I resolved never to wear Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce again.
For those of us who spent the early 2000s in American high schools and malls, Fierce was inescapable. From the moment Abercrombie debuted the unisex scent in 2002, its stores became infamous for not just smelling like Fierce, but reeking of it. Flagships had automatic scent diffusers that crop-dusted everything from the clothes to the customers on an hourly basis; smaller A&F outposts made employees do the spritzing manually (as one former employee told Netflix, “three-to-five spritzes on each of the mannequins [and] one-to-two spritzes around the room”). If you entered an Abercrombie store smelling like yourself, you left smelling like Fierce.
Technically, that meant notes of cardamom, lemon, and fir, but Fierce was always more of a vibe than a scent to me. It captured the nostalgia of mid-aughts teendom in a bottle. It was the smell of worrying about your plans for the night or what your AIM away message should be—and of everyone who ever got marginally famous on a popular CW show. If you didn’t consider that aspirational, you weren’t Fierce’s target audience.
When I said goodbye to Fierce in 2010, after being told I smelled like a teenager’s boyfriend, it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the scent anymore. That bottle still held warm memories of simpler times, when CDs were mixed and jeans bootcut. But I was trying to act like a proper adult—one with more sophisticated sartorial tastes (by then I’d moved onto Express) and the good sense to recognize when to let go.
I never thought my grooming habits would be a harbinger of more significant cultural shifts, but soon after I quit Fierce, Abercrombie’s cachet declined. Logos became gauche. Body positivity replaced homogenous, Sean Cody-approved sexualization. Even the mandated store spritzing stopped. The vibe was off. It stayed off for a decade while that era of Abercrombie & Fitch came to represent something we were all running from, fast.
Until last year, when I saw a friend in an excellent knit polo. I asked where he got it. “You’ll never guess,” he said. “Abercrombie.” A short time later I found myself in an A&F store, now working as a remote marketer, unencumbered by the worry of running into students. Gone were the double-popped collars, obscene prices, and horny artwork. In their place were reasonably priced, preppy-adjacent clothes: solid knit polos, great camp shirts, and ‘80s-dad-esque chino shorts with 3-inch inseams. The vibes were, if not so back, certainly trending up.
In part that’s because the recent brand overhaul is actually aimed at adults—particularly the ones who spent their teens coated in Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce, and who think of the brand fondly. Nostalgia and a good polo brought me back in the door, but I quickly fell for the brand’s updated riff on extremely wearable, newly wholesome Americana. Which had me thinking it was time to resurrect Fierce as my signature scent. (Abercrombie has riffed on the formula over the years, but the original is still the best.) I had enough distance—time-wise, age-wise, creepiness-wise—from that student’s innocuous compliment. Why not spritz myself with a whiff of hazy teenage flashbacks when the urge strikes?
“What are you wearing?” someone asked one of the first weekends I re-Fierce-d. “You smell so good.” I let her in on my secret. “All the guys who would never date me wore Fierce,” she said, sighing. “Jesus, you smell good.”
Since adding Fierce back into the rotation, it’s been a year of wistful comments from fellow Millennials who are (mostly) happy to revisit the memories it stirs. Turns out I’m not just reclaiming my teenage self—I’m bringing back everyone else’s, too.