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White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch

Release Date: Tuesday 19th April 2022

Genre(s): Documentary

'White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch' is now available on Netflix and even though we knew the story behind the company was quite bad, we didn't realise it was that bad.

'White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch' is the new Netflix documentary that narrates what was really going on behind the scenes at the company while we were banning their abs on Dame Street.

According to the company, nowadays 'Abercrombie & Fitch' is all about inclusion and diversity. You're as likely to see an African American employee as you are a white person. People are not employed based on how they look.

The oft-believed rumour of how "pretty" or "ugly" somebody is does not determine whether they'll be out front showing off their body or in the back folding clothes.

But once upon a time, not that long ago, 'Abercrombie & Fitch' was a completely exclusionary brand based on whiteness, appearance, and exclusivity (and dark, smelly shops).

As 'White Hot' explains, employees were rated on a "coolness" scale by their superiors, determining their future position which went from "cool" to "rocks" (we know... we know).

Looking for the "cool kid" is pretty cringe. But discriminating against people who were a certain race, who wore a hijab, who would make the store "too Asian" because there were apparently too many already, well, that's despicable.

As if that wasn't enough, the documentary provides insight into the twisted mind of former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, who would visit stores in what was known as "The Blitz", picking apart his employees, who could get fired the very next day because of something like there being "too many non-whites" in the store that day.

Meanwhile, his right-hand man Bruce Weber was conducting photoshoots with young men which led him to be accused of sexual assault. Several times.

'White Hot' also explores elements of the "house" of Abercrombie that we didn't even know existed. Like a quarterly magazine that sold sex, nudity, and youth — Heidi Klum once posed topless on the cover.

But honestly, the way they sold young people's sex lives and queerness while their target market was young teenagers is pretty weird, right?

What's more shocking is that we didn't know about it. Or maybe we did and we chose to look away and instead towards the abs of the men posing shirtless at the front of the stores, or the cute tracksuit bottoms, or the very problematic slogan t-shirts such as, "Do I make you look fat?"

The tees were supposed to be "irreverent", "funny", and "relevant to that late teen early twenties college crowd". In 2002, Abercrombie filled the rails with t-shirts that were emblazoned with hideously racist "jokes" that they "personally thought Asians would love".

One man described it as "pop culture orientalism" that derived from movies with very racist portrayals of Asian people in particular. So when these slogan tees hit the stores, people took a stand against the company's overt racism and began boycotting the brand.

In the end, the t-shirt with the tagline "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White" was pulled from stores. However, they kept the "Juan more for the road" t-shirt with a man on a donkey holding a taco and wearing a sombrero.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The documentary details the court cases the company faced over the years, the stunts they pulled to appear more inclusive, and how 'Abercrombie & Fitch' looks today.

The way in which Netflix handled the documentary was great — they gave a voice to the many people that were affected by the discrimination and "exclusion" at 'Abercrombie & Fitch'. We think it's also very important to hear these stories, because they happened relatively recently. While it's packed with information across a huge timeline and sensitive topics, everyone is heard in a way that feels good to watch.

To get the full picture, watch 'White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch' on Netflix.