Thursday, April 14th, 2022

White Hot : The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch


Abercrombie and Fitch with their preppy clothing had fallen off my radar some years ago, and it wasn’t until I watched Alison Klayman’s intriguing new doc WHITE HOT that I knew their stores were still trading.  Klayman traces the rise and fall of the brand which in the 1990s to 2000s was the biggest aspirational clothing line for teens and young 20’s everywhere to near oblivion now.

Under the micromanagement of  Mike Jefferies its CEO., A + F created a retail universe that was staffed by extremely good-looking young men who were ‘model’s’ and who were not expected to sell but just stand around and look ‘hot’.  These jocks were part of Jefferies’s ethos of using sex to sell the clothes which not only made them so popular but also deflected from the fact the prices in the store were much higher than normal.

This writer also fell for the dream even though I was considerably older than the target market, but the whole preppy look became so popular with gay men of all ages.  And although the store ‘models’ were totally oblivious to us, we hardly protested about them hanging around.  Strangely enough, this success within the gay community was one thing that Jefferies hadn’t planned.  Or did he? 

As the title of this doc portrays A + F was a hot label for white Americans but for the rest of the population it was a hot mess.  It may have been extremely questionable or immoral to have an employment policy that favored only pretty applicants, but when it came to the blatant discrimination of all other races that was entirely different.  If a few  Chinese American or Hispanic Americans slipped past this net they were given the graveyard shifts and told never to come in if there was a branch visit from Head Office executives at any time.

Part of this discrimination policy should not have been a surprise to us in hindsight as we only saw a sea of white faces when we shopped, but the sheer vehemence and determination behind the A + F’s actions made for shocking revelations.  They would eventually spark a whole spate of nationwide protests that we can see now as the beginning of the end.

In 2002 a controversial new line of A & F T-shirts bearing stereotypical slogans and images of Asian Americans incited a public outcry from Asian American communities on college campuses nationwide.   The company settled out of court, but then came another very successful protest about the absence of plus-size clothing that ever made it onto Ellen’s TV Show.

The first racial discrimination lawsuit against A + F came in 2005 resulting in a  $50 million settlement and the implementation of a program to prevent discrimination.  Jeffries, it seemed only played lip service to the Court’s Order and kept his white-only recruitment policies in place.  Hiring the only black man in the company as a Chief Diversity Officer .

The bubble burst on Jeffries’s dream when there was a financial slump in 2008. and he refused to lower prices and A + F actually started losing money.  I’d like to think the public distaste for learning of their controversial policies played a major part in it.  He was eventually fired in 2011 walking away with over $46milllion in compensation and left his wife to live with his boyfriend.

Evidently, there are still some A + F stores trading in the US under new management and supposedly they are now no different than other teen fashion stores.  But White Hot does leave a bad taste in one’s mouth knowing that as eager consumers of the A + F brand back then we had helped perpetuate this very innocuous business 

N.B. White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch is screening on Netflix from April 19th



Posted by queerguru  at  11:21

Genres:  documentary

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