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Abercrombie has Brits in a snit

London's Savile Row, the center of the universe for the traditional, well-dressed man, might never be the same.

In a reverse British invasion, brash young Americans are preparing to take the fabled lane by storm.

In the middle of the night Wednesday, a massive construction wall with a billboard depicting men's bare torsos went up around 7 Burlington Gardens, part of the Savile Row district. It marks the spot of the first Abercrombie & Fitch store outside of North America.

The store, which will open in a year and be three times the size of a standard Abercrombie & Fitch mall store, is expected to be a springboard to new markets in Europe and the Far East for the sexy and youthful American brand.

"It will be the same in London as it is in the states," spokesman Thomas D. Lennox said. Store employees will be British, but "they'll look Abercrombie."

Savile Row dates to the late 1700s. By 1838, it was populated by many of the world's best tailors and had taken on a village atmosphere that it still retains.

Abercrombie isn't being welcomed with open arms in the buttoned-down district. Tailors have been staging protests to draw attention to rising rents as mass merchants move in. They want the neighborhood to stay true to its handmade-clothing roots.

"As champagne and fine wine are to France, Savile Row is to English heritage and craftsmanship," Mark Henderson, chairman of a Savile Row trade association, told the Daily Telegraph of London.

Tailor Thomas Mahon said he didn't want to be "driven out by crappy retail stores selling poor-quality clothes," according to London's Evening Standard.

Abercrombie, whose sassy T-shirts and sexually charged catalogs have caused their share of controversy stateside, is taking the jabs in stride. Lennox said the constructionwall images were intended to attract attention.

"We're shaking up the neighborhood. It's going to be an extension of the irreverence of the brand into London," he said. "It's going to fun, and we're thrilled."

The New Albany-based company opened five Abercrombie and Hollister stores in Canada in February, its first outside the United States. There are plans for up to 30 Canadian stores in the next five years.

After the London store opens next spring, Lennox said the next location could be elsewhere in Europe or the Far East.