New Brandy Melville HBO documentary paints CEO Silvio Marsan as super creepy

By Abby Amoakuh

Updated Mar 14, 2024 at 09:24 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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If you grew up in central Europe like me, it’s unlikely that you have had much contact with Brandy Melville. But even without having ever stepped into one of its stores, I knew of the brand’s problematic identity. Since its opening, Brandy Melville has been at the centre of considerable controversy for racism towards non-white employees, stealing designs and an obsession with skinny, underage girls.

All of this was recently exposed in Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion, an HBO documentary that premiered on Tuesday 11 March 2024 at the SXSW Film Festival.

For a little context, the Italian clothing company opened its first 40 stores in, you guessed it, Italy, before making a transatlantic jump to the US in 2009, where it cemented its legacy. The second I got out of my little German bubble and landed on American soil, I was shocked to discover a completely different species of women: Brandy girls.

Bandy Melville’s fame arose from popularising the Malibu teen aesthetic among young women. This aesthetic mainly consists of tank tops, oversized sweaters and cut-off shorts on sunkissed skin.

The Brandy Girl was the perfect amalgamation of everything that was cool at the point of the brand’s creation. She looks like a skater and a pro surfer had a cool and laid-back daughter, who wears the best, most understated finds from Urban Outfitters. And every girl wanted to be that kid.

It’s this messy but chic aesthetic mixed with an effortless marketing campaign that created a cult-like following among teenage girls and gave Abercrombie a run for its money.

The highly anticipated documentary Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion will air on HBO Max soon, so here is a breakdown of what you can expect to see:

Who will be in the ‘Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion’ documentary?

The documentary features interviews with both former and current employees, photographers, and former company executives of Brandy Melville. That also includes former senior VPs who preferred to remain anonymous.

Why is Brandy Melville problematic?

Similar to Netflix’s exposé on Abercrombie, the Brandy Melville documentary paints the picture of a group of rich and disconnected white men designing attire for teenage girls and having a little bit too much fun doing it…

Just like in White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, viewers can expect the story of a brand that idealised and fetishized pretty, thin and able-bodied teenage girls, while marginalising and discriminating against all those who did not fit into this category.

All Black employees at Brandy Melville stores were condemned to the back rooms, one former staffer explained. There they unloaded new clothes in the stockroom whereas all white employees “had to be in sight.” Skill did not matter.

Another employee recalls seeing a co-worker scraping a Swiffer mop around the floor without the actual wet pad attached, noting that her lack of service skills was appallingly obvious. The worker’s continued employment was due to her being “beautiful.”

Is Brandy Melville a toxic place to work?

If the racism doesn’t put you off, the harassment and abuse might. If an employee spotted a girl who embodied the brand aesthetic, they were required to ask for a full-body picture of the person in question. Workers would then send the photos to Chief Executive Silvio Marsan directly and he would respond by either encouraging staff to hire them or let them leave, The Daily Beast revealed.

Former workers further recall that Marsan had an office at the New York flagship store, with a bird’s-eye view of the store floor. The founder would push a button to alert co-workers to take a photo of any women checking out if he liked their look. 

One employee even caught Marsan flipping through a binder of these images of girls aged 16 to 25 that he kept for no apparent reason and would look at “forever.” Creepy or what?

The CEO also had a group chat with company executives in which he sent Hitler and 9/11 memes and exchanged hateful and offensive comments that left the audience dumbfounded.

Is the HBO documentary about fast fashion?

A major section of the documentary is dedicated to the brand’s harmful environmental impact. The documentary runs the viewer through the cheap, disposable clothing that is produced through sweatshop labour by Brandy Melville. It also comments on Brandy Melville’s ability to lure preteens into capitalist overconsumption.

It seems like the much-awaited documentary and, let’s be honest, spirited takedown of Brandy Melville will introduce fans to another highly problematic high-street brand, much like an investigation by Business Insider did in 2021.

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