The trailer for Netflix’s documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch has landed, promising a sharp, nasty look at the brand that went from risqué mall mainstay to ethical and legal hot mess. Alison Klayman, known for her 2021 Alannis Morisette documentary Jagged and her damning portrait of far-right svengali Steve Bannon in the 2019’s chilling feature The Brink, produces and directs.
Unlike either of those previous films, White Hot follows not a person so much as a corporate ethos: one that transformed a hundred-year-old company from a purveyor of quiet, quality clothing into a loud, highly sexualized brand that used a combination of aggressive marketing and allegedly racist, sexist, and xenophobic hiring policies to create an unfortunately desirable air of exclusivity. As odious as all that sounds, it worked — at least for a time.
Starting in the 1990s, Abercrombie & Fitch‘s public profile, revenues, and brick-and-mortar presence grew almost exponentially, leading to a short period in the early 2000s when some of its stores required ropes and security to manage the lines of people waiting to get in. But those lines are gone now (as are many of the stores). As the tastes of teens moved on to new brands, the company found itself the subject of multiple lawsuits filed in response to worker complaints. It’s a story of fickle fashion and corporate comeuppance that dovetails nicely with pressing conversations of race and sexism currently underway and general millennial nostalgia.
As Klayman told People, “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.” She added. “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.”
Her treatment of the narrative seems quite different from her previous output by a first look at the trailer. In the past, she’s used the camera as a fly-on-the-wall of lives unfolding. Here, the style appears to be in keeping with Netflix‘s constant slate of docs that lean heavily on set interviews interspersed with file footage and poppy animation when appropriate. It’s a colorful formula that works well when the subject is the movies we grew up with or tales of capers and con artists. Whether it will be tonally effective when the issue at hand is the systematic enforcement of various social disparities remains to be seen.
Still, the draw of nostalgia and corporate schadenfreude should be strong for anyone who lived through those heady days when you had to line up to buy cargo shorts, and a line of shirtless local demigods was waiting there to spritz you with woodsy cologne on entry. Watch the trailer below and catch White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch on Netflix on April 19. Watch the trailer below: