In August 2012, Abercrombie & Fitch opened its flagship store in Hong Kong’s Central district to much flesh-fuelled fanfare. The US lifestyle brand had imported 110 “Hot Guys” from its stores across the world to mark the opening, its first in China. The mostly white models, clad in red shorts, rode shirtless through the city on open-top branded trams and drew crowds – mostly young girls – to Abercrombie & Fitch’s Pedder Street store, now closed, where the air was thick with the brand’s sickly sweet signature scent, Fierce. The scenes reflected everything the brand stood for at that time – and everything that led to its legal battles involving racist and sexist advertising campaigns, and discriminatory marketing and recruiting policies. Netflix’s White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is a documentary directed by Alison Klayman, the American filmmaker best known for the 2012 film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry , about the Chinese artist and activist . “Abercrombie & Fitch conquered malls in the late ’90s and early ’00s with gorgeous models, pulsing dance beats and a fierce scent,” Netflix says of the film, which features interviews with industry insiders as well as ex-Abercrombie & Fitch employees, executives and models. “But while the brand was running white-hot, its popular ‘all-American’ image began burning out as controversy came to light surrounding its exclusionary marketing and discriminatory hiring.” Klayman’s film looks at the brand’s past legal battles, including a 2004 class-action suit accusing it of discriminating against African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and women by preferentially offering positions to Caucasian males. It agreed to a US$40 million settlement and revised its hiring policies. Abercrombie & Fitch went into damage control after the trailer for the Netflix production dropped, posting on social media that the documentary focused on “an era that took place under previous leadership”. “While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism over the years, we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviours and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now,” it said in an Instagram post. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Abercrombie & Fitch (@abercrombie) “Previous leadership” is a reference to the outspoken Mike Jeffries, who was appointed chief executive in 1992. His vision was to revamp the brand with sex appeal at its core, helped by images from American fashion photographer Bruce Weber. But some of the comments that Jeffries made while at the helm and resurfaced years later would damage the brand. “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that,” he said in 2006. Jeffries was also accused of discriminating against plus-sized shoppers – for a while, Abercrombie & Fitch did not carry XL or XXL clothing for women. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids … a lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” said Jeffries in a 2006 interview with news and opinion website Salon . He stepped down in 2014. Its current CEO, Fran Horowitz, is making the brand cool again with diversity and inclusion paramount. We look back at some of the brand’s less stylish moments. The wrong message In April 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch recalled a line of T-shirts that showed caricatured images of Asians with slanted eyes and conical hats alongside slogans such as “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make it White”. After a barrage of complaints and protests, the company removed the T-shirts from all 311 of its US stores, as well as from its website. Abercrombie & Fitch’s public relations representative at the time, Hampton Carney, said: “We personally thought Asians would love this T-shirt.” Their intended audience was “young Asian shoppers with a sense of humour”, Hampton Carney added. Too hot for Singapore Abercrombie & Fitch’s racy adverts and topless in-store male models proved too steamy for Singapore. In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore suspended Abercrombie & Fitch’s teaser ad at Knightsbridge Mall on Orchard Road ahead of its opening there. The giant ad, showing a man’s torso with his hands tugging at his low-slung jeans, was ruled a breach of the city state’s decency laws. In May 2021, the brand closed the store – its only one in Singapore. Look this way In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Samantha Elauf, who filed a lawsuit after she was denied a job at the clothing chain because she wore a hijab , a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women. The ruling overturned a decision handed down in 2008. At the time, Abercrombie & Fitch said wearing the scarf violated its sales staff “look policy”, which bars employees from wearing caps. The policy states that male and female employees have to have “a clean, natural, classic hairstyle”, and make-up must “enhance natural features and create a fresh, natural appearance”.