The presentation by comedian Russell Brand at the GQ Awards in London (at which he was receiving the “Oracle Award”) has been making waves for his statements about designer Hugo Boss: “if any of you know a little bit about history and fashion, you’ll know Hugo Boss made the uniforms for the Nazis.” Adding that the Nazis “did look f*’ing fantastic, lets face it, while they were killing people on the basis of their religion and sexuality.”
Brand’s comments are supported by the historical record, largely based on a study and resultant book (available only in German) which the company funded. An abridged version in English of the study of the history of Hugo Boss is available through the company itself, including its use of “forced labor,” a practice for which it apologized. A 2011 BBC article has an especially good discussion of the apology, book, and controversies.
Forced labor in garment factories did not end with World War II, however, and perhaps Brand could have made links to current conditions such as the 2013 Bangladesh factory fire and the possibility of requiring labels to certify clothes are “sweat-free.”
But Brand has made other links, arguing in a column in The Guardian that:
The jokes about Hugo Boss were not intended to herald a campaign to destroy them, they’re not Monsanto or Halliburton, the contemporary corporate allies of modern-day fascism; they are, I thought, an irrelevant menswear supplier with a double-dodgy history. The evening though provided an interesting opportunity to see how power structures preserve their agenda, even in a chintzy microcosm.
He then goes on to ask questions about politicians, political influence of corporations, surveillance, fracking, and the meaning of “glamour and glitz.”