Extremist Symbolism in Fashion - a Cultural Statement or Unacceptable? You Decide...

02/10/2012 17:07 BST | Updated 02/12/2012 10:12 GMT

You may remember a case in 2007 where high street chain Zara was forced to withdraw stocks of handbags because they were emblazoned with swastikas? It turned out the bags were manufactured in Asia and that the inclusion of the taboo symbol was a mere cultural misunderstanding. Back to current day 2012, again Nazi associated imagery is permeating into mainstream fashion, only this time it is not the swastika which has somehow made its way into the popular fashion world (a symbol with many different cultural and religious meanings), it is a symbol more specifically associated with the Nazi Party than the swastika, the Parteiadler - The Nazi Party eagle.

The label daring enough to use the eagle? A once little known brand called Boy London which has stormed the urban fashion world. My fashionista friends reliably inform me that Boy London was established in 1977 by Stephane Raynor, a punk inspired clothing brand which describes itself as "the uniform of choice for every youth movement that has mattered" and served as chief rival to Vivienne Westwood's 'Seditionaries' boutique during the punk heyday. Boy is an unmistakably underground brand (which explains why I had never heard of it until its recent emergence into the mainstream after many decades in relative obscurity).

Erroneously the brand describes itself as hitting a high point in the 1980s stating it "quickly became the most iconic and talked about label on the planet" (considering neither the brand nor its creator have a Wikipedia page, which we all know is the REAL determinant of who's who, I'm sceptical of this self-description). The brand's arrogance aside, it is the use of Nazi symbolism in the company and fashion branding which surprised me.

The brand makes use of in many of its designs the Nazi Parteiadler, the Nazi Party Eagle. Distinguished from the eagle which represents the German nation and the Roman Eagle which inspired the design, this distinctly left facing and acutely proportioned eagle is the instantly recognisable symbol designed by Adolf Hitler himself and represents not only Nazi ideology, but the grim historical legacies that go with it. The meaning and legacy of this symbol however, seems to have eluded many consumers.

There is no doubt that Boy is aware of the symbol's origins, my same fashionista friends inform me that the boutique originally ran a silk screen print of the Fuhrer's portrait back in the 1970s and it is not the only punk inspired brand to utilise fascist symbols. But of the tens of friends and acquaintances whom I have questioned about their decision to wear the symbol, all but one had no idea what the symbol was.

2012-05-12-neweagle.png Compare the Nazi Party Parteiadler (top) with Boy London's use of the eagle in it's logo (bottom)

Rihanna and Jessie J are but a few of the most prominent celebrities seen wearing the resurgent symbol, with Rihanna appearing on British television clad head to foot in the eagle. One questions whether if she knew what she was actually wearing, would she really be comfortable wearing it? The same goes for the increasing popularity of the brand among gay men, would they really be content wearing these clothes knowing its association with Nazi ideology?

Nazi, fascist and extremist symbolism in fashion are not new things, but this is 2012. Boy has been flung from the underground into the mainstream and therefore must accept the social responsibilities of being in the mainstream. Boy's modern consumers, unlike their 1970s counterparts who knew the connotations of the symbol they wore and who wore it as a cultural statement, are seemingly unaware of the history that this symbol carries, Even Selfridge's, a prominent retailer of the brand has incorporated the logo into its advertising campaigns

Personally I disagree with the continental laws which ban such imagery outright, for me that is an affront to true liberty. There is no doubt however that a problem exists when the history behind such a symbol is forgotten. Is this a cultural statement? I think not. Is it unacceptable? Perhaps, but the right to be offensive is a fundamental one. Should anything be done? You decide...