Netflix’s Shallow Abercrombie & Fitch Doc – The Hollywood Reporter

Toward the top of White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, a frenetic and uneven documentary from Netflix, the historian Dr. Treva Lindsey observes that the as soon as coveted “all-American” life-style model “is illustrative, more so than it is exceptional” of the society through which it thrived.

The assertion, stitched right into a collection of different related feedback, gestures towards an fascinating query that this documentary about model ascendance, destruction and renovation ought to ask, however by no means does: Why — as a substitute of how — was Abercrombie & Fitch dedicated to its exclusionary mission?

White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch

The Bottom Line


Release date: April 19 (Netflix)
Director: Alison Klayman

1 hour 28 minutes

The doc circles its topic with a mixture of fascination, reverence and minor disgust. Its director and producer Alison Klayman, who most just lately directed HBO’s Jagged, assembles a variety of audio system, from historians like Lindsey and journalists like Pulitzer Prize-winning style critic Robin Givhan to former staff and activists. (Klayman produces together with Emmet McDermott, who as soon as labored as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, in addition to with Hayley Pappas.) The topics sit earlier than the digital camera and readily reveal their experiences and opinions a couple of model that constructed its fortunes off popularizing — or perhaps the phrase is preserving — a selected picture of white America.

Before Abercrombie & Fitch represented “cool” — a phrase often employed all through the movie — it was a retailer of elite masculinity. It was each aspirational and sensible. The retailer, based in 1892, was a spot the place males like Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway purchased fishing gear, books and shaving cream. Images of outdated catalogues present a model already dedicated to selling a concurrently genteel and rugged life-style. When the corporate fell on laborious instances, retail mogul Leslie Wexler, whose manufacturers embrace Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, pulled it again from the brink. He purchased it in 1988 and employed Mike Jeffries as CEO in 1992.

This set up marked the start of a brand new period for Abercrombie & Fitch, which fell someplace between the sexiness of Calvin Klein and the extra conservative Ralph Lauren. It was provocative however down-to-earth, attractive however attainable. It narrowed the definition of “cool” and made shoppers really feel dangerous about not becoming it. The firm’s advertising and marketing technique — extremely curated shops, a quarterly journal, campus ambassadors — feels acquainted on this age the place manufacturers are existence marketed to you by micro and macro influencers. But on the time it was comparatively cutting-edge.

White Hot, which strikes in roughly chronological order, considers how this promotion technique, which included hiring the notorious style photographer Bruce Weber, created a feverish buzz across the model. The solely factor higher than proudly owning Abercrombie was working there.

Klayman strikes rapidly from chronicling the model’s recognition to observing its downfall. As she and her crew dig into the model as an employer, they uncover cracks within the pristine façade. Interviews with former staff seize the model’s attract for its goal demographic (18- to 22-year-olds) and people youthful, hinting at the way it formed conceptions of being American. But it may be laborious to maintain observe of all of the voices and their numerous narratives, which contact on totally different and equally heavy elements of the model’s failures, from hiring practices to office tradition. Tighter edits and a extra cohesive construction would have helped.

Ironically, Abercrombie’s hiring practices and office tradition have been additionally a mirrored image of America at giant, too. Klayman investigates the standards particular person shops needed to comply with when contemplating who might signify the model. Dreadlocks have been a no, as have been gold chains. Watches needed to be understated. “Classic” haircuts — by no means outlined — have been OK, as have been “delicate” jewellery on ladies. The staff we heard from earlier return, this time to disclose their involvement in a 2003 class motion lawsuit in opposition to Abercrombie & Fitch for discriminatory practices towards anybody who wasn’t white. The model was promoting a dream that wasn’t promised to everybody.

In 2015, the United States Supreme Court would determine on one other discrimination case, this time in opposition to Samantha Elauf, a Muslim girl who was denied a job at an Abercrombie retailer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a result of she wore a headband to her interview. She seems within the documentary, too, recounting her journey to the very best court docket within the land — and noting, paradoxically, how the one dissenting opinion got here from Justice Clarence Thomas — and the tenor of each the help and backlash she confronted alongside the way in which.

Abercrombie & Fitch often couched their racist practices in obscure phrasing. Words like “cool” and “classic” have been aggressively employed, whereas their that means remained elusive. Although White Hot payments itself as an exposé, its largest disappointment comes from analyzing Abercrombie & Fitch by itself phrases. What have been “cool” and “classic” really codes for?  What anxieties did the model faucet into with the intention to make individuals settle for its explicit imaginative and prescient of aesthetic attraction and desirability as common? The model, just like the America it sought to guard and protect, thrived on elision and obfuscation — and nonetheless does even now.

In 2017, Abercrombie & Fitch employed Fran Horowitz-Bonadies as CEO. “Moving a brand forward is not always easy,” she says in a CNBC interview from that yr. Determined to repair the corporate’s fame, she provides, “we are no longer the brand that we used to be. We could wipe clean our social channels; wipe clean the history.”

To “wipe clean” the historical past of the model, as Horowitz-Bonadies places it, is a chilling however unsurprising proposition. America is a rustic obsessive about remaking itself, altering with out accountability. Now that Abercrombie & Fitch stands to lose cash, now that they will not be exclusionary with out scrutiny, they determine to maneuver in a unique course. But what use is a future that doesn’t grapple with its previous? That, too, is a query I want White Hot tried to reply.

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