The Reel Review

B

This Netflix documentary traces the meteoric rise and fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, the shopping mall retailer whose iconic images of sexy, white wholesomeness in the late 1990s and early 2000s drew hoards of shoppers to its cool, all-American, youth-oriented image of exclusivity.

A&F models in White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch.

The documentary is an interesting glimpse within a unique, pre-social media era in American fashion that existed a mere 20 years ago. Director Alison Klayman interviews former company executives and models, as well as former employees who successfully sued the company over its shocking, racially discriminatory hiring and firing practices. The film also highlights the brand’s evolution from its inception in 1892 as a retailer for elite outdoorsmen to its efforts today to appear diverse and inclusive.

An image from one of the legendary A&F catalogs, in White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Where the documentary works is showing how A&F’s own exclusionary branding ultimately became its downfall, thanks to the mid-2000s advent of social media and heightened social awareness. Where it falls a bit short is in its half-assed exploration of sexual harassment accusations against A&F catalog photographer Bruce Weber. With so much solid detail throughout the rest of the film, this feels like a distracting misstep.

REEL FACTS

A much different corporate message from the A&F of today, currently on the company’s website.

• As of February 2020, Abercrombie & Fitch had 854 stores across the United States, bringing in more than $3 billion in revenue. In 2017, three years after Mike Jeffries stepped down as CEO due to lackluster sales and increased public scrutiny, the company was unsuccessful in its attempts to sell itself.

• In 2017, 15 former male models came forward in a New York Times interview accusing photographer Bruce Weber of inappropriate sexual activity. Weber, who through his lawyer denied the charges, has since settled several lawsuits and been dropped by A&F as well as several major fashion brands.

• Alison Klayman, director of White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, is the award-winning documentary filmmaker of 2012’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. 

Video & Photo

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