18 September 1983

Thoughts on ISP Topic "Nazism, Neo Liberalism, Hegemonic Fashion and the Use of Highly Tailored Garments to Aestheticize Supremacy and Spread the Message of a Movement"

Fascism is very much concerned with issues of aesthetics and beauty. Susan Sontag, in her essay, “Fascinating Fascism,” reviews the work of actress turned filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and her role in support of Nazi propaganda. Riefenstahl once remarked, “I can simply say that I feel spontaneously attracted by everything that is beautiful. Yes: beauty, harmony. And perhaps this care for composition, this aspiration to form is in effect something very German. But I don’t know these things myself, exactly. It comes from the unconscious and not from my knowledge…. What do you want me to add? Whatever is purely realistic, slice-of-life, what is average, quotidian, doesn’t interest me…. I am fascinated by what is beautiful, strong, healthy, what is living. I seek harmony. When harmony is produced I am happy” (Sontag, 2)

In a review of Frederic Spott’s Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, the reviewer remarks, “Our reflex may be to protect the aesthetic realm from the ugliness and barbarism committed in its name. But without recognizing the central role aesthetics actually played in the Nazis’ murderous regime, we ignore the basic historical fact at the heart of Spotts’s book: Art, beauty and aesthetics were not benign byproducts of the Nazi Reich, but part and parcel of its malevolent logic.” This impulse to protect supremacist aesthetics is pervasive throughout the fashion industry, both in the general sense of Eurocentric silhouettes embraced by the majority of fashion consumers as superior and in the more specific sense of Nazi sympathizing fashion brands remaining in business and popularity to this present day. German brand Hugo Boss is well known for designing the highly tailored monochromatic officer uniforms, while French designer Coco Chanel provided her personal services to the officers in the Nazi party.  The reviewer of the Frederic Spotts text continues, “Beauty and terror, aesthetics and power, may not only be paired after the historical fact but might now be regarded as historical forces that also drive events as they actually unfold.” (Young, Forward.com). If beauty and terror have the power to drive historical forces for destructive social change, then they certain can be reverse engineered to support positive social change.
Sontag, Susan. “Fascinating Fascism.” February 6, 1975. The New York Review of Books. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1975/feb/06/fascinating-fascism/

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