Image Credit: MAX

The ‘Brandy Hellville’ Documentary Has Me Absolutely Reeling Right Now

Obviously, I had heard of Brandy Melville before. I was a teenage girl in the 2010s, I DEFINITELY knew Brandy Melville. But I was not a “Brandy girl” by any means. Unfortunately, I was not included in “one-size-fits-all.” That didn’t stop me from trying, though. I’d tag along with my friends to the store, avoid the glares from the mean girls working there, pick up a pastel pair of booty shorts or a white baby tee with some slogan, and then silently sob in the changing room when it didn’t fit. #justgirlythings

I knew about Brandy Melville, only there were a lot of things I didn’t actually know about Brandy Melville. Things that were introduced to me in the one-and-a-half-hour HBO documentary Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion. Having watched this, I am relieved that not a single photo of me in an item of Brandy Melville exists in the world. Thicc thighs save the day once more.

Nothing in my girlhood was unique

I knew I had a fairly run-of-the-mill adolescence, complete with an eating disorder and various mental illnesses, but I hadn’t realized just how unoriginal it was until watching this documentary. When asked to describe Brandy Melville, a former employee literally says, “The reason I liked it? Everyone else liked it,” I feel called out. Someone convinced us that these basic clothes were the height of fashion. I’d like a refund on my adolescence, please.

As they describe it, “one day in Middle School, everyone was suddenly wearing Brandy Melville.” That is literally how it felt. No one knew about this brand until suddenly, everyone was in those fucking backless dresses and bralettes. I have literal trauma around those Jada dresses.

It turns out we were all coming home from school, eating rice cakes or whatever other fake snack you convinced yourself you enjoyed, and logging into Tumblr to reblog girls with long hair and short skirts.

Where the name Brandy Melville comes from

I genuinely thought the owner was called Brandy, or like her daughter was. At the very least, I assumed they picked a pretty feminine name to match it. Nope!!! Brandy is an American woman and Melville is a British man and they fall in love in Rome, Italy. This entire elaborate backstory has been existing without any of us knowing. I am shocked. 

It actually existed in Italy first but wasn’t successful there. They only sold t-shirts with slogans, which is still part of the Brandy look. Then the owner (we’ll get to him) packed up and tried it in the U.S. Obviously, it was a massive hit and became the total California girl look.

One of the store owners described how you don’t get Chanel girls or Gucci girls, but you do get Brandy girls. Yeah, we would be Gucci girls if we could afford it, buddy. Also, he said that Lululemon girls aren’t a thing, um yes they are???

Brandy Melville is run by this anonymous man

brandy melville documentary
Image Credit: MAX

There is no official CEO of Brandy Melville. I’m not sure how that’s possible. Can some Business graduate explain it to me while I nod and pretend to understand? Also, each Brandy store is a different company technically? The maths ain’t mathing but sure. They’re all owned by a Swiss company, and it turns out that behind it all is Stephan Marsan. Almost no photos exist of this man, so I’m not convinced that he isn’t AI. He is running the show, including the Instagram, the hiring, the firing, and the outfit approvals. It’s definitely weird. 

But it gets weirder. Obviously, he is a Trump supporter, and he is also a loud and proud Libertarian. Not only that, but he uses his personal copies of Atlas Shrugged as props in the stores. If you don’t know this book, it is basically Libertarianism For Dummies. Apparently, they refer to it in-store at the “Bible of Brandy Melville”!  NOT ONLY THIS, but they opened up a sub-store called John Galt, which is a character in the novel. Like, please, at least try to be subtle? 

You guessed it, he is anti-taxation!! As all the rich men are. I’d like to recommend the IRA do an audit of Brandy Melville immediately. 

“At a certain point, Stephan started to care more about money and less about people” — I’m sorry, STARTED? He opened a chain of poor quality, one-size-fits-all, stores and only hired skinny white girls, and NOW he only cares about money???? UMMMMMM.

We’re not done with this man just yet, but let’s put a pin in him — literally.

Are you a Brandy girlie?

As specified, I was not a Brandy girlie as I spent my adolescence holding a pillow on my lap, but this documentary highlighted who actually was a Brandy girl. All the Disney girls were into Brandy at the time, including “Ciley Myrus” and “Jenner, Kyla.” This is now a petition for them to legally change their names to this. 

Kaia Gerber was also a total Brandy Melville girlie (no surprises there), as she lived above the store. So they’d just send her bags of stuff, and she’d feature it. 

Their hiring policy was basically to recruit anyone wearing cute clothes in their store. Like, you’re hired, no interview needed! One employee described seeing their colleague try to mop the floor with a Swiffer, only nothing was attached to the plastic end. That literally hurts my soul. 

One girl lived our dream and was once stopped in the store by an employee to take her photo, and told she just looked so good! She explains how she went around telling everyone this happened, which is exactly what I would have done. It would be in my Instagram bio. It turns out this was the most common hiring process, so they must have saved a lot of money on HR! They also saved money on Product employees as they just copied whatever looked good from other brands. A steal – literally! Remember how the products are all named with girl’s names? It’s the name of the person they “borrowed” it from!!! Jada wore the Jada dress!!! My mind is blown.

Outfit of the Day!!

brandy melville documentary
Image Credit: MAX

Okay, but describe my worst nightmare and it is literally someone taking a photo of my outfit every day. That was the employee’s reality at Brandy Melville. Every single day managers would photograph everyone’s look and send it directly to Stephan and his right-hand man Jessy. Every single day. Every employee from every store. Can you imagine all the notifications? I get stressed if two people message me within an hour — luckily, it doesn’t happen too often. 

If Stephan didn’t like their look, they’d be fired. Right now I am in sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt with coffee stains. I think he’d totally love it and promote me on the spot!!!

It somehow gets even creepier, as apparently, he had all of these photos saved and kept them. Also, they’d do photos of your chest and feet! Were they supplementing their income with some fetish websites? They claimed these were potential modeling shots — modeling WHAT?

You obviously had to wear Brandy clothes while working there, and it led many of the women to develop eating disorders they still struggle with. Let’s not forget that Stephan had a one-size-fits-all policy for the store. Apparently, they started with sizing, and one day, this was just removed, casual. When they received criticism for this, they changed the name to “one-size-fits-most.” Like, that’s not much better? Now I’m just not included in “most”? 

A heartbreaking moment was when a former employee said she had been recovering from an eating disorder and realized, “if I kept being healthy, I wouldn’t be able to follow company policy and wear their clothes” — I’m crying right now.

Then a former store manager shares how he was surprised that the online hate didn’t bother Stephan more. What? This rich, white man doesn’t mind people thinking he is a sexist pig? Shocking! He then compares him to Mussolini with a famous quote. It turns out to be on the nose, because…

From bad to fucking terrible

This entire documentary is me thinking, “Well, it can’t get worse” and then it does. Aside from being fatphobic and pervy, they are blatantly racist!! A black employee shares how she had to work in the stock room with other employees of minorities, and she describes it as “if you’re white, you had to be in sight.” They rarely hired anyone who wasn’t white, and if they did, they relegated them to back store positions. They also wanted to close a store as the majority of shoppers were people of color. How is this man not in prison? The former store manager says it’s okay to share these beliefs on the street but not in your stores… no, it is not okay at all!

Then we get to the apartment. There’s an apartment they rent where young girls stay, as well as some random 40-year-old Italian man. Who is he?? A journalist shares the heartbreaking story of how one employee on a visa was staying there and was sexually assaulted by the man, but didn’t press charges for fear of losing her Visa. This definitely won’t be the only case of such atrocious behavior in Brandy Melville.

Finally, everyone was “shocked but not surprised” to discover that Stephan and management are super antisemitic as well. A group chat called “Brandy Melville gags” was leaked that showed them sending Holocaust jokes, 9/11 puns, and so much more awful content. But this happened years ago, and sales weren’t even impacted. HE DIDN’T EVEN POST A NOTES PAGE APOLOGY! They just turned off Instagram comments for a few weeks, then carried on like normal. People complain about Cancel Culture, but in this case, it is not being harsh enough, honestly. 

The filmmaker did not want to make this documentary

It turns out that the filmmaker didn’t even know about Brandy Melville before making this film, and I am not surprised. As well as uncovering the horrific behavior at this company and its twisted ideals, it also tries to dive into the huge issue of fast fashion. There is just way too much being juggled at once, and it cuts from systematic racism to Ghana landfills to the sexual assault and back to the factories. I had vertigo from the quick subject changes, and still didn’t learn more about what the fuck was going on with that apartment. I think she wanted to make a documentary about fast fashion and its impact on Ghana, and labeling it Brandy Hellville was the only way to get it funded. It’s a fascinating subject that deserved its own documentary, rather than a shared spotlight with Stephan ew. 

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.