The name ‘Hugo Boss’ conjures images of high fashion, elegance and luxury. It is a brand to be revered, with both its style and persona projecting superiority. But where does the brand come from, and what is it’s legacy?
There is no sugar coating it; Hugo Boss is not a brand for the mundane. It is high end and exclusive. The brand is as much a cultural icon as it is a clothing company. But, if we delve below the surface and examine it’s origins, we will soon discover that it is a brand with a reprehensible past.
A staple in high fashion for nearly a century, Hugo Boss founded the eponymous brand in 1923, amidst a changing social and political landscape. Based in Metzingen, Germany, the company started from humble beginnings, but faced bankruptcy early on due to economic downturn.
Rebuilding his brand with only six sewing machines and a bail out from his creditors, Boss joined the Nazi Party in 1931.
Boss’s status as a member of the Nazi Party boosted his profits dramatically, lifting the brand from financial uncertainty to the prosperous trader we know today. Boss himself became a valued contributor to the party, with monthly donations to the Nazis’ paramilitary wing. It was this involvement with politics which bolstered the company to become a primary manufacturer of Nazi uniforms. By World War Two, manufacturing outfits for the German armed forces became the companies main purpose.
Historians note that in order to keep up with the demands of product supply, the company exploited the work of somewhere between 150 slaves and 40 prisoners of war. All mostly women.
Boss’s collaboration with the Nazi party continued until the end of the war, after which he was charged with being both an ‘activist’ and a ‘supporter and beneficiary of National Socialism’. As a consequence, he was stripped of his voting rights, his capacity to run a business and received a fine of 70 thousand USD, which is the equivalent of nearly 1 million USD today.
Boss died shortly after in 1948, but the brand lived on. The company was taken over by Boss’ son-in-law Eugen Holy and the framework for the brand we know today began. in 1950, the company received it’s first order for men’s suits and thus the legacy was reborn.
Of course, Hugo Boss has come a long way from its detestable roots, so does it’s history even matter?
The brand certainly has no signifiers of anti semitic or fascist ideologies in it’s modern image. In fact, the core pillars which they hold themselves to are quality, innovation and responsibility. Additionally, they have been closely involved in charities which promote education and support in underdeveloped regions.
But when it comes to multi-million dollar companies, context always matters. Boss was again on the verge of bankruptcy before the Nazi party propelled the brand into the mainstream. The longevity of the brand is entirely owed to the Nazi party, and it is this bolstering which has allowed the Boss family to profit for nearly a century.
Aside from releasing an apology in 2011, the brand has stayed largely quiet about its stained history. Nowhere on it’s website does it make mention to it’s dark past, or apologise for the atrocities committed in regards to forced labor. Instead, the brand has largely tried to sweep the issue under the rug and effectively hoodwink their consumers.
The brand has stayed largely clear of controversies in the wake of its Nazi inception, but in 2019 it featured in the news for the wrong reasons. It had emerged that Hugo Boss had objected to the Trademarked application of ‘Boss Brewing’, a small brewing company from England. The craft brewery, run by a husband and wife team, received a cease and desist letter from the multi-million dollar fashion brand.
Ultimately, the brewing company lost their bid to keep their name- which only shared the commonly used term ‘Boss’ with the fashion conglomerate- and lost an estimate 30 thousand pounds in legal fees and rebranding.
In protest, comedian Joe Lycett legally changed his name to Hugo Boss in a smear campaign directed at shaming the fashion company into either allowing the brewery to use the generic term Boss, or to provide compensation for the money the small business lost.
While the fashion brand acknowledged Lycett’s name change and welcomed him “as a member of the Hugo Boss family”, they did not acknowledge either of the comedians objectives in regards to Boss Brewing.
The Hugo Boss Brand has put a lot of effort into distancing itself from it’s Nazi ties, but it’s ‘core’ ideologies of support and responsibility still appear to be lacking in the companies modern-day actions. In order for the brand to move on ethically, it must conclusively address it’s murky past and furthermore act out its progressive ideologies, rather than just preach them.
Subscribe to FIB’s Weekly Alchemy Report for your weekly dose of music, fashion and pop culture news!