Through her documentaries, director Alison Klayman has tackled subjects like Steve Bannon and Ai Weiwei, and her new film tackles something on the Bannon side of her spectrum. I write something because she captures not a person but a company. Guess what company White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch is about. As viewers know, Abercrombie is a clothing company that used everything in their marketing except for garments.
White Hot, for its first act, gives space for some columnists or its former employees to explain the company in ways that it saw itself. To cut to the chase and rephrase some words I wrote already, the brand sold sex and did it sincerely. They saw sex as the opposite of the distasteful air that it splatters itself in social media now. This sincerity gives the documentary dignity because the other shoe is bound to drop any minute now.
White Hot‘s shoe drop might vary depending on any viewer’s collective and subjective memory of how Abercrombie behaved during the turn of the 21st century. My shoe comes in later. This film then reminds us of those other shoe drops, the first being in 2002 when the brand released an anti-Asian graphic shirt. As an Asian living in North America the memory produces different reactions. The first one is “I remember this now” as opposed to the supposed yet valid pain I should feel at looking at anti-Asian imagery.
Pardon me for repeating what I’ve said about other films but White Hot *does* show Abercrombie as a microcosm of America as it transitions from the 20th to the 21st. Although yes, it approaches that transition subjectively (duh). Some people might see the transition in general as a retrograde one. But the one Abercrombie experiences is one reflecting reluctant progress.
And as White Hot progresses, it lends more voices to columnists than to the people who used to work for Abercrombie. It was time for the people who grew up during Abercrombie’s peak to see it for what it really is. It was a brand that didn’t feel ashamed about discriminating against people with different body shapes and cultural backgrounds. This film is a reminder of how racist and generally bad the early 2000s were.
Although yes, this film is talking head heavy, this is one of the best examples of that subgenre. Even the backdrops, sets, and the costume choices are interesting here. These interview subjects come from surprisingly diverse backgrounds. And they dress casually in front of backdrops of things that suggest the Abercrombie lifestyle. The casual looks suggest that these subjects are just regular people on the street. But viewers can now remember them as Davids beating a Goliath that sold racist graphic shirts. And the Davids kind of won.
Now, an epilogue about my experiences with Abercrombie. I know about the LFO song that White Hot briefly discusses. I was too young for the brand and became their target market during 2002, just in time for the backlash to begin. My pipeline was bratty middle class kid from the developing world to someone who lurked on fashion forums on the Internet. That step in the pipeline exposed me to the 2006 article. The one detailing how cagey Abercrombie’s then CEO Mike Jeffries was as well as the allegations that the film discusses. Part of the thrill of this film is the schadenfreude in watching something burn down. And I like this film for it because I dislike myself.
One last thing about Abercrombie – in wearing the brand, a lot of gay men for the past twenty years dressed like the kind people who bullied them in high school. They’re the same kind of people who would write ‘conservative’ on their Grindr profile. Like what are you trying to prove!?
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch comes soon on Netflix.
- Release Date: 4/19/2022