A new way to dress to oppress.
For many years brands like Lonsdale, Fred Perry, and New Balance were the favored brands of right-wing fascists in Europe. The N on sneakers could easily be repurposed to reference Nazism, and the unofficial uniform of a shaved head, bomber jacket, and military boots acted as visual signifiers of group affiliation. But due to brand backlash, and in some cases, the outright banning of certain garments, far right-wingers have been forced to get a little more creative in their sartorial choices. One brand that saw room in the market for a new, Nazi-friendly line was Thor Steinar, a multimillion dollar label run from a small town on the fringes of Berlin, that uses the Nordic imagery and gothic lettering that has become a trademark of the subculture. Though on the surface they may look like Abercrombie & Fitch or Diesel, the company has subtly woven into its designs Nazi references such as a Messerschmitt aircraft and Germanic runes (among others).
Thor Steinar seen at a German rally, courtesy of Der Spiegel online.
For the past decade, Thor Steinar has been synonymous with Germany’s fascist element, but was largely confined to a small, fringe population. But as mentioned on the New Republic’s homepage yesterday, in 2010 Ukrainian activist Pavel Klymenko, who monitors extreme right wing activity in European football culture, started noticing the brand being sported by Kiev’s upper classes. “Previously it had been worn by Ukrainian neo-Nazis who want to show off,” Klymenko told the magazine. “Now it was becoming popular among wealthy people.” The label has even inspired a series of ubiquitous knock-offs. The irony in all this is that Kiev’s only Thor Steinar store, now shuttered, was located in Dream Town, a luxury mall co-owned by a prominent Jewish businessman. Klymenko attributes this situation to ignorance of the line, rather than malicious intent. “It was attracting random customers who didn’t have a clue about the history of the brand.” Thor Steinar appealed to the macho aesthetic of Eastern Europe, and politics had nothing to do with it. Now, with shops extending throughout Central and Eastern Europe, activists are seeing a disturbing rise of Thor Steinar apparel in mainstream fashion. In Moscow alone there are 13 locations.
One of Thor Steinar's popular designs, the allusions to SS insignia obvious.
While Germany explicitly forbids the display of Nazi symbols, Thor Steinar has cleverly pushed these limits. Their logo, an X and two dots that closely resembles an illegal Nazi symbol, was banned by a German court in 2004. The group was able to “win back” their logo 4 years later, emboldened to create T-shirts with more overt slogans like “Ski Heil” or “Desert Fox”—riffs on verboten Third Reich terms. Dispelling any notion that they are not actually a neo-nazi brand, Thor Steinar also rolled out a sub-line called “Nordmark,” named after an infamous Nazi concentration camp and sporting division. Some neo-Nazis themselves are cynical about the line, however. “Thor Steinar has never been obviously political,” says Patrick Schroeder, a prominent German neo-Nazi, “but they knew that if you use Nordic designs, neo-Nazis could be a target group. It was an ice-cold political, economic calculation and it worked out for them.” Though clearly intended for a politicized right wing, often the garment of choice at neo Nazi rallies, they’re now attracting new fans. As The New Republic noted, “In Slovakia, the brand has become popular among metal and hip-hop fans.” The brand’s first London store is, ironically, located in the largely Jewish North Finchley neighborhood. While in recent years the brand’s domination of the market has diminished due to rivals Erik & Sons, Ansgar Aryan, Fourth Time, and Reconquista, it still shares the dubious honor of being the most recognizably pro-Nazi line on the market. “In Germany,” says Berlin-based writer Thomas Rodgers “Thor Steinar’s mainstream appeal is limited by the fact that wearing its clothing in public remains the closest legal equivalent to wearing a swastika.” Though we can’t imagine Thor Steiner being a big hit with the Abercrombie set in the US, a representative for the brand told The Independent the company has registered its trademark in the United States, and is open to the idea of expanding there.