Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: We've come a long way? Maybe


When porn sells, what does that say about the customers who buy?

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

One thinks many things when one turns on the telly on a random weeknight and sees one's husband dancing with three Playboy bunnies on a penthouse deck at Auckland's Hilton Hotel.

The first thought: Here's me at the same time, feeding three squawking children fish fingers and broccoli.

The second: A man with a Village People-style moustache, three bleach blondes with pendulous mams, and enforced gaiety in the middle of the day - all they need now is someone to mention the plumbing and we'll be straight into The Loin King, or some equally imaginatively titled "adult" movie.

It sure was fun seeing how many fake porno names I could come up with as I watched my husband first interview, then dance with, the three visiting Playboy bunnies, apparently brought to these shores to remind us how sophisticated Hallensteins menswear has become.

But as the bunnies blathered on about how they were standing up for "women's rights" by allowing images of their vaginas to be broadcast to the world, my mind wandered to poor Bendix Hallenstein, the Jewish-German immigrant who founded the menswear chain.

I wondered how he might take his name's association with plastic, peroxide and pudenda.

Hallenstein, the second mayor of Queenstown and a prominent Jewish leader, was, according to The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, a noted philanthropist and an enlightened employer who provided free medicine to his workers until social security was established in 1938, and a devoted family man.

A vocal opponent of sweatshop conditions and a supporter of worker solidarity, he supported the formation of a tailoress' union with these words: "I, for one, would not feel happy to live on the misery of others."

Did he add, "But I couldn't care less if the shareholders of Hallenstein Glasson Holdings one day use the pseudo-feminist products of a multi-national pornography conglomerate peddling a fatuous fantasy to make themselves richer"? Probably not.

What Bendix Hallenstein wasn't to know was that one day his garments would be made offshore, and advertising and marketing would be the only way to differentiate his product. Much in the same way mainstream beer can only be differentiated by how many scantily clad women promote it, inexpensive clothing is only as good as the marketing campaign behind it. And the more offensive to women it is, apparently, the more popular it becomes to the fresh-faced youth of the nation.

Which is sad, not only because Hallensteins' sister company Glassons clothes the nation's teenage girls, but also because 40 per cent of Hallensteins' customer base are hardworking Kiwi women buying the men in their lives socks, shirts and shorts.

It's become passe to do anything other than embrace porn culture and admire Hugh Hefner, with everyone considering him a great visionary, business brain and empowerer of women, rather than a crafty, sleazy old creep.

And so Hallensteins has done nothing, I suppose, but played to its audience. Funny, though, that back in 2004 the then-managing director of Hallenstein Glasson, Cliff Kinraid, told the Herald that blokes who shop at Hallenstein "just want to make sure they don't look like a dick" when they choose clothes.

Perhaps they should be more worried about looking that way as a result of the company's marketing strategy.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton:

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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