As a disclaimer: a designer's political views don't necessarily have anything to do with the strength of his or her work, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the facts. And although we love fashion because it's beautiful and creative, some elements of its history are dark.
For example, a handful of the 20th century's most legendary designers were closely tied to Naziism. In some cases, this is a byproduct of the historical circumstances: During the Nazi occupation of France, which began in 1940, designers were forced either to collaborate with the Nazis (who saw immense value in the French fashion industry, and even considered relocating it to Vienna or Berlin) or close their doors*. Although it's understandable that some didn't have the courage to resist Nazi occupiers, others went out of their way to embrace the regime.
Below, we've assembled a list of five big-name designers with ties to the Nazi party:
Published in 2011, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War exposes Coco Chanel's activities as a spy for the Third Reich. The New York Times review of the book opened thusly:
"Gabrielle Chanel — better known as Coco — was a wretched human being. Anti-Semitic, homophobic, social climbing, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish and given to sins of phrase-making like 'If blonde, use blue perfume,' she was addicted to morphine and actively collaborated with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Paris."
Some suspect that Balenciaga's success in Nazi-occupied Paris had something to do with the designer's close relationship with Hitler's ally, General Franco. According to Stitched Up by Tansy E. Hoskins, Balenciaga designed many dresses for Franco's wife prior to the start of the war and, decades later, even came out of retirement to create a wedding gown for the fascist leader's granddaughter.
However, he stood up to Hitler when asked to relocate the French fashion industry to Berlin: According to the designer himself, “Hitler wanted to transfer the French couture to Berlin. He sent six enormous Germans to see me … to talk about it. I said that he might just as well take all the bulls to Berlin and try and train the bullfighters there.”
Louis Vuitton: A French Saga reveals that the leather goods house had strong ties to the Vichy regime in Nazi-occupied France. Louis Vuitton was the only brand allowed to operate a store on the ground floor of Hotel du Parc, which was used as the premises for France's puppet government, led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. According to The Guardian, the luxury brand also produced items "glorifying Pétain, including more than 2,500 busts, a fact not mentioned in any of its business records."
The family's eldest son, Henry, was a regular at a popular Gestapo cafe, and "was one of the first Frenchmen to be decorated by the Nazi-backed government for his loyalty and his efforts for the regime."
Although Christian Dior never professed Nazi sympathies, his house remained open during the occupation, serving a clientele of wives and mistresses of high-ranking Nazi officers. Although his niece, Françoise, was vocal about her Nazi views, his sister Catherine (the Miss Dior), was a member of the Resistance.
The German designer joined the Nazi party in 1931 (Hitler came to power in 1933) and created the uniforms worn by the Hitler Youth. The company also used forced labor from Nazi prisoners in its factories. In 2011, the company issued a formal apology about its activities during the Second World War.
[Hat tip: Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion]
*For more about this, read Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now, by Valerie Steele.