White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is a documentary on, as the title readily explains, the popularisation of Abercrombie & Fitch through the 90s and the controversies surrounding it well into the 2010s. The documentary, with a length of one hour and twenty eight minutes, delves into the phenomenon that engulfed the American teen and celebrity alike, recreating a brand that became a status symbol among teenagers. Directed by Alison Klayman, White Hot tries to document the sexual assault and racially discriminatory practices within the company and how it led to its decline.
– White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch review does not contain spoilers –
Like the, now disliked, loud music in the Abercrombie & Fitch stores, White Hot features a lot of that loud and energetic music to encapsulate the “feels” of the outlets and the brand itself. White Hot starts with a short history of A&F, when it used to cater to the likes of former American President Teddy Roosevelt, with its “Americana heritage” and “masculine dream”, the brand was already an elite name. In the 1990s, it went through a revival with the help of its newly appointed CEO Mike Jeffries and the renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
With the revival, out went the gentlemanly, suave but adventurous look, and in came the sexy, exclusive but adventurous look that became its trademark. When White Hot is trying to establish the brand’s image, there seems to be a lack of footage, as Klayman relies heavily on graphics and photo cutouts to tell the story. It becomes too bright and jarring at certain points, like a school project scrapbook, which could also be the effect they were going for.
With the target audience of rich, elite youth between the ages 18-22, A&F’s fame spreads like wildfire, attracting a lot of teens and a steep rise in sales. White Hot does a good job of showing the build up of their brand name, with a number of testimonies from various former employees. Their brand value and the lack of ethics are discussed from various angles. Exclusivity is not only in financial terms, but is also based on physical appearance, race and religion. It is then revealed that some of the former employees are also people who filed lawsuits against A&F for discrimination.
The photographer, Bruce Weber, has come repeatedly under fire for sexually harassing the male models, a practice that seems common in the fashion industry. Apart from that, White Hot also shows the creepy and exclusionary ideology of the CEO, Mike Jeffries, against whom a number of lawsuits were filed. You can read about them here.
White Hot: Lack of Insight in the Reasons of the Fall
One of the main advantages that White Hot lists for A&F and its discriminatory practices is the lack of social media, and hence a lack of public criticism. Social Media is presented as a bane for unethical brands, but we know from evidence that even though we see a lot of racial inclusion and body positivity in fashion brands, their business models are not very ethical. The Rana Plaza incident and a number of incidents of sexual harassment and racism in the fashion industry should make it clear that fast fashion as well as high fashion brands do not entirely follow the legal or ethical system.
Seeing that Abercrombie & Fitch was a forerunner of current fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and others, White Hot could have probed a bit more on the larger issues of racism and body image issues. Especially in the age of Instagram and TikTok, when mental health and eating disorders are going hand in hand for young people, it would have done well to put it in the same frame with the thin, white and attractive models of A&F. Such a comparison would have cast more light on the problem that lies in the system itself, a system based on the privilege of money, thinness and good looks.
Although these issues are mentioned by each interviewer, with a run time of an hour and 28 minutes, these topics are only touched on the surface and then left. As an upbeat film, White Hot is a good watch, especially for non-American viewers, as it is merely an introduction to the controversy and the uproar surrounding it. For someone who is aware of the case, it doesn’t provide much insight into the deep rooted racial, physiological and psychological issues with not just the fashion industry, but society as a whole.
The visuals are fun to watch, the narration is interesting and linear, and you won’t get bored. White Hot, for what it’s worth, is tightly knit, with no minute to spare to unnecessary or meandering details, so you won’t find time to criticise its lack of new insight into the topic. Overall, its a good one time watch for the times when you feel nostalgic for the 90s (with tons of 90s fashion, it might inspire you to try some yourself) and low-waist jeans.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is streaming on Netflix.Instagram & Facebook to keep yourself updated with the latest news and reviews.