“You know that you’re getting close when you’re hit with the smell of Abercrombie,” begins the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming documentary about the scandal-soaked clothing brand, Abercrombie & Fitch. “The nightclub beats and bare-chested guys.”
Let’s travel back in time for a moment, shall we? The year is 2007 and I am literally dragging my mother by her hand through the mall to the tween holy grail of stores, ignoring her protestations that the incredibly unsubtle scent of cologne gives her a headache and the dim, cocktail-lounge lighting makes it nearly impossible to get a good look at what she’s buying. Maybe I’ll get lucky and walk out with a moose-emblazoned polo shirt, a turquoise striped one to match the rubber bands on my braces, tucked into a shopping bag plastered with a shirtless blonde hunk.
For those who were teenagers in the late ’90s and early aughts, Abercrombie is as synonymous with adolescence as acne. Maybe you plastered your walls with black-and-white images of models cut from the signature shopping bags or begged your parents for a needlessly expensive denim miniskirt to wear on your first day of school. Maybe you will forever associate the little moose logo with that one popular mean girl from your homeroom class. Maybe you simply remember it as the store between Sam Goody and the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand in your hometown mall. (OK, now I’m just aging myself.)
Whatever your relationship to it, Abercrombie & Fitch undeniably looms large in the cultural lexicon of an entire generation.
Abercrombie & Fitch’s legacy, however, is not one of overpriced graphic tees, but of discrimination and corporate corruption, as explored in White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. The Netflix doc from director-producer Alison Klayman breaks down decades of criticism aimed at the brand’s exclusionary (read: straight, white, thin, wealthy) look and marketing strategy under controversial former CEO Mike Jeffries.
“Abercrombie & Fitch said, ‘We go after the cool kids.’ If they didn’t look a certain way, they didn’t belong in our clothing.” says one person in the trailer. “There’s a reason people liked that brand,” he says later. “Exclusion is part of our society.”
According to the trailer, White Hot digs into the multiple discrimination lawsuits against the company, including a 2004 class-action suit charging that Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against Black people, Latino people, Asian American people, and women by predominantly hiring white men — the more abs, the better. The brand eventually settled for $40 million with a promise to revise its hiring practices. The trailer also mentions a 2009 lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, filed by a teen who was told when she applied for a job that her hijab violated the store’s “look policy.”
“They didn’t invent evil. They didn’t invent class. They just packaged it,” narrates one woman, lending the film its captivating tagline.
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch premieres on Netflix on April 19 — plenty of time to mentally prepare to relive the trauma of trying on an ill-fitting tube top at the height of puberty.