Released: 19th April
Seen: 1st May
When you think of the brand name Abercrombie & Fitch, chances are good that the image that comes to your mind is that of an attractive muscular white college guy in low rise jeans. Originally a brand that was associated with hunters, rugged men and Teddy Roosevelt, Abercrombie & Fitch would pivot hard into this image of the cool college frat guy in a way that defined a generation… but of course, as one might expect, when you build your brand on an image of attractive muscular white college guys that tends to mean that there is some shady shit going on and White Hot: The Rise And Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is here to point out just some of the things that were going on.
Told in a very standard talking heads documentary style, White Hot covers a lot of ground in the 90 minutes it has to tell the story. Starting with a very broad history of the brand, it soon goes into how the brand changed into its famous look, the genius of the store design and how it quickly rose to prominence as a mainstay of 90s Mall culture… and once that setup happens, it’s time to bring in every single one of the eccentricities and scandals that plagued the company, from weird things like how insanely homoerotic every ad campaign was to shocking things like the allegations of sexual harassment to the downright upsetting cases of racial discrimination, every little potential issue is touched on here… but only touched.
White Hot is moving at a breakneck pace here because it has so much to cover, from the racism shown on some of the products to the hiring practice based entirely on looks and a bunch of other things I will casually drop throughout this review as examples of what is brought up in this documentary. There’s so much that the film doesn’t actually get to dive into any real detail beyond something you could probably read on Wikipedia.
Sure it would be really good to go into detail about the discrimination lawsuit filed by a woman who was fired for wearing a hijab, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, but with the amount of time the film has there’s only enough time for a bare-bones cliff notes version of that story.
That kind of happens throughout White Hot, we’re getting the absolute bare minimum of each story and while they might be interesting, you can feel the absolute lack of detail that’s going in here. It almost feels like this is another case of a documentary that would’ve fared better as a series with an episode that could focus on each set of issues because as it stands, the film is just power walking through a list of grievances without actually exploring them in much detail.
There’s maybe one segment that really gets to dive into any detail if we’re being generous, that being the part where they talk about a pair of shirts that had offensive Asian stereotypes on them. That part of White Hot actually felt fleshed out enough that you got a full picture of what happened, but some were just a quick throwaway sentence and when that sentence is “They hired people purely based on looks”, you kind of want them to expand on that.
In a weird way, White Hot actually does something that Abercrombie & Fitch did and that’s just focusing on the aesthetics and looking on a surface level. The film looks good, it’s sleek and well-edited with some great people involved (which makes sense from the director of Take Your Pills) but after a few minutes of thought you can tell that everything here is all surface-level… be honest, was anyone surprised to learn that a brand commonly associated with white muscular college boys had a problem regarding racism and sizeism? No, no one’s shocked by that, we assume that just by looking at the poster so to only tell us that without exploring it in detail is a wasted opportunity.
Now, this isn’t to say White Hot is bad, for what it is it’s generally just fine and paints a half-decent broad-strokes picture of this company that was a cultural symbol for a couple of decades that will certainly give you an hour and a half of interesting information but it barely even scratches the surface of the topics they’re talking about.
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is holding back in a way that you never want to see in a documentary, not sure if that’s a constraint of time or just of what they were legally able to show, but either way it makes for an experience where you just want them to stop for a minute and explore the heavy material they just brought up… when a connection to Jeffrey Epstein is a single throwaway line about an hour and 15 minutes into the film, that’s when you know that White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch needed a little more time to grow.