Remember that iconic Abercrombie & Fitch fragrance, the one that permeated your local mall? Well, lately the brand has been hiding a lawsuit-ridden stench, as an inside look at the reigning 2000s teen clothing brand uncovered.
Netflix’s “White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch” premieres on the streamer April 19. The documentary unstitches the clothing company’s rise in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and its surrounding discriminatory marketing campaigns and hiring practices that continued an “all-American” look for teenagers everywhere.
Director-producer Alison Klayman told PEOPLE that the Abercrombie & Fitch brand is intrinsic to adolescence for some shoppers.
“While I was working on this film, I learned that whenever I mentioned Abercrombie & Fitch to someone, I was going to hear something personal: about first kisses and teenage insecurities, about where they grew up and how much money their family had, about their relationship to beauty standards, race and sexuality, about belonging,” Klayman said. “This film is for everyone who came of age in those years when the brand and its exclusionary vision of what it meant to be ‘all-American’ were touchstones in the culture.”
Klayman continued, “It’s an interesting time to come back to Abercrombie. Social media has transformed the way that brands and consumers relate. It’s hard to imagine a clothing line dictating taste to American teens like Abercrombie did. And while today many brands are trying to associate themselves with diversity and social justice, it’s sobering to recall how successful Abercrombie got with its undisguised embrace of white elitism. It’s my hope that by taking a clear-eyed look at Abercrombie’s rise and fall we can see ourselves a little more clearly in the present too.”
The documentary tackles how the brand was “selling a potent mix of sex and wholesomeness,” and the repercussions of allegations that Abercrombie was hiring teenage associates based on their looks. The suggestive marketing and nightclub scene store design added to the perpetuation of a very narrow definition of beauty.