Top Executives at Fashion Brand Brandy Melville Exposed for Sharing Hitler Memes, Promoting Antisemitism and Racism
Top executives at the Italian fashion and accessories brand Brandy Melville have come under fire for engaging in antisemitic, racist, sexist and other discriminatory behavior, Business Insider has reported.
The outlet obtained screenshots from a text message group chat from 2017 to 2020 called “Brandy Melville gags” that included owner and CEO Stephen Marsan and other top company executives. In the group chat, members shared racist, sexist, and antisemitic jokes, including one photo in which, a former business partner said, Marsan superimposed his face onto the body of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The group members additionally exchanged images mocking Black people and employing pornography, other photos of Hitler, and memes featuring the n-word.
One image Marsan posted in the group featured a woman holding a T-shirt at an angle so that it would spell “Hitler.” Other Holocaust and Nazi references appeared, with Hitler mentioned 24 times in the more than 150 screenshots viewed by Business Insider.
Another image of Hitler featured the text “Premio Nobel per la brace,” which translates to “Nobel Prize for barbecue;” another showed Hitler with the text “Happy New Year My [n-word]; and a separate edited image depicted an emaciated woman in a sash that said “Miss Auschwitz 1943.” A selfie shared by Adriano de Petris, Brandy Melville’s chief technology officer, showed Roberto Tatti — Marsan’s brother-in-law and a Brandy Melville supplier — performing a Nazi salute.
Marsan — who in 1970 founded the brand with his father in Italy — opened the brand’s first North American location in Westwood, California, in 2009. There are now 94 locations worldwide, including 34 in the US, while annual global revenue has surpassed $250 million, according to former executives.
Business Insider also interviewed more than 30 current and former Brandy Melville employees from eight cities, who accused executives of exploiting young women and discriminating against staffers based on race and appearance. Black staffers were allegedly relegated to the stockroom or night shifts only, and a new employee’s pay and hiring was often determined solely by her appearance. Former and current employees also recounted experiences in which executives would buy alcohol for underage staffers; ask them to undress and try on new company clothes in front of male executives; perpetrate sexual assault; and engage in sexual harassment that in one instance turned physical and resulted in rape.
Marsan allegedly called Black people “primitive” and claimed that women were responsible for the world’s problems, said Franco Sorgi, a former owner of 11 Brandy Melville shops in Canada. Sorgi said Marsan further told him he did not want Black or overweight people to buy Brandy Melville clothing because it would damage the brand’s image. Marsan reportedly fired employees that he deemed overweight or unattractive, and also fired Black employees if he thought there were too many working at a given store, according to Luca Rotondo, a former senior vice president.
In April 2017, Yvan Marsan — Stephan’s brother, who works for YYGM, the Swiss company that owns the Brandy Melville trademark — criticized Sorgi about a manager at a Canada store that was too “short and fat” to work for the brand, according to a lawsuit filed by Sorgi. It was also alleged that an executive closed a store in Canada because “the clientele … were ‘ghetto.'”
Bastiat USA, the company headed by Marsan that operates Brandy Melville locations in the United States, denied that it “has ever fired an employee on account of his or her race.”
In August 2020, Sorgi and his business partner, Paolo Simeone, filed a joint suit against Bastiat USA; Rotondo filed his own separate lawsuit. All three former executives claimed they were fired from their positions for refusing to fire employees based on their race and appearance. Bastiat USA has yet to file a defense.
The recent revelations were not the first time that Brandy Melville has been criticized for discriminatory and offensive conduct. In 2019, The Cut fashion and culture website published an article titled “The Secret Shame of Wearing Brandy Melville.” In June 2020, an ex-Brandy Melville employee posted a series of videos on TikTok accusing the brand of racism and fat-shaming, saying that when she worked for the company, “fatphobic” and “racist remarks” were made “all the time.”