Springtime for Bogner: Would Everyone Just Shut Up About Germany Already?

Photographer: Adam Pretty/Bongarts via Getty Images
The 2014 German Olympic uniform.

Thinking about drawing an interesting parallel between Nazis or terrorists and anything else?

Here's a thought: Don't.

Everyone knows that Silicon Valley investing pioneer Tom Perkins got in trouble last month for comparing the backlash against rich Americans to Nazi assaults on Jews in the 1930s.

But do you know what Willy Bogner, the designer who made Germany's uniforms for the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, meant when he called the outfits "an homage to Munich 1972"?

It's OK -- nobody does, and he's not saying, as the Games get started this week. It was at the 1972 Munich Olympics that Palestinian terrorists captured and killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.

Officially, the uniforms are meant to “honor the host country” with a color scheme that evokes Sochi’s beaches, sea, palm trees and snow. But Bogner, Germany's Ralph Lauren, spoke of a "celebratory design inspired by the wonderful atmosphere of the time." A representative of his clothing company confirmed his remarks, made in an interview with the German Press Agency.

A wonderful atmosphere "for whom?" asks photographer Nicolas Kantor. "Certainly not for the Israelis. Maybe it was a wonderful time for terrorism? The outfits do have a retro look -- maybe that's where the homage comes in."

Kantor isn't alone in his confusion among German friends I asked about this. "If these uniforms really are about Munich 1972, Germany's handling of the situation was notoriously terrible," says Mark Schaltuper, an economist. "Their own mistakes led to the firefight that killed the Israeli hostages. I'm not sure it's a great thing to remind everybody about."

Filmmaker Alexa Karolinski is "not convinced most Germans associate the 1972 Olympics with the massacre. They don’t really have associations about it at all anymore. I don’t think Bogner was like, 'Let’s pretend this thing didn’t happen.' ”

Yet months after the interview was published, in October of last year, the remarks have gone largely unnoticed, amid more widespread speculation that the rainbow uniforms are a protest against Russia’s recent anti-gay legislation. They aren't.

Bogner's an interesting guy. Among other exploits, he photographed 007 skiing down those lethal slopes -- in Bogner outfits -- in several of the Bond films. But his spacey "homage to Munich" appears to be a nebula of mixed meanings and Olympian insensitivity, at the least. Back here on Earth, his jackets are available for sale at 1,499 euros, or just over $2,000. A different kind of crazy, maybe.

"There’s one redeeming part of this rainbow fallout," says Eva Munz, a journalist. "I’ve heard many gays applauding Bogner's designs as a provocative gesture towards the allegedly homophobic [Russian president] Vladimir Putin. Bogner should be happy about the misinterpretation."

Karolinski says she hopes people do interpret the costumes as an expression of gay pride. If the Germans "were the ones who weren’t allowed to participate because someone thought they were homosexual," she says, "Germany could come full circle."

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