Brandy Melville Documentary ‘Brandy Hellville’: Biggest Bombshells

HBO’s newest documentary takes a hard look at a Gen Z-beloved retail brand: Brandy Melville.

Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion, directed by Academy Award winner Eva Orner, takes viewers behind the scenes of the company, exposing the inner workings of its marketing strategies, controversies surrounding its sizing policies and its alleged toxic impact on young women’s perceptions of body image and fashion.

Throughout the film, which premieres April 9 on HBO and Max, Orner interviews former employees of the company, including store workers, a former vice president, and a store owner, who share their personal accounts of damaging experiences with the brand. Representatives for Brandy Melville have not responded to PEOPLE’s multiple requests for comment about the claims in the documentary.

“We spoke to hundreds of ex-employees at Brandy; some of them would share their stories, but they didn’t want to go on camera,” Orner told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview ahead of the film’s release. “I completely understand they are still so young, and they were young when they worked there. They are scared of the company, they’re scared of retribution, and they’re also scared because they’re starting their careers and they don’t necessarily want to be seen as a troublemaker by future employers.”

“I think one of my biggest shoutouts is to the young women who agreed to be in the film and who are leading this charge,” she adds. “They’re heroes, and I have so much respect for them.”

Below, the nine biggest bombshells alleged in the new exposé.

The name “Brandy Melville” is derived from a fictional storyline about a man and a woman who fall in love.

In Brandy Hellville, Kate Taylor, an investigative journalist at Business Insider who wrote an article exposing alleged discrimination and employee exploitation at the brand in September 2021, explains that the store is not named after a person. Instead, it is named after two fictional characters: Brandy, an American, and Melville, a man from England, who meet in Italy and fall in love.

“I was quite confused by this name choice because the backstory doesn’t align with the current image of Brandy Melville,” Taylor remarks in the documentary. “Everything about this brand becomes rather perplexing quite swiftly.”

Brandy Melville opened its first US store in 2009, in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, adjacent to the UCLA campus. The business quickly became popular with young girls thanks in part to the Malibu teen vibe. Brandy Melville currently has 94 locations worldwide, including more than 30 in the United States.

At the time the Business Insider article was published, Brandy Melville representatives, attorneys, and other executives named in the article did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Brandy Melville founder Silvio Marsan and his son Stephan allegedly required store employees to send daily outfit photos.

The documentary also uncovers more about Brandy Melville’s Italian founder, Silvio Marsan, and his son and company cofounder Stephan. Silvio ran the brand’s Instagram account, which was filled with images of young teenage girls. According to testimonials from former staffers in the doc, each day, he and Stephan would require employees to send “store style” photos of their outfits.

At the time, the girls were allegedly told that the photos would be used as a way to audition for modeling opportunities at the brand. Although initially the request was for full-body photos, Stephan later began requesting chest and feet pictures, according to a former store employee who was interviewed in the doc. The girls were not told where the photos would be going, and they also weren’t allowed to talk about it.

“If Stephan didn’t like some of them, he would send it back to me privately and say, ‘Fire her,’ ” a former Italian senior vice president in the company claims in the doc, adding that Stephan hired people based on their looks.

According to Business Insider, Stephan has never granted an interview. In a 2014 article, the Italian outlet Viterbo News stated that the family behind Brandy Melville had “crafted a culture of confidentiality.”

Stephan has not responded to PEOPLE’s multiple requests for comment about the claims in the documentary.

Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion poster.


Brandy Melville executives would take their favorite female employees on lavish trips.

In the film, Taylor elaborates on how the Brandy Melville executives would take their preferred employees on competitive, extravagant trips for product research. During these trips, the girls would visit the factories where the clothing was manufactured and select their favorite designs.

The former Italian vice president of the company, interviewed in the documentary, remarked that the girls were “treated like queens.” TikTok videos featured in the documentary show Brandy employees riding in an airplane over the Swiss Alps and in lavish hotel rooms.

The brand’s problematic “one-size-fits-all” sizing approach was aimed at keeping an exclusive clientele.

The former vice president also explains in the documentary that initially, the store offered various sizes, but eventually transitioned to a one-size-fits-all approach. For Stephan, the limited sizing contributed to creating exclusivity for the brand. During the film, a former employee recounts how she asked if all the sizes were small, to which she was told, “It’s not small — there’s no size.”

The documentary further explains that due to numerous complaints, the store eventually changed its phrasing from “one size fits all” to “one size fits most.” This adjustment was made in response to customer feedback and concerns about inclusivity and body diversity.

Silvio and Stephan Marsan allegedly sent racist, homophobic and antisemitic memes and messages in group chats with a number of Brandy Melville employees.

Another Italian whistleblower – a former Brandy Melville store owner –  explains how Silvio and Stephan held strong political views that they would often share with younger employees.

The whistle blower says in the documentary that Stephan was a libertarian and strongly opposed to taxes. He also claims that he would make fun of young girls for being supporters of certain political candidates, including Bernie Sanders. In Brandy stores, they sold signs with the name “John Galt,” a character from the libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged. Former store workers say in the film that in the early days of the brand, Stephan would distribute this novel to employees.

Stephan also maintained a group chat with Brandy employees called “Brandy Melville Gags,” where he shared what one former employee described as disturbing racist, homophobic, and antisemitic memes and messages. An alleged photo of Stephan dressed as Hitler is shown in screenshot images featured in the documentary.

Sign on facade at retail store Brandy Melville on Santana Row in the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, December 14, 2019.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

Customers believed that the brand’s “made in Italy” label indicated ethical production, which was unfounded and proven untrue.

The film also delves into the clothing quality, which one former store owner contends is poor. Despite this, the items appear to some as high-end because many tags indicated they were “made in Italy.” The documentary alleges that the clothes were produced in factories in Prato, Italy, a textile hub in Europe where labor conditions are not closely regulated.

“A lot of the Brandy Melville clothing says ‘made in Italy,’ which I think in the U.S. a lot of people see as a sign of quality and luxury,” Taylor explains in the doc.

Most of the clothing was mass-produced in factories where workers were not well-paid well, Matteo Biffoni, the mayor of Prato, says in the film. Despite the city doing regular checks on the factories for working conditions, he says they stumble upon factories that are poorly run.

Claire Bergkamp, the CEO of Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit that champions climate action within the fashion industry’s material supply chain, adds in the doc that when clothing comes at a very low cost — as seen at fast-fashion retailers like Brandy Melville — there is usually an ethical price tag.

“If something costs very little, is coming to you in a way that feels impossibly too easy, impossibly too good, there is someone, somewhere in that supply chain that is not being paid, that is not being respected,” Bergkamp says in the doc.

Brandy Melville predominantly hired thin, White women. People of color who were employed by the brand were often relegated to working behind closed doors in storage rooms.

In the documentary, former employees claim there was truth behind the stereotype that the store only hired “skinny White girls.”

“It was like, ‘This is what you want to look like. This is your goal,’ ” Cate, a former employee, says in a confessional during the film. Another ex-employee, Kali, also shares in the documentary, “The ideal was the White girl, mostly blonde, sometimes brunette.”

The Italian whistleblower also contends that Stephan allegedly instructed him to pay good-looking people more, even if they were not skilled at their jobs. “For Stephan, if they were really light-skinned and redhead, that was number one, like the top of the top,” the Italian whistleblower says on camera, explaining that Stephan aimed to attract only elite, popular girls.

He further alleges that Stephan didn’t want Black people working at the stores, so women of color who were hired were often placed in the back stockroom. Former Black employee Kali expresses in the film how she knew this treatment wasn’t right.

“We were all being pushed to the back, out of sight,” Kali says. “But it wasn’t something we were necessarily mad about, because I loved being around my people, like people of color.”

Brandy Melville store in Madrid.

Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty

Many former Brandy employees struggled with eating disorders while working there.

In the film, former employees discuss the brand’s one-size-fits-all approach and reveal how they struggled with eating disorders while working there. One ex-staffer describes feeling pressured to be skinny and perfect during her time at the company.

Another worker complains that the company cultivated a mindset that made her hate her own body. She says that even though she no longer works there, she is still in recovery from the impact it had on her. “Eating disorders are going to stay with you for a while,” the former employee shares in a confessional.

Ghana and other countries in Africa have become a dumping ground for our unwanted fast fashion.

Alyssa Hardy, the former fashion news editor at Teen Vogue, says in the documentary that the United States and Europe collectively consume 36 billion units of clothing per year, with 85% of it ending up discarded. Contrary to the belief that donated clothes go to those in need, Hardy explains that much of it ends up in Ghana.

“Ghana is a dumping ground for our unwanted fast fashion,” Hardy asserts in the film. “We have deals with countries in Africa to take the clothing, even though they don’t necessarily need it.”

The documentary then showcases images of Kantamanto Market in Ghana, currently the world’s largest second-hand clothing economy. Every week, the market receives 15 million pieces of used clothing from the Western world. Locals in Ghana refer to second-hand clothing as “Obruni Wawu,” meaning dead White man’s clothes, with a misconception that the clothing comes from deceased White individuals.

“The United States and Europe have essentially forced this arrangement on these countries, and when they have tried to resist, the United States and Europe have imposed punishments,” Hardy continues. “For instance, they’ve threatened to revoke duty-free status for countries that refuse second-hand clothing, imposed taxes, or withdrawn grant money.”

Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion  premieres on HBO on April 9 and is streaming on Max.