White Hot: The Rise and Fall Of Abercrombie and Fitch

Documentary

Directed By: Alison Klayman

Where I Watched it: Netflix

English Audio Description Available?: Yes

Narration Provided By: International Digital Center

Narrated By: Stuart Williams

The Plot: I think the title pretty much says it all. It attempts to chronicle the rise and fall of clothing brand and former mall staple Abercrombie and Fitch.

What Works: Starting on the positive, I can’t really decide whether the short runtime is a burden or a gift. If the director was just going to keep doing more of the same, then I’d say blessing. But a longer runtime might have forced more substantial content, so who knows.

I obviously clicked on this algorithm documentary. It was my choice. I clicked on click bait. So can I totally fault them for knowing that someone might be interested in knowing more about this? I mean, this is the same streamer that’s brought us such hard hitting fare as Britney V Spears, The Last Blockbuster, and Operation Varsity Blues. Netflix knows how to make an algorithm documentary. And they hooked me on something I never even wore as a brand.

Honestly, I clicked because it was #1 at the time, so we are all at fault. But it did tickle the nostalgia monster even temporarily. And while most of this could have, and likely should have been reduced to a short subject doc, they did stumble into some interesting elements, like tying the owner of the brand to Jeffrey Epstein. I feel a sequel documentary coming along centered around how Epstein told people he was scouting for Victoria’s Secret.

What Doesn’t Work: My personal history with the brand is that I grew up as someone with access to the brand, but also a fat kid, so the exclusionary factor was always evident to me. But when I was in my first Abercrombie store only to be told by their model, before I ever even looked around the store, that nothing would be in my size, I just decided “fuck Abercrombie:”, and I wore their competition instead. So I always just figured the rudeness of the brand led me to Tommy, Nautica, JNCO, CK, Gap, American Eagle, Aeropostale, and literally every other brand but this and their clone, Hollister. I never thought of starting a revolution, as if a brand wants to be exclusionary, that just means they’ll be less rich. When you limit your audience, you limit the potential of money coming in.

Of course, high fashion has survived in spite of being extremely exclusionary, so I’m totally wrong. But as a high school kid, I always just figured my biggest middle finger was my wallet (or really, my parents wallet).

So it was hard for me to completely relate to people who wanted to wear a brand that the brand itself didn’t want them. To me, that’s like wearing a hoodie from a college that rejected you just because you want people to think you are going to Harvard or Yale. Exclusionary tactics are everywhere, and sometimes the best thing we can do is throw your support behind the other guy.

As far as the contents of this documentary go, it’s largely based around the assumption that you either were born in the last 10 years and have no idea what this brand is, or you grew up in the 90’s and you just need talking heads to talk about simpler times for half this movie. Half this movie is just reminding you about how people used to covet this brand, and similar brands, hang out in malls, watch mTV, and dream of one day working at Abercrombie.

The film barely hits any hard hitting journalism, using the midwestern muslim girl whose news story about discrimination at Abercrombie likely led to the existence of this documentary. The rest of it are ex-employees lightly describing a toxic culture. This is not The Hunting Ground. Despite all its best intentions, it always feels very surface, almost afraid to dig too deep because it might ruin the nostalgic memories people had when they wore the brand, as likely that’s the target demo. If you trash this brand too much, your audience will turn off the movie. They don’t want to be guilt tripped, that’s not what they came to Nostalgia World for. They hopped on this ride because they are combing their closet right now for that Abercrombie hoodie they swear they kept from high school that might still fit.

You can’t please both audiences. You cant try to be an expose on racism, sexism, and body image built within the core corporate structure of a brand, and at the same time try and elicit those warm fuzzy feelings a certain age range gets from watching things about when they were kids. Sadly, no one told Alison Klayman that, so her efforts here are rather pointless, even if well intentioned. I don’t know how much interference she had from the Netflix algorithm, but this documentary barely qualifies as one as a result. John Oliver could have done more damage in the back half of Last Week Tonight than anything uncovered here.

The Blind Perspective: First, I have to apologize for not having narrator information. I did attempt to look it up, but on the ADNA website, my results turned up nothing found. This is one of those ill timed exits where Netflix tries to push you into the next title, and my screen reader started talking right over the top of the narration. The production company started with international, and that’s really all I got.

As far as the description itself, you are getting as good as you can possibly get here. It’s not enough, as I rarely ever knew who was speaking, but the structure of this documentary is almost non stop talking heads, which makes it hard for audio description to ever interject. In the few moments available, it tries and makes the most of it, but just the way this film is structured and edited make it hard to have really great audio description. So just be prepared for a lot of random people to talk, and try to match their voices to someone who might have spoken earlier, or maybe this is a new voice.

Final Thoughts: It’s click bait. Depending on what you want from this film will depend on if you enjoy it. That’s why I’m keeping my grade right in the middle at average. I’m not sure it works the way it was intended, but I can’t discount the obvious popularity from a bunch of people likely looking to revisit more of “The Rise” and less of “The Fall”.

Final Grade: C

One thought on “White Hot: The Rise and Fall Of Abercrombie and Fitch

  1. The narrator sounds like Stuart Williams from International Digital Center using an American accent.

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