Friday 22 September 2023

Movie review: White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch, Netflix (2022)

A fascinating view into the ways the world has changed in the past 25 years, ‘White Hot’ focuses on body image and race as they were used by the clothier for many decades. As far as I can tell the problems with managerial monoculture that the movie describes have changed at the brand but it took a severe deterioration in the public image to arrive here.

Abercrombie & Fitch has never really existed in Australia so the brand hasn’t had much of an impact here, we have Gap and Banana Republic but not A&F. For this reason the issues the show deals with haven’t played out, for example the off-colour printed T-shirts that caused Asian Americans so much discomfort.

I was drawn in as brand imaging is such an important aspect of life for me, I watch commercial TV a lot so am always surrounded by jingles, logos etc. I came away feeling as though I had been exposed to a rare thing, a brand laid bare. People go about their lives immersed in this matrix of signs, what postmodernists call the “socius” and really never think much about it. ‘White Hot’ gives you an opportunity to go into a lot of detail about how a clothing brand functions.

A&F prided itself on being able to package “cool” and this took the form of a certain type of preppy all-American buff and vigorous youth. In fact store imaging often featured bare male torsos with white skin. Things started to go south when it became apparent that featuring all-white store clerks and models, and all-white management was harming the brand because a lot of the broader community felt left out. Profits got pummelled and A&F brought in a diversity manager. Nevertheless the company’s senior ranks continued to be mostly older and white. It wasn’t until a number of lawsuits were brought against the firm, allied with plunging sales in the teens of this century, that the hierarchy buckled and started to morph into something more closely resembling modern America.

If you enjoy watching ‘Gruen’ you’ll love this show. It’s also good for people interested in, as mentioned earlier, the ways that America has changed in the past quarter-century.

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