Designer Brands & Nazism

The dread of being a high school senior in the midst of the college application process seems never-ending. Many will sit through multiple nerve-wracking interviews in boujee coffee shops, mentally repeating their prepared responses while smiling and nodding at the interviewer. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise last Sunday when I found myself in an engaging conversation with my interviewer. It began like this:

Me: “I have a friend who is a fashion connoisseur and she came up with the idea of this community service project.” (Our project involved collecting homecoming and prom dresses for high school students to borrow for school dances.)

Interviewer: “Speaking of fashion, you mentioned earlier that you might be interested in fashion consulting. Did you know that Chanel had ties with the Nazis?”

A fascinating discussion surrounding different designer brands and their collaboration/resistance against the Nazi Party ensued. I did a bit of my own research surrounding the issue:

Hugo Boss

Also known as “Hitler’s Tailor,” Hugo Boss joined the Nazi Party in 1931. Although the company were not responsible for uniform designs, they produced black uniforms worn by SS units, brown shirts worn by SA storm troopers, as well as black and brown uniforms for the Hitler Youth. Hugo Boss’ collaboration with the Nazis saved the company from bankruptcy. During the war, Hugo Boss used forced laborers to produce these uniforms. Most were women, but they also used French and Polish prisoners of war. According to first-person reports, worker conditions were awful; factories suffered from poor hygiene and insufficient food, and there was no medical treatment for children and pregnant women.

Fortunately, Hugo Boss issued a formal apology regarding their exploitation of forced labor. However, Hugo Boss’ son, Siegfried Boss, commented “of course my father belonged to the Nazi Party…But who didn’t belong back then?” Siegfried’s perspective falls in line with those who look at Boss’ involvements with the Nazis through an economic lens: Boss was motivated by commercial reasons, as companies were awarded contracts for collaborating with the Nazis, and Boss believed that Hitler would lift Germany out of poverty.

Coco Chanel

Chanel dated a German military intelligence officer and used her connections for two reasons:

  1. For business interests like her perfume line
  2. To release her nephew from the German stalag

Together, Dincklage and Chanel recruited new agents from around Europe for Nazi Germany. As a German spy, under supposed “business reasons,” she traveled to Madrid under the mission to gain political information from her colleagues. Chanel also used her connection with England’s prime minister, Winston Churchill.

After the demise of Nazi Germany, Chanel attempted to erase her past and never suffered consequences for her ties with the Nazi Party. Despite her actions, she was financed by the Wertheimers, wealthy French/Jewish businessmen, and Chanel became a French fashion icon.

Further Ponderings

There’s no hiding the facts; there is no gray zone as to whether or not Chanel and Hugo Boss collaborated with the Nazis. However, should we accept the “economic pragmatism” perspective that people like Siegfried Boss hold? Were the commercial reasons enough to justify collaboration with the Nazis, if “everyone else” did it as well? Is an apology enough? Or, should we as consumers make an active effort to boycott these brands?

But in the era of call-out culture, why is there so little focus on designer brands’ collaboration with the Nazis? Perhaps these brands have become too established, too iconized to bring down. How telling of our generation–we value luxury and comfort over inconvenient ethical actions.

Sources:

McAuley, James. “The Exchange: Coco Chanel and the Nazi Party.” The New Yorker, 31 August 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-exchange-coco-chanel-and-the-nazi-party

“Fashion’s Hugo Boss expresses regret at Nazi past.” Reuters, 22 September 2011, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hugoboss-nazi/fashions-hugo-boss-expresses-regret-at-nazi-past-idUSTRE78L3ZD20110922

The Associated Press. “Hugo Boss Acknowledges Link to Nazi Regime.” The New York Times, 15 August 1997, https://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/15/business/hugo-boss-acknowledges-link-to-nazi-regime.html

Walters, Guy. “Shameful truth about Hugo Boss’s links to the Nazis revealed: As Russell Brand is thrown out of a party for accusing fashion designer of helping Hitler.” Daily Mail, 5 September 2013, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2413371/Shameful-truth-Hugo-Bosss-links-Nazis-revealed-As-Russell-Brand-thrown-party-accusing-fashion-designer-helping-Hitler.html

The Automation Revolution

Up until last month, the topic of artificial intelligence to me were mere buzzwords of a distant future that I wanted little to do with. I had long separated artificial intelligence and my own interests; I viewed computer scientists and political scientists as opposite sides of the career spectrum. Thus, I picked up AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order with scant interest, but left with rambunctious thoughts. Here is an attempt to organize my ideas into coherence:

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Art Consumption | The Paper Menagerie, The Farewell, & More

In the past few months, I’ve been reclaiming my love for art–literature, films, visual art, fashion, and everything that two years of the International Baccalaureate program has detached myself from.

I’ve no doubt relished in art about experiences that I do not share (I finally read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and consequently explored new perspectives and become present to the various privileges I have. Nonetheless, I find myself inevitably returning to Asian-American artists. In doing so, I’ve discovered that my connection toward Asian-American art does not stem from my ability to relate to its content–after all, I’ve indulged in countless books and films about the high school experience and the struggles of being a girl. But what Asian-American art does is unravel me, leave me raw and bare, expose my facades, and force me to deal with my identity in a unique way.

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Hong Kong Protests: Civil Liberties Abroad

Airports blocked, fire on the streets, tear gas, and police brutality–this isn’t a 20th century war zone, but rather, a series of mass demonstrations that began in June to protest against the recent Hong Kong extradition bill. This bill would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China for judicial hearings, despite Hong Kong and mainland China operating on a “One Country, Two Systems” principle that allows Hong Kong to retain autonomy in the legal and judicial spheres. These protests have ignited into chaos on both sides. However, despite China’s claims that the police are the victims, the broader implication of these protests highlight the flaws in mainland Chinese politics.

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Reflections on a Culture of Detachment

With the ever-growing trend of media representation for Asian-Americans, I often fall into ruminations of how my own family culture has shaped who I am today, and how my parents are similar or different to those of my peers.

When I think of my family, instead of a certain smell or an emotion, I’m present to the sounds of my home. I hear the jabbering of my mother as she reprimands my brother for his grades slipping, the bickering between my brother and I at the dinner table, my father chuckling as he watches Pirates of the Caribbean yet again, and more of my mother yelling for who knows what reason this time.

What I never noticed until recently, however, was the lack of explicit affection in my home. We don’t buy each other gifts for holidays or birthdays. My mother says “I love you” to me once a year on my birthday, and I don’t recall that phrase ever leaving my father’s mouth. Sometimes, my mother opens her arm for a hug and I push her away before locking the door to my room. When I spend my summers away at summer camp, I never call my parents out of my own will; I don’t yearn for their presence, and instead I appreciate the fraction of independence I can get. At first I thought this was typical–that no one exchanged hugs with their parents, but even when I discussed with my other Asian-American friends, some of them were shocked at my family’s lack of affection.

I think I’ve become emotionally detached in some manners due to my home culture. For instance, on the last days of school or on the last day of summer camps, I find it uncomfortable to hug my friends goodbye. I don’t register that I may never see some of them again. It only hits me when I’m sitting alone at home on a random Tuesday afternoon, my chest aching with a lonely hollowness. I can text apologies and expressions of gratitude and affection, but when I try to speak them aloud, my lips freeze as I try to formulate indistinguishable words. Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not stone-hearted and emotionless. I can bawl my eyes out at a sad movie or laugh until I fall out of my chair. But when it comes to expressing how I feel about someone, I struggle.

It’s not easy, but we’re working on it. I saw my mother cry for the first (and second, and third) time while watching a movie together in China. My father asks how my days went as I send him to work every morning. Even my brother shows me fragments of his life; he has finally started to respond to my inquiries about his teachers and friends. Maybe I’ll stop rejecting my mother’s embraces. Maybe we’ll watch movies together and unapologetically cry. Maybe…

The Beautification of International Relations

My first year in policy debate, the topic was about increasing economic and diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China. One of the seniors at that time delved into the critical literature surrounding US-China engagement and its parallels with plastic surgery. As a freshman, I remember being interested, but hardly understanding the implications for beauty having a central role in international relations. This year for Theory of Knowledge (an IB class), I had the opportunity to finally dive into the politics of aesthetics. This isn’t a proper post per se, but the following are my notes of my research:

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Failure of Our Civic Classes

With the urgent desire to increase American competitiveness globally, especially considering the tech race with China, our school system is putting heavy emphasis on STEM education, particularly the develop of artificial intelligence. The establishment of the Committee on STEM Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act portray the federal government’s desire to increase accountability in k-12 schools, with the ultimate desire to maintain American world leadership.

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