To the end White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & FitchIn a frantic and uneventful Netflix documentary, historian Dr. Treva Lindsey observes that the once coveted “all-American” lifestyle brand is “illustrative, more than distinctive.” distinctive” about the society in which it thrives.
The statement, combined with a series of other similar comments, gestures to an interesting question the documentary about the growth, destruction and renewal of the brand should ask, but never now do so: Why – instead of how – Is Abercrombie & Fitch committed to its elimination mission?
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch
The material revolves around its theme with a combination of fascination, reverence, and minor disgust. Director and producer Alison Klayman, who most recently directed HBO’s serrated, brings together a wide range of speakers, from historians like Lindsey and journalists like Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan to former employees and activists. (Klayman produced with Emmet McDermott, who was an editor at The Hollywood Reporteras well as with Hayley Pappas). preserve – a particular image of white America.
Before Abercrombie & Fitch stood for “cool” – a word often used throughout the film – it was a reseller of elite masculinity. It is both aspiration and reality. The store, founded in 1892, was where men like Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway bought fishing gear, books, and shaving cream. Images of old catalogs show a brand committed to promoting a lifestyle that is simultaneously light and durable. When the company fell on hard times, retail magnate Leslie Wexler, whose brands include Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, pulled it back from the brink. He bought it in 1988 and hired Mike Jeffries as CEO in 1992.
This installation marks the beginning of a new era for Abercrombie & Fitch, which sits between the glamor of Calvin Klein and the more conservative Ralph Lauren. It’s provocative yet contemplative, sensual yet attainable. It narrows the definition of “cool” and makes consumers feel bad for not fitting it. The company’s marketing strategy – highly curated stores, quarterly magazines, campus ambassadors – feels familiar in this era where brands are the way of life for those with micro and macro influence marketing to you. But at the time, it was relatively advanced.
Bright hot, moving in approximate chronological order, consider how this promotional strategy, including hiring notorious fashion photographer Bruce Weber, created a buzz around the brand. The only thing better than owning Abercrombie is working there.
Klayman moved quickly from documenting the brand’s popularity to observing its decline. When she and her team explored the brand as an employer, they discovered cracks in the pristine facade. Interviews with former employees capture the brand’s appeal to the target demographic (ages 18 to 22) and younger people, hinting at how it shapes perceptions of become an American. But it can be difficult to keep track of all their different voices and stories, which address different parts of the brand’s heavyweights, from hiring practices to workplace culture. Tighter edits and a more cohesive structure would be helpful.
Ironically, Abercrombie’s hiring practices and workplace culture also mirror America as a whole. Klayman investigates the criteria that individual stores must follow when considering who can represent a brand. Dreadlocks are a no, as are gold chains. The watch must be rated lower. A “classic” haircut – never defined – is fine, as are “fragile” jewelry on a woman. The employees we’ve heard from before go back, this time revealing their participation in a 2003 class-action lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for discriminatory behavior against anyone who is not a member of staff. White skin-man. The brand is selling an unpromising dream to everyone.
In 2015, the US Supreme Court will decide another discrimination case, this time against Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman who was denied a job at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa, Oklahoma , because she wore a headscarf when she went to the interview. She also appeared in the documentary, recounting her journey to the highest court in the land – and ironically, the only dissenting opinion came from Justice Clarence Thomas – and the tenor of both. support and backlash she faced along the way.
Abercrombie & Fitch often refers to their racist practices in vague terms. Words like “cool” and “classic” are used a lot while their meanings are still elusive. even though Bright hot considers itself an exhibit, its biggest disappointment coming from analyzing Abercrombie & Fitch on its own terms. What are “interesting” and “classic” codes really for? What anxieties do brands exploit to get people to accept their specific visions of aesthetic appeal and desire as pervasive? The brand, like that of America that it sought to protect and preserve, thrived on ingenuity and puzzling – and still does.
In 2017, Abercrombie & Fitch hired Fran Horowitz-Bonadies as CEO. “Growing a brand forward is not always easy,” she said in an interview with CNBC from that year. Determined to repair the company’s reputation, she added, “we’re not the brand we used to be. We may wipe our social channels; wipe history”.
As Horowitz-Bonadies put it, to “wipe” the history of the brand, is a surprising but unsurprising proposition. America is a nation obsessed with reinventing itself, changing without accountability. Now that Abercrombie & Fitch is at risk of loss, now that they can no longer rule it out without scrutiny, they decide to move in a different direction. But what good is the future that doesn’t grapple with the past? That’s also a question that I’m looking forward to Bright hot tried to answer.