Swastika Chic

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

I guess we have our Zoolander Award winner! Steven Heller reports on some new efforts to reclaim the swastika as a fashion symbol:

[Sinjun] Wessin, a native of Joplin, Missouri, who attended The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, has been creating fashion since he was in high school 15 years ago, starting with a clothing line called Hybrid Imagery—a fusion of spiritual designs and streetwear with “positive messages.” Currently, he designs for a company creating graphics for t-shirts, leggings, tops, hoodies, etc. “I’ve always been fascinated with t-shirt graphics as they can be a blank canvas for unlimited creativity,” he says.

His goal in using the swastika in a lighthearted way is to tap into its ancient meaning. He hopes that his “donut swazi,” a graphic creation that is related to an Indian pastry in the shape of a swastika, inspires people to learn more about the history as a symbol of good luck and happy eternity. The donut design is an amalgam of swastikas from Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Greek, and other global iterations.

“If the hate is taken away from the symbol by energizing its positive side, then we take away power from the people who want to use it in a hateful way,” Wessin says. “If we don’t do anything and just leave it as negative, then we still let hate win.”

Haters are, no doubt, gonna hate. But is it really so terrible if that hatred is directed at swastikas? At provoca-hipsters wearing swastika sweatshirts? That’s also Heller’s own stance: “In my own book …, Swastika, Symbol Beyond Redemption?, I challenge the view that it can or even should be entirely reclaimed.” While I have not written a book on why it’s maybe not the best idea to hit the gym in swastika leggings, I did once write a blog post about the inadvisability of swastika earrings. One does not need to have deeply investigated this issue to see why such a look is textbook hipster racism. It’s sartorial equivalent of a certain recently-mentioned Thought Catalog essay. (Super adorbs, nein?, that the release party for this swastika fashion was, according to the above YouTube video, held somewhere called “Haus of Love.”)

And before someone jumps in with the obvious: Clearly this is not a discussion of uses of swastikas/swastika-like symbols in other cultures. When I was in Japan, I didn’t become outraged upon seeing the Japanese map symbol for a temple. Clearly the question refers to parts of the world where its immediate association is with Nazism.

When it comes to reclaiming highly-charged negative words, symbols, anything, this sort of has to come from the victimized party. If Jews, along with gays, Roma, and others for whom Nazism was an extra-unpleasant interlude, decided, en masse, that the time had come, fine. If, however, this is a ‘movement’ consisting of a handful of people trying to make a few dollars off offensiveness chic, it’s a bit of a joke that this is about reclaiming anything.