Not so cool. Michael Jeffries made headlines in 2014 when he retired from his role as CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch — and his controversial work with the company is back in the news thanks to Netflix’s new documentary.
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch dropped on the streaming service on Tuesday, April 19. The doc is an eye-opening inside look at what happened to the clothing brand following Jeffries’ rebrand in 1992.
After his own company went belly up, Jeffries was recruited by Leslie Wexner as he tried to bring life back to Abercrombie & Fitch, which was originally founded in 1892. With the hiring of Jeffries, the brand became intentionally exclusionary and it was profitable … for a while.
“I was kind of shocked at how much it took these abstract negative forces in society and systemized it,” White Hot director Alison Klayman told IndieWire on Tuesday. “You could really tell a story of the system and make things concrete — structural systemic racism, beauty standards — something that feels in the air but clearly affects all of us, and in the case of Abercrombie, it’s really a story of top-down reinforcement of things that exist in society and are weaponized and used for their gain.”
The former CEO famously told Salon in 2006 that the brand was “absolutely” exclusionary, noting that he only wanted to market the clothes to “cool, good-looking people.”
While Jeffries was running the show at A&F, having extremely fit, toned, hot and somewhat unattainable workers both in the stores and at headquarters was the norm. The sexy and specific vibe of elitism was something Jeffries never apologized for — and ultimately got him into trouble.
“In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” he told Salon. “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Jeffries’ controversial comments and intense marketing ploys paired with complaints of racism in the company and a decline in sales led to him stepping down as CEO in December 2014.
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