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There's Nothing Lower Than A Fashion Blow
March 24, 2009 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Thor Steinar, a German fashion brand, has run into heavy criticism recently due to the fact that their clothing was adopted by a number of far-right Neo-Nazi types. Much of the debate revolves around the question of whether or not founder Axel Kopelke intentionally designed the company's original logo to attract this particular demographic, leading to protests and vandalism at retail stores selling the brand. But will skinheads feel the need to change brands now that the company has been bought out by a Dubai-based Arab investor?
posted by mannequito (49 comments total)

 
The authorities took their symbols, the gays took their leather fetish and now young art curators want to take their crappy logo Ts and wind breakers. Nazi assholes just can't get a break.
posted by stavrogin at 8:17 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


The "crypto-nazi supporter" business model theory has always struck me as kind of a nonsensical way to go about earning money. Any sales you'd gain from the far-right fascist fashion crowd would surely be outweighed by sales lost from the "I'd prefer not to dress like a suspected neo, thanks" population. If you're going to go Nazi, go all out and make no bones about it; identify your target market right from the start and then you don't waste any revenue trying to push into markets that you'll never reach saturation in due to demographic reasons (i.e. too many non-Nazis, too many non-Aryans, France and Poland, etc etc). Or you could take an alternate route that could open up a lot more revenue streams for you, by NOT BEING A GODDAMN NAZI SUPPORTER.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:19 AM on March 24, 2009


From the photo gallery on Spiegel: Other clothing lines, like Lonsdale and New Balance, have been adopted by German neo-Nazis, leading at least one German online store to ban Lonsdale from its inventory. But these brands don't have the same resonance outside Germany.

So, seemingly stores won't stock things they think Neo-Nazis like.

It would be pretty funny if Neo-Nazis started buying FUBU/Rocawear/Sean John/Phat Pharm, and got the "unpure" clothing driven out.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:20 AM on March 24, 2009


The logo sure looks like something to wear while smashing one's Doc Martens into the teeth of an immigrant. But why exactly? Is it the red-and-black? The jagged angles?
posted by Joe Beese at 8:25 AM on March 24, 2009


This is old hat. Burberry hat in fact.
posted by srboisvert at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2009


The combination of two Nordic runes decorating a shield?

It would look pretty Nazi if it were purple and yellow, honestly.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2009


The authorities took their symbols, the gays took their leather fetish and now young art curators want to take their crappy logo Ts and wind breakers. Nazi assholes just can't get a break.

Serves them right. I'm still pissed that they stole the "White Guy with Shaved Head" look from normal people. Couldn't they have just stuck with the neatly parted hair and tiny stache?
posted by burnmp3s at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


(FatherDagon, Going "all out" is not an option in Germany, where display of nazi symbols is an offence punishable by law. That's why there are "crypto nazi" brands.)
posted by The Toad at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2009


I'm glad they abandoned the skinhead look, because the skinhead look is awesome.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2009


I want a shirt just like this except instead of being a cheeky reference to morally bankrupt vermin who abandoned their nation after obliterating itthose brave white gods who chose to discreetly colonize South America, can it be about the Nazi UFO bases in Antarctica that are powered by the collective shitstainery of thousands of Goering clones?
posted by bunnytricks at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2009


Coupla things—In one part, the reason why Nazi, or any totalitarian regime's, imagery is popular is because it looks cool. The Nazis, with their bold, contrast-heavy and dynamic design, looked fucking bad-ass, man. And symbols are powerful things, imbued metaphorically with the force behind them.

I mean, to move this a little off of the Nazis, Soviet design is often both utilitarian and fairly powerful stuff—the Social Realist art is ham-handed, but came out of a rich tradition of folks like Malevich and the Constructivists. The hammer and sickle, removed from the horrible connotations, is well-balanced, in striking colors. It works as a symbol.

So I understand wanting to allude to that power, and knocking things because the wrong sorts of people like them is both ad hominem reasoning and missing the point. People like the Che shirts because Che looks cool, even though he's a deeply ambiguous historical character. I'm still kind of annoyed that my Mao jacket tore, since I haven't been able to find another one that fits my Western frame, though I don't espouse any of Mao's views.

All of this is to kind of explain why folks who aren't Nazis would be drawn to Nazi iconography, or things that allude to Nazi iconography.

The other thing I kinda wonder: Do they not have SHARPs in Germany? I know that in my college town, we had a pretty large contingent of them, and from a distance, they're totally indistinguishable from the neo-Nazis, but woe unto you if you confuse them.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


FatherDagon's right: They really should just go all the way.
posted by boo_radley at 9:03 AM on March 24, 2009


Bruno.
posted by dontoine at 9:03 AM on March 24, 2009


Well, it is a bit TEUTONIC VIKING BRAND, isn't it?
posted by Artw at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2009


You've got to wonder how Lee, Leiber and Kirby feel about it.
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on March 24, 2009


Yes, I'm aware of the regalia ban in Germany, my comment was mostly facetious. In reality the line gets a lot blurrier, especially when it comes to national pride vs. nationalism in the German ideaspace. When you have a history involving one of the most objectively evil organizations in history rose to power by wrapping themselves in the flag and co-opting the concept of national pride itself, you end up with some pretty bizarre self-image issues down the road. To not be able to say "Yeah, I'm proud to be German! Germany #1!" without everyone around you immediately going "Oh yeah ::coughHITLERcough::" has got to lead to some significant shame/defensiveness. The same sort of anger that foments is what feeds into the mindset of groups that actually ARE neos, and fuels the whole persecution/"we will rise again" sort of thing that reinforces their worldview, as opposed to it just fizzling and dying out over time. Which is why when you have anything that even remotely expresses the concept of pride in Germanic heritage, it's immediately snapped up by the worst and most extreme elements of the politcal spectrum.

I imagine it would be a somewhat similar situation if, say, the Klan had risen as a superpower in US politics in the 40s, and led to a massive global war that eventually ended with the US getting stomped back down into the dirt. We'd be a lot more aware of every little militia group in Montana, freedom of speach would operate a lot differently, and shirts that show a crying eagle superimposed over an American flag would occupy a really uncomfortable place in the political wardrobe.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2009


Germans also have little sense of humour regarding Hanzel und Gretyl.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:37 AM on March 24, 2009


20 bucks says the Skinhead crowd won't give a flying fu*k who owns the company and will keep buying / wearing these clothes.

I don't know if that makes them just as stupid as believed or strangely poly-cultural. Or perhaps they're simply sensitive aesthetes with a delicate and rigorous fashion sense.

Anyhow, I'd like to be a fly on the wall when Skinhead A makes caveman sounds to Skinhead B, to tell him that his sharp TS jacket makes him a poseur now that the company is owned by brown skinned peoples.

Who was it said that the best dressed organizations of the 20th century were the Catholic church and the Third Reich? Bowie?

To tell the truth, I've been meaning to buy a pair of these for a while just cos I think all the lines and the logo are just the right amount of ideological mindf*ck irony whilst debating embittered neocon assholes/ Rush Limbaugh apologists or doctrinaire repressive feminazi's.

But as cool as a lot of the THor Steinar stuff is, and I've been a fan of military clothes for a long time, I think it can be done even better with sharper lines and more utility and flair. And non of the conventional bulky pillowness that most outer-wear seems to have these days.

Klang: The other thing I kinda wonder: Do they not have SHARPs in Germany?

I was wondering about that too. Sadly, it seems that the neo-nazis have pretty effectively cornered the market on the look. I haven't seen a SHARP skin since the mid-90s.
posted by Skygazer at 10:04 AM on March 24, 2009


I've seen them in the last ten years, but I think that they, at least where I grew up, did peak in the mid-90s. But I think that also has to do with the fact that the mid-90s was when the Klan and skinheads stopped marching in our town, since that always brought the SHARPs out. And the Trotskyites, which was always kinda funny. No, just because I don't like the Nazis doesn't mean I want to join your new Spartacus Youth League, thanks.
posted by klangklangston at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2009


20 bucks says the Skinhead crowd won't give a flying fu*k who owns the company and will keep buying / wearing these clothes.

Yes. Hypocrisy and logical flaws have never been a problem for the far-right. Neo-fascists across Europe are thrilled by anti-Semitism among recent Muslim immigrants, even though part of their agenda is throwing the Brown People out of their Aryan Nations.

Coupla things—In one part, the reason why Nazi, or any totalitarian regime's, imagery is popular is because it looks cool. The Nazis, with their bold, contrast-heavy and dynamic design, looked fucking bad-ass, man. And symbols are powerful things, imbued metaphorically with the force behind them.

Klang, I get what you're saying, but this crowd isn't wearing Thor Steinar because of its aesthetic virtues.

From the Spiegel link:

The brand also stirred a recent controversy in Berlin after a plainclothes policeman wore a Thor Steinar shirt while on duty at a demonstration to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht -- the Nazi-orchestrated pogroms that swept Germany on November 9, 1938. Dieter Glietsch, head of police in Berlin, said ignorance of the brand was not an excuse. "That a police officer walks around wearing Thor Steinar clothes during the anniversary of the pogrom calls for a thorough investigation," he told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. "It is not as if in Berlin people don't know what the label stands for."

I was at this demo with Kolophon. Right before the marchers saw the cop's clothing, he was breaking down the semiotics of neo-fascist fashion in contemporary Germany for me. Since overt references to the Nazi regime are banned, the far right has adopted a set of coyer gestures -- such as using the Norwegian flag, or using images that are slightly refracted versions of swastika-like objects -- the sort found on TSteinar's clothing -- as informal badges, often disingenuously relying on the fact that these images are more ambiguous than swastikas to claim that they're merely random designs.

The choice to ban the swastika has other interesting consequences. English football fans who come to Germany for soccer games wave swastikas to taunt the players on the German teams, and are promptly arrested. The Dead Kennedys, I believe, had trouble releasing their Nazi Punks Fuck Off single in Germany because the album art showed as swastika. And when I was reading Roth's The Plot Against America on the Bahn a few months ago, I noticed -- too late -- that my American edition had a giant swastika on the cover. I spent the rest of the train ride covering the cover with my sweater, looking nervously across the aisle at the punk rocker opposite me who had a "Bye Bye White Pride" patch on his jacket, showing a punk kicking the shit out of a skinhead.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2009


What pisses me off is that so much wonderful culture and heritage is now essentially off-limits due to the Nazi bastards. Norse mythology, runes, swasticas, red/white/black layouts -- using any of these or a plethora of others is almost impossible due to associations with atrocities.
posted by Blackanvil at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that normal people of Britain seem to have more-or-less gotten the Union Jack back.
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2009


far-right fascist fashion crowd

This is not the fashion Forward crowd, I take it?
posted by QIbHom at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2009


The brand is creepy, the story is unnerving; I'm glad people are educating unaware shoppers about who they are. Neo-Nazis are bad, period. That said, this also makes me twitch: "We are only watching which symbols they use, to make sure they are not illegal."

It's not that I didn't know about Germany's policies on this kind of matter, but this kind of statement and the notion of illegal symbols is a little head-hurty.
posted by wintersweet at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2009


They could wear traditional Bavarian hunting uniforms, like Laibach.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


YOU KNOW WHO ELSE
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:23 AM on March 24, 2009


"...you end up with some pretty bizarre self-image issues down the road. To not be able to say "Yeah, I'm proud to be German! Germany #1!" without everyone around you immediately going "Oh yeah ::coughHITLERcough::" has got to lead to some significant shame/defensiveness."

There's some truth to that, FatherDagon. On the other hand, I think we've mostly overcome this stage in Germany (at least in the 2nd postwar generation, which I belong to). One important event certainly was the 2006 world cup hosted in Germany, where it was considered OK for the vast majority of Germans to wave german flags, wear Germany T-Shirts, etc. Then there was a really big marketing campaign in 2007, called "Du bist Deutschland" ("You are Germany"), with the objective to boost "national pride". The average German, I think, did not think that there was anything terribly wrong (or nazi-ish) about that campaign. Most people just wondered what the fuck those TV spots were about. (In order not to let them appear crypto-nazi, they had to be really really vague.)

Although hardly anyone in Germany would still equal patriotism with nazi ideology, we're still very sceptical of national pride in general. And I like that. Actually, I think that is the best thing that could have come out of Denazification: a really widespread belief that "heritage", be it German or whatever, is nothing to be especially proud (or ashamed) of.
posted by The Toad at 11:43 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Couldn't they have just stuck with the neatly parted hair and tiny stache?

The accountants took that from them. Poor Nazis.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:53 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


The "crypto-nazi supporter" business model theory has always struck me as kind of a nonsensical way to go about earning money. Any sales you'd gain from the far-right fascist fashion crowd would surely be outweighed by sales lost from the "I'd prefer not to dress like a suspected neo, thanks" population.

The smart money is on the Urban Outfitters business model, which reverses this: What you do is emulate a crytpo-fascist Republican like Richard Hayne, who makes millions off of selling hip "urbanware" to pseudo-left kids who don't know no better, donating the profits to other fascist Republicans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:57 AM on March 24, 2009


I haven't seen a SHARP skin since the mid-90s.

People who stuck with it are mostly going by the label "trad [traditional] skin" these days. I used to live with a trad skin roommate and still have several friends who've stuck with it. As I've said above, it's a boss look. These guys tend to have killer record collections, a love of strong drink, Anglophillia, and at least one copy of The Spirit of '69 on the shelf. Good guys, and I'm glad if they don't have to be conflated with Nazis anymore.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2009


I'm fed up being a punk. I'm gonna be a rude boy, like my dad.
posted by Artw at 1:10 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since overt references to the Nazi regime are banned, the far right has adopted a set of coyer gestures -- such as using the Norwegian flag,...

So Norwegians are OK with them?
posted by sour cream at 1:17 PM on March 24, 2009


I'm fed up being a punk. I'm gonna be a rude boy, like my dad.

I know this is a reference, but to what?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:45 PM on March 24, 2009


Sour Cream: So Norwegians are OK with them?

Um, probably not. Seems like a real tender issue up thereaways.
posted by Skygazer at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2009


Oh and Norway has sued the Thor Steinar company to have its flag taken off their clothes line. I'm not sure how that went though...
posted by Skygazer at 2:14 PM on March 24, 2009


Pope Guilty - Never trust a junkie.
posted by Artw at 2:14 PM on March 24, 2009


I'm fed up being a punk. I'm gonna be a rude boy, like my dad.

I know this is a reference, but to what?


Sid and Nancy.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:21 PM on March 24, 2009


/stabs Bookhouse, dies of overdose.
posted by Artw at 3:25 PM on March 24, 2009


I seem to remember skipping that film after hearing a number of people who were around at the time complain that it bore no resemblance to reality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:52 PM on March 24, 2009


That's a stupid reason for avoiding a perfectly good film.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on March 24, 2009


When that film claims to be based on a true story, and the people who would know say it's totally disrespectful to the individuals depicted, I'd call it reason enough.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:30 PM on March 24, 2009


"Klang, I get what you're saying, but this crowd isn't wearing Thor Steinar because of its aesthetic virtues. "

Yeah, but other people might. In fact, if one of the complaints cited in the article is true, one of the problems is that people are buying these outfits without knowing they're neo-Nazi.

"People who stuck with it are mostly going by the label "trad [traditional] skin" these days. I used to live with a trad skin roommate and still have several friends who've stuck with it. As I've said above, it's a boss look. These guys tend to have killer record collections, a love of strong drink, Anglophillia, and at least one copy of The Spirit of '69 on the shelf. Good guys, and I'm glad if they don't have to be conflated with Nazis anymore."

Great record collections is right. Usually assloads of old ska, though I can do without Oi, really. It's like a stupid(er) version of hardcore that I've never gotten. But my only friend who'd stuck with the look has had to reign it in as a high school teacher. He had to get his anti-nazi tattoo removed from his neck, which seemed kinda unfair. ("It has a swastika in it." "Yeah, with a red circle and bar." "Still, swastika.")

"When that film claims to be based on a true story, and the people who would know say it's totally disrespectful to the individuals depicted, I'd call it reason enough."

If folks in the know say it's disrespectful, then it's right up the Sex Pistols' alley. Gary Oldman's great in it, though I have to admit that by now, all my Sex Pistols movie memories have been superseded by The Filth and the Fury.
posted by klangklangston at 5:37 PM on March 24, 2009


Anyone who lets facts get in the way of a good story ought to make nonfiction. Sid and Nancy is a good film. Plus, it's part of my pocket argument for Gary Oldman being a great actor: the man played Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald* and Dracula with equal aplomb.

*and see, JFK is a great argument for keeping facts out of movies. I love that bullshitting, stack-of-lies movie.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:40 PM on March 24, 2009


The hammer and sickle, removed from the horrible connotations...

No more horrible connotation than blacksmiths and farmers in power.
posted by DU at 6:09 PM on March 24, 2009


And, um, Stalin and Mao.

But you're right, the swastika's just an Indian symbol of good luck!
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 PM on March 24, 2009


Blackanvil: What pisses me off is that so much wonderful culture and heritage is now essentially off-limits due to the Nazi bastards. Norse mythology, runes, swasticas, red/white/black layouts -- using any of these or a plethora of others is almost impossible due to associations with atrocities.

It pisses me off, too. But I don't think all of these need to be treated as completely taboo now- in fact, I think it's actively counterproductive to do so. Usage of these things should be done thoughtfully and sensitively, but I feel that treating them as off limits essentially cedes them to the Nazis. It amounts to saying that any time they decide to use a symbol, no matter what it meant originally or what history it had before, it's theirs now, and means only what they want it to mean. And I don't want to give the bastards that much power- I think taking at least some of that imagery back from them is a far better and more effective approach than seeing it as something forbidden and inherently evil.

There are limits to this- for example, I think swastikas (within Western culture, that is) are far too tainted to try to reclaim at this time, and probably for many years to come. The negative associations are too strong. But (from my American standpoint, at least) I don't think things like runes and Norse mythology are so thoroughly tainted that people can think only of the Nazis at the sight or thought of them, and that being the case, I think using such imagery in an explicitly non-fascist context can actually be quite an effective action against the far right. It in effect takes back the symbolism that they stole for themselves, and helps establish a cultural view of that symbolism as something not always and inherently associated with fascism- thus ultimately reducing the power and appeal of it to the far right, and blunting one of the weapons in their arsenal. Whereas turning those things into taboos plays into the fascists' hands on a few different levels, I feel.

As I say, this is from my American standpoint- understandably this is a far more sensitive issue in Germany, and much more is essentially off limits there. But even if now isn't the time for it, at some future point I think the cause of fighting fascism there would be better served by (within reason) attempting to reclaim that imagery and cultural heritage, rather than let it be the property of the Nazis forever.
posted by a louis wain cat at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually it's one thing that has Westerners a little surprised when visiting the Far East -- swastikas on temples. Not all temples, but it's not unusual to see one with the swastika prominently displayed on the outside walls. To be fair, it was their symbol for a couple of thousand years before it became Hitler's for, I'd say, maybe 15 years.

That being said, it's pretty much a ruined symbol for pretty much every place west of India.
posted by clevershark at 10:11 PM on March 24, 2009


I used to frequent a Korean Zen temple and there were Swastikas (ones with tines pointing to the left, mind you) everywhere. After the sitting meditation there would be a walking exercise, so that was a great way for my 20 year old mind to decontextualize the Nazis and their symbol co-opting.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:16 PM on March 24, 2009


(lack of preview!)
posted by Burhanistan at 10:17 PM on March 24, 2009


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