Designer fashion houses and labels tend to cultivate a persona which is aloof and elegant. They want to be seen as an entity about it all – offering fashion that transcends daily life. Many fashion brands have been around for generations, only getting stronger with each new designer that becomes the creative head. That doesn’t mean, however, that they aren’t run by human beings. They very much are, and where humanity is involved, there’s always a chance of something going terribly wrong.
That’s why these designer brands have big dirty secrets hiding in their closets. They don’t like for those secrets to come to the forefront, and that’s why everything is often glossed over with the sheen of high fashion glitz and glamour. Under the surface, though, those stories are still lurking – and there are plenty of people who still remember what really happened.
Some of these brands have made ethical mistakes with their sourcing and the creation of their clothes. In some cases, it’s the brand’s founder or a member of the executive management who was caught out doing something they shouldn’t have been. In other cases, it’s their dubious connections with shady political parties that have left them red-faced. Whether they are dissing their customers, talking down to celebrities, or being forced into public apologies for how they do business, these brands all wish you didn’t know what we are about to reveal.
These are 15 designer brands with the biggest dirty secrets of all time – and you won’t expect what’s coming up.
15. Coco Chanel Dated A Nazi Officer
In World War II, the fashion industry experienced a bit of a shut-down. The major fashion houses of France, the UK, and Italy had more important things to worry about – and had lost most of their workers, besides. Chanel had already gone through the economic troubles of the 1930s and decided to shut down her company when the war broke out. Living in a German-occupied area of France, she managed to obtain special permission to stay in her Hotel Ritz apartment. Why? Probably because she was romantically involved with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German military officer. Many have speculated that she may have been a Nazi collaborator or even a spy. She was cleared after interrogation. Many suspect, however, that her friend Winston Churchill was instrumental in clearing his name behind the scenes. Though she did not face charges, many viewed her as having betrayed her country, and she was forced to leave Paris for some time. She did not return to the world of fashion until she was 70 years old.
14. John Galliano Is Racist AF
John Galliano was at one time the designer behind Dior, until an incident in February 2011 lead to him being dropped by the label. He drunkenly rowed with a couple at a café – a Jewish woman and her Asian boyfriend. He said things like “Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead”, “I love Hitler… People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers would all be fucking gassed”, and “Asian bastard, I will kill you”. That’s when videos surfaced of him praising Hitler in another incident, and more victims spoke up about his verbal racist attacks. He was also sacked from his own namesake label which just happened to be owned by Dior at a rate of 91%. He eventually appeared in court and was sentenced, though not jailed. He is now back working in the fashion industry after the briefest of absences, working for Maison Margiela as their creative director.
13. Designers And The Cruellest Fur In The World *This Might Offend Some Readers
Karakul lambskin is known as the cruellest type of fur produced in the world. The problem lies in the way that it is harvested. As the name suggests, only lambs are used in the production as they have the softest fur, before it develops into a more woolly texture. The lambs are killed when they are either still in the womb or within a few days after they have been born. Often, the mother is also slaughtered in order to get to the lamb inside her. The baby is skinned right away. As with many animals used in the fur industry, it is normally considered too expensive to administer anaesthetic or even to kill the lamb before it is skinned alive. Of course, that kind of treatment might damage the fur. Some of the brands who have been caught using this fur include Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Armani, Prada, and Dolce and Gabbana.
12. Abercrombie & Fitch Fat-Shamed Their Customers
The CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries, got the brand into hot water in 2013. Strangely enough, he actually made comments in an interview in 2006 which only really picked up press attention in 2013. He had said that the company didn’t want ugly, fat, uncool, or un-American people wearing their clothes. He also used the word ‘kids’ to describe his customers, which implies that only teens are supposed to be shopping at their stores. He got into a lot of trouble for these comments, which many saw as hugely disparaging to the average customer. While it’s easy to imagine a couturier only wanting the richest, hottest, and most famous people in their clothes, when it’s more of a high street designer, that attitude just doesn’t work. Still, Abercrombie & Fitch seem to have brushed the incident under the rug, and don’t seem to have suffered any long-term consequences.
11. Patrizia Gucci Ordered The Murder Of Her Husband
Guccio Gucci was the founder of Gucci and the original fashion designer behind it, and he made his descendants very wealthy indeed. His grandson, Maurizio Gucci, ended up becoming head of the fashion house until 1993. That’s when he sold his stock to Investcorp for $170 million. Unfortunately, he could only enjoy the proceeds for a year and a half. He had left his wife Patrizia for another woman and then divorced her in 1991, but clearly she still held a grudge over it. She hired a hitman to shoot and kill him on the steps of his office as he was going in to work on September 23, 1995. She was arrested in 1997 over the killing and was convicted a year later. She was given a sentence of 29 years in prison. She has been given the chance to move to an open prison, but refused – stating, “I’ve never worked in my life and I’m certainly not going to start now”.
10. Urban Outfitters Just Has The Poorest Taste
Urban Outfitters has got into trouble more than once for the dodgy decisions they make towards selling certain items of clothing. One item that ended up getting pulled from the store was a blanket tapestry which had pink triangles placed over grey and white stripes. The problem? It closely resembled the uniform that gay prisoners were forced to wear in concentration camps, which outraged LGBTQ+ shoppers. Back in 2014 they also courted controversy with their Kent State sweatshirts that were spattered with blood and bullet holes. This was a reference to the deaths of four students at the university back in 1970. There can’t really be any poorer taste than inciting your fans to dress up like Holocaust prisoners and school shooting victims. Once the clothes were dropped from their line, however, it seems that everything was forgotten once more. These brands really have the knack of using PR to put scandals behind them quickly.
9. Dolce & Gabbana Don’t Believe In IVF
Domenico Dolce is one half of the design duo known as Dolce & Gabbana. He once made comments to an Italian magazine which angered many of his fans. He said that children who are conceived through IVF are merely “synthetic children”. The highest-profile reaction to this came from Elton John, who of course has two children conceived via IVF with his partner David Furnish. He went straight onto Twitter and called for a boycott of the brand. He said, “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic.’”. Now that some time has passed by, many people do not recall this incident when going shopping or watching their fashion shows. The brand seems to have gotten away with the incident, though it’s not clear whether Elton John has forgiven them or started to wear their clothes again yet. If they were to make those comments again now, it’s likely that more of a furore would be raised.
8. Hugo Boss Designed For The Nazi Party
There’s a persistent myth that Hugo Boss designed the iconic Nazi uniforms. It isn’t exactly true – it’s a very simplified version of events – but the Boss label certainly had its origin in the party’s past. Hugo Boss opened his first clothing factory in 1924 after World War I. One of his first big clients was a textiles distributor who wanted him to make brown shirts for the National Socialist Party. History buffs will know that this is what the Nazi party was known as before Hitler took them to power. Boss later provided the uniforms for the SS, the Hitler Youth, and the Brownshirts. Things got even more shameful during WWII, when Boss resorted to using forced labour from concentration camps in his workshops. Hygiene conditions were very poor, food was insufficient, working hours were long, and the workers were not even allowed healthcare or shelter during raids. Boss himself was a registered member of the Nazi party.
7. Karl Lagerfeld Fat-Shamed Adele
Another incident of fat-shaming in the fashion industry would perhaps not come as a surprise to those who know the industry from the inside. Obsessed with making women look smaller, fashion houses and agencies often put so much pressure on models to stay thin that they end up with eating disorders or health issues. Lagerfeld reinforced this position when he said in an interview that “nobody wants to see curvy women on the runway,” and that Adele was “a little too fat.” He has never really taken his comments back, and later said of the controversy, “But after that she lost eight kilo, so I think the message was not that bad.”. Lagerfeld is known for his own brand, but is also the creative director behind Chanel as well as Fendi. He also uses fur in his collections despite not wearing it himself and abstaining from eating all but a little meat.
6. Victoria’s Secret Uses Child Labour And Sweatshops
A lot of brands came under fire when the collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh claimed the lives of workers crammed into the unstable condition. As a result, a spotlight was shone on brands and where their clothing was made. It turns out that factory workers for Victoria’s Secret in Jordan were being forced to do five or more hours of overtime a day, with no extra pay. They were also slapped or beaten if their work was not up to scratch. If that was not bad enough, it was later revealed that their cotton was picked by children in Burkina Faso. This is the material that makes up their lingerie. Of course, both operations have such been shut down, but that’s no guarantee that their new suppliers are not exactly the same. This is a big problem for high street brands too, as the cheaper products are often made at a low cost in sweatshops with labourers paid hardly anything for their work.
5. Karl Lagerfeld And Yves Saint Laurent’s Secret Rivalry
In 2006, Alicia Drake published an expose called The Beautiful Fall – Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris. It was the passages about Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent that caught the eye of most. While industry insiders were already aware about their long-standing rivalry, members of the public had no idea what it was all about. The book spilled the beans: they had been fighting over a man during the 1970s. Jacques de Bascher was a nobleman who was attractive enough to catch the eyes of both designers, each of whom wanted him for themselves. Their bitter rivalry came to a head when Karl Lagerfeld ended up claiming Jacques’ heart. Sadly for him, it was not to last. Jacques became another victim of the AIDS epidemic, dying in 1989. Funnily enough, Yves and Karl are often mentioned in the same breath as the most influential and important designers of the second half of the 20th century.
4. Anand Jon Is A Rapist
Anand Jon was once a rising name in fashion. He graduated the from Parsons The New School of Design under the mentorship of Tim Gunn, and debuted his first collection in 1999. He was given help by Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani, amongst others. He even appeared on America’s Next Top Model. One of the muses that walked his runway before being catapulted into fame was none other than Ivanka Trump. It all came crashing down in 2007 when he was arrested in California on rape charges. He was convicted on one count of rape of an adult woman, unlawful conduct, and contributing to delinquency of minors (though he was accused of raping many models, most of them underage). In 2009, he was given a sentence of 59 years to life. He has protested his innocence and asked for a retrial on grounds of false evidence, but this was never granted.
3. Yves Saint Laurent Was An Alcoholic With A Cocaine Addiction
Yves Saint Laurent may have been a fashion guru, but he certainly wasn’t the kind of person whose life you would want to emulate. The designer was once even reported as dead, so poor was his health in 1977 when he was taken off to rehab. His cocaine and alcohol addictions, as well as his naturally nervous and high-strung state, were almost the death of him. In the same year, he shocked the world by bringing out a new perfume called Opium – tongue-in-cheek dig at his own health problems. The tagline for the perfume read “Opium, for those who are addicted to Yves Saint Laurent”. Addiction certainly isn’t funny, and neither is poor health brought on by drug use, but Yves seemed to think so. So did his fans, considering that the brand is still going strong today. Oddly, he managed to survive his brutal treatment of his own body, only to die of brain cancer at age 71 in 2008.
2. Halston Was A Party Animal Like No Other
Known simply as Halston for his eponymous line, Roy Halston Frowick was a legendary designer in the 1970s. His brand still continues today and even experienced something of a resurgence, despite his death in 1990. There have been plenty of ups and downs in the brand’s history, but his own life was far more dramatic. There are countless stories of the parties that used to go down at his house, which normally included orgies as well as lines of cocaine distributed amongst the guests. To make matters even more scandalous, he employed an Arab houseboy to serve the lines. Funnily enough, despite all of that, it was a deal with J C Penny designed to produce more affordable collections of his clothing that ended up sounding the death knoll for the brand in that era. It was not until years after his death that it was relaunched and became more of a commercial success once more.
1. Gianni Versace Was Murdered
Many people today only know of Donatella Versace as the grossly over-done face of plastic surgery. Any other member of the family behind the brand is less well-known. In the late 1990s, however, Gianni Versace, the original designer and head of the brand, was dominating the news. In 1997, he woke up on the 15th of July in an unusually happy mood. He decided to go to the coffee shop to grab his morning papers, a task that was normally left to his assistant. As he returned home from his walk, a serial killer named Andrew Cunanan stepped out and shot him dead in cold blood. Though we know Cunanan was the perpetrator, we have no idea of his motive. No one can ask, as he shot himself dead after 8 days on the run using the same gun. Niece Allegra Versace was left half of his fashion empire, which she inherited in 2004 when she reached the age of 18.