White Hot does a decent job digging into the grotesque nature of Abercrombie & Fit.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch (2022) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on April 28, 2022
Rating 2.5 /5
Abercrombie & Fitch was a part of my teenage years. It polluted every mall with its sexually-focused preppy attire and potent perfume that could be whiffed by merely walking by the store. It had a distinct look for its stores featuring blocking windows and a distinct style for featuring clothes that advertised the store. I doubt it would surprise many that the corporation behind such a popular and suggestive brand had major problems that went beyond sales.
White Hot is a documentary that covers the glory days of Abercrombie and the darker untold story from those who worked within. To start off the picture, the rise of the company is covered and how it became a staple of clothing stores for the young and hip. Abercrombie adopted a certain customer that wanted to be popular and beautiful. The stores constantly advertised their clothing with gorgeous models that were either half-naked or completely naked. The brand was also everywhere, occupying music lyrics and appearing in movies.
One of those movies, however, was Spider-Man and the Abercrombie is worn by Flash Thompson, the bully who attempts to beat up the underdog hero of Peter Parker. Employees of the stores who saw this started questioning the brand. Was Abercrombie really favored by bullies? Was Abercombie the baddies? There’s a bigger question of how the rise in popularity often results in the rich and powerful favoring this lifestyle and what that implies. The image that Abercrombie had cultivated, however, had some sinister intent behind it.
The many employees interviewed for this documentary certainly took note of one key aspect for both the owners and the brand: it was all white and pretty. The stores also had this in common as well. Abercrombie would hire people who they would not consider beautiful but they would often reduce them to working in the backroom, far away from the gaze of the customers entering the store. This wasn’t a coincidence. Employees found themselves being forced to rate the other employees on how hot they were and the ones who didn’t fit the bill wouldn’t be called in on days when a regional manager would be visiting.
And as if those who weren’t some major red flags that racism played a part in this business, the stores also sold racist T-shirts. One of their most notable shirts featured racist Asian stereotypes. This brought about much protest and outrage from the Asian community. These complaints seemed to mostly fall on deaf ears. Even those working within Abercrombie noted how noncommittal the business was to changing its image. A black employee noted how he brought up to corporate how the company had problems with mostly white voices that we're unwilling to address the racist issues within the company. Their response was to merely shove a report into the faces of others that they’re not racist based on their hiring policies. This info has done little to dissuade those who saw the vocal racism within.
The other pressing issue regarded sexual abuse. There were a plethora of male models involved in the advertising campaigns and they signed on at young ages. Being vulnerable to careers dependent on their looks, the male photographers would take advantage of them with sexual favors. All of this amounts to a shady corporation that tried so hard to look beautiful and posh that it ended up creating a toxic work environment.
White Hot does a decent job digging into the grotesque nature of Abercrombie & Fit. It doesn’t dig perhaps as deep as it could and leaves a lot of elements hanging. One of the final interviews is with a black employee who speaks with a good-riddance nature to the empire crumbling amid its revealed racism. The interviewer then asks if we’ve gotten past these racist issues today. The employee chuckles and says “no,” only for the film to end on that point, failing to address how this mindset lingers. So while much of Abercrombie’s sins are revealed in this documentary, the focus on the nostalgia and the internal issues perhaps individualizes the problem more than it should.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.