Blog 60 07/11/2017 The Changing Face of Fashion in the Third Reich.
The Changing Face of Fashion in the Third Reich.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, one would think he had more than enough to think about without turning his attention to the German fashion industry. But then we should think again; his involvement in controlling everyone’s daily life meant that it was inevitable he would become involved. “What I like best of all is to dine with a pretty woman,” Hitler once declared. It wasn’t that he was a fashionista, far from it as he hated make-up, hair dye and perfume, considered trousers to be most unfeminine, and smoking a revolting habit. And for a man who had people killed at the drop of a hat, he hated fur because it involved killing animals. So why did he take a particular interest in the German fashion industry. The reasons are obvious. The fashion industry was just that – an industry, a huge one at that and as such, he wanted German fashion to be the best in the world. Berlin would replace Paris and German women the best-dressed. He hated French fashion as he considered the styles promoted by the French couture houses such as Chanel, encouraged slim hips and boyish figures and were not suited to the Reich’s ideal of the archetypical Aryan female who needed a fuller figure in order fulfil her child-bearing duties for the Fatherland. As “mothers of the German Volk,” the ideal German woman, devoted to her family’s well being, beauty stemmed not from cosmetics or trendy fashions, but from an inner happiness derived from her devotion to her children, her husband, her home, and her country.
To this end, Hitler created the Deutsches Mode-Institut (German Fashion Institute) founded in 1933, with strong backing from the Ministry of Propaganda and several other governmental agencies. Henceforth, women would wear only German clothes made by German designers using German materials. In order to support this, an organisation called the Association of Aryan Clothing Manufacturers ensured that labels were sewn into the garments guaranteeing that they were Aryan made – in other words, they were not tainted by Jewish textile manufacturers who until this time, dominated the clothing industry. The woman he put in charge of the Deutsches Modeamt, as it was also called, was none other than Magda Goebbels, wife of the Propaganda Mininster, ironically, a known chain-smoking, Elizabeth Arden fashionista who would still continue to have clothes designed by Jewish designers and wear hand-made shoes by Ferragamo. Other wives of the Nazi hierarchy, such as Annalies von Ribbontrop and Inge Ley, would also continue to frequent foreign designers.
The style of dress the Institute tried to promote above all was the traditional Tyrolean style known as Tracht, still worn today throughout Germany and Austria. According to Nazi propaganda, a woman should dress herself in Trachtenkleidung, a folk costume that reflected Germany’s rich cultural heritage promoted as an expression of the true German-Aryan character. The age-old costume is generally comprised of a dress with tight bodice and full, long skirt (Dirndl), a white blouse with puffed and gathered sleeves, a heavily embroidered or crocheted collar, an embellished apron, and a variety of head pieces or hats. It was viewed as the most suitable example of racially pure clothing and held up as a significant symbolic metaphor for pride in the German homeland. Tracht symbolises the Volkish spirit. Moreover, the folk costume looked to the past and promoted an image of the Nazis’ “blood and soil” ideology. Even today, many Germans and Austrians still wear Tracht and quality costumes made of good fabric can be quite costly. Colours were also extremely important. Dark blue was acceptable but socialist red was out of the question.
As certain fabrics such as wool and silk became harder to come by, everyday wear became more austere and felt, knitting and crocheting were all used to enhance styles. This was a long way from Haute Couture and it was natural that women with the means to do so would look elsewhere for their dress. It wasn’t only Magda who openly flaunted their desire for French fashion. As countries such as France and Italy fell to the German onslaught, officials were sent to the couture houses demanding to see the files on the creation and export of fashion. It was a case of collaborate or be closed down. In accordance with Hitler’s wishes to make Berlin the centre of fashion, the couture houses were asked to move. Designers such as American born Mainbocher, who dressed the Duchess of Windsor, and Schiaparelli, fled to America, but others stayed. Coco Chanel closed her business but sold her perfume and openly flaunted her affair with a top Nazi official. Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, Nina Ricci and Charles Worth all kept their salons open. Rather than move to Berlin, Lucien Lelong, who at the time employed a relatively unknown designer by the name of Christian Dior, went to Berlin to argue the case that the couture houses should stay in France where they had access to a supporting workforce. He won the case saving a workforce of more than 25,000 women, mainly seamstresses and embroiderers and other people working in specialised industries. Many of these women were Jewish refugees. In Italy, Cristobel Balenciaga, who designed for General Franco’s wife, argued the same case and won. German officials visiting France took full advantage of the collaboration with French fashion. It is said that Hermann Göring ordered 20 gowns for his wife, Emmy from Paquin.
Anyone wishing to buy Haute Couture needed a special ration card. 19,015 were given to French women and only 200 to German women. In 1943, the Germans finally banned the distribution of photographs of French fashion for fear of upsetting the women at home who did not have access to them. Some designers more than others profited handsomely from their collaboration with the Nazi regime. Marcel Rochas even believed in the Nazi ideas and Jeanne Lanvin, who designed costumes for Arletty in the film classic, Les Enfants du Paradis was another who benefitted.
Perhaps the most controversial of all were Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss. Louis Vuitton had strong ties to the Vichy Regime and was the only brand allowed to operate a store on the ground floor of the Hotel du Parc. The eldest son, Henri was said to “glorify the Marshall”. He was a regular visitor to a popular Gestapo Cafe and was decorated by the Nazi-backed government for his loyalty and efforts to the Regime.
Hugo Boss joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and created the Hitler Youth uniforms. Throughout the war he would manufacture other Nazi clothing and the factory used forced labour. In 2011, the company issued a formal apology about its activities during WWII.
As for Christian Dior, then an employee of Lucien Lelong, there was never any mention that he had Nazi sympathies even though he dressed the wives and mistresses of high-ranking officials. His sister, Catherine, after who the Miss Dior fragrance was named, was a member of the Resistance who survived incarceration in the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Excerpt from “Conspiracy of Lies” Chapter 18
Claire pushed the door ajar and saw an array of clothes neatly arranged on the bed. ‘Oh, Eva, I don’t know what to say. They are beautiful.’ She picked up an emerald-green, rayon crêpe, calf-length cocktail dress and held it up against her body. ‘It’s simply wonderful. I’ve never had anything so beautiful.’
She noticed another peeking out from a mound of tissue paper – an evening ensemble consisting of a jacket and skirt. The straight, full-length skirt was made of heavy crêpe , but it was the short, cap-sleeved jacket that took her breath away. It was made of black velvet and encrusted with gold braid ribbon in a lattice pattern over the entire surface, with added buttons, cabochons, beads, etc.
‘I hope they fit. Monsieur Lelong assured me that they would,’ Eva said, watching Claire’s reaction.