hen I think of Abercrombie & Fitch, up there with bootcut jeans as the fashion craze of my twenties, the images that come to mind aren’t of the frolicking, splashing, giggling Aryans Bruce Weber photographed for the brand.
Instead, I think of the groups of sad and tired fathers, slumped on couches in the one tiny seating area each store had, smashed by the din of club music, dazed by the haze of sweet perfume, and waiting for their children to do it hurry up and buy something.
I think of the label’s shocking in-store posters that promised their jeans would make your butt look more curvaceous (if you were a girl) or make your bulge look more pronounced (if you were a boy). I think of customers walking from shelf to shelf in the semi-darkness trying to shop in Braille.
I think of myself in her dressing room, bathed in an odd sepia light that somehow convinced me, and probably millions like me, that that overpriced plaid shirt gave me a tan.
None of these deceptions are covered in Netflix White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead, the documentary begins with heads talking, endlessly revolving around the fairly obvious concept that sex sells.
We learn how former CEO Mike Jeffries, some kind of preppy lizard with a vision, took a musty old heritage brand and sent it to the gym until you could count abs.
He turned the ads into soft-core gay porn and hired bored models who would pretend to do you a favor by letting you shop in the stores.
video of the day
The clothes themselves had a deep background – hardly a sentence or two are dedicated to them in the documentary – but it was an era when wholesome sexiness was huge (think Britney, Justin Bieber and all the other sexy fake pop virgins) and Americans and soon the rest of the world became Abercrombie devotees.
The brand grew into a giant public corporation and was among the first to have its own campus, which the promotional videos make look like some kind of spooky retail cult. Celebrities like Heidi Klum and Jennifer Lawrence endorsed the attire.
For the Irish kids, Abercrombie was part of the same noughties dumbass uniform that included Dubarry shoes/Ugg boots, and as the brand was still subtly limited to the US at the time, wearing it was proof that you had money to travel.
The label’s decline, at least for Irish kids, began with Abercrombie’s second Dublin store opening. Suddenly, the huge lettering they emblazoned across everything they sold might as well have said, “I just had to drive into town to buy this old thing.”
As with Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger, ubiquity was the death knell for exclusivity. People were tired of shopping at a store that played tinnitus-inducing house music and smelled like a bachelorette party on steroids.
According to the documentary, however, it was Abercrombie’s problematic publicity and racist hiring policies (there were references to people who “looked too Asian”) that tipped the scales.
Lawsuits were filed in America, colossal claims were settled out of court, and a token black man was hired to make it look like something was being done.
By now, the brand’s “incandescent” presence had become a liability, and a foul air of MeToo stuff wafted around Weber (who settled claims out of court but never admitted wrongdoing).
Horrible graphic tees with slogans like “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White” had to be pulled from stores.
Director Alison Klayman and her team tried and failed to get Jeffries, who received a $27 million payout after his retirement, on camera, but I would have expected at least some sort of update on what he did next.
Her list of interviewees was filled with far too many journalists, many of whom said the same thing in different words.
There has been much wrangling about how exclusionary Abercrombie’s hiring policy was, but little engagement with the idea that most ads feature beautiful people and, by definition, exclude those who cannot afford a brand’s aspired dream.
The play’s villain is the vanquished lizard, but the public (myself included) who’s eaten up white, racist sexuality must certainly share the blame.
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https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/streaming-review-how-abercrombies-white-hot-supremacism-was-its-downfall-41597585.html Streaming Review: How Abercrombie’s “white hot” supremacism was its downfall