Underneath its carefully crafted image, the Hugo Boss brand hides a shameful secret. Long before his fashions gripped the popular imagination, the acclaimed designer produced uniforms for the Nazi Party. Fashion at War outlines this fascinating back story, and examines the corporate challenges of making peace with a dishonorable past.
Boss eagerly embraced the Nazi philosophy from the start. But whether he was a true believer or merely an economic opportunist is unclear.
The ability to serve as the party's tailor saved him from the brink of bankruptcy. By 1945, however, he was forced to pay the price for his associations. As the war drew to a close and the Nazi Party was vanquished, Boss was required to pay a small fee and atone for his collaborations with the party in order to regain his freedom. He died a few years later, but the reach of his company was soon expanded beyond his wildest expectations when his descendants took control. Through their dapper designs and robust fragrances, the brand has redefined itself as the ultimate metaphor for confident masculinity. Can this mythical facade survive in the face of historical scandal?
In the world of fashion - where brand identification is everything - this poses a unique challenge to the company and how they chose to relate to their past.
The film features interviews with several fashion historians who provide informative commentary on this complicated dilemma. Along the way, we learn about the thriving fashion industry of 1930s Berlin, the symbolism of the Nazi uniform, the contracting of Boss and others to clothe Nazi soldiers, and to what extent the Boss brand is inextricably linked to the promotion of anti-Semitic propaganda.
The film also shows us how these uniforms continue to inform our edgiest modern-day fashions, and what they represent in the societal and cultural climate of today.
Wrapped up in Fashion at War are a series of intriguing issues. How does our history inform our current culture and values? What is the nature of a company's responsibility to its namesake? What is fashion if not a reflection of who we are and the image we wish to project?
Directed by: Alexa Karolinski, John Walter