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Clothier Made Nazi Uniforms

Fashion: Magazine article finds the founder of menswear firm Hugo Boss made SS work clothes and may have used forced labor to do it.

August 15, 1997|ROBIN GIVHAN | THE WASHINGTON POST

The German clothing factory that eventually became the international menswear powerhouse Hugo Boss manufactured Nazi uniforms during World War II and most likely did so using slave labor.

The revelation appeared in the latest issue of the Austrian current affairs magazine Profil. A statement from Hugo Boss AG, which is based in Metzingen, Germany, details and confirms much of the account.

"The clothing factory founded by Mr. Hugo Boss manufactured work clothes and we think SS uniforms as well . . . we're currently trying to find what was going on," said Monika Steilen, spokeswoman for Hugo Boss AG, by phone from headquarters in Germany.

Boss, who died in 1948, founded his family-owned garment business in 1923. The company struggled for a time, fell into bankruptcy, and then, during the war, made the uniforms worn by the German SS, storm troopers, Wehrmacht and Hitler Youth. It's likely that the factory was manned by forced labor, including concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war.

News of the tainted past of Hugo Boss AG, which has a turnover of about $535 million a year, caught 7th Avenue off guard. The industry is slowly absorbing the news and wondering about the possible effect on the company's image and business fortunes.

Such bombshells about German companies are not unusual. BMW used slave labor to repair airplane engines, says Steven Luckert, historian and a curator at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Still, being manufacturer of Nazi uniforms, as opposed to airplane parts or rivets, packs a larger emotional punch, he says.

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