Collaborator or Hero?

The Fashion industry of Paris under Nazi occupation.

When the Germans conquered France in June 1940, they had one clear goal, to make Berlin the world’s capital. They planned to set the longest boulevards in Berlin, and an Arc de Triumph that would make the one in Paris look small, and of course Berlin would be the fashion capital of the world.

To set their plan in motion, the Nazis ordered all Parisian fashion houses to transfer their businesses from Paris to Berlin. The fashion houses had only one option left, to try to convince the Germans to change their minds.

For this mission, Chambre Syndicale president and small fashion house owner Lucien Lelong was sent to Berlin to try and persuade the Germans to change their order. Lelong explained to the Nazis that while the big fashion houses could be moved to Berlin, this action would destroy the entire fashion industry. According to him, all the big fashion houses relied on thousands of workers who served them, starting with button-makers, buckles, dye, and the fabric-dyeing industry. Not all of them could be transferred to Berlin.

The Germans were persuaded, and agreed to leave the French fashion industry in Paris. Throughout the war, German socialite women would come to Paris and purchase the best French fashion with German money, acting like the war ’didn’t exist.

After the war, the French fashion industry was accused of collaborating with the Germans while the French people suffered from a severe shortage of money and food. And there were murmurs that Lelong had been a collaborator. His case came to trial, but he was acquitted. The judge ruled that Lelong had cooperated only minimally with the Nazis to save France’s cultural heritage and its workers’ jobs.

Was Lelong’s agreement with the Nazis an act of collaboration or a heroic rescue of 12,000 jobs during wartime?

After the war, Lucien’s fashion house stopped working, and he is remembered only as the man who saved the Paris fashion industry, or a man who collaborated with the Germans.

During times of war, sometimes the line between collaborator and hero is not so clear.


LUCIEN LELONG SPORTSWEAR By Egidio Scaioni / Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de




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