Outrage at `death camps' pyjama fashion

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An executive of Comme des Garcons, the fashion house, yesterday blamed a "terrible coincidence" for a furore over clothes in a recent Paris show which some critics have likened to the uniforms of Auschwitz victims. The World Jewish Congress has condemned the show and may issue a formal protest tomorrow. In the show, which opened in the Place Vendome on 27 January, two men with shaven heads modelled striped pyjamas bearing numbers. The 50th anniversary of the relief of Auschwitz was on many people's minds.

Interviewed yesterday, the head of Comme des Garcons in Paris, Adrian Joffe, sounded distraught. "We have 80 outfits and it was just the first two in striped pyjamas that have caused the trouble," he said. "It was totally unintentional".

The "coincidence", he said, was the fact that the show opened on the very day on which those who perished in the Holocaust were being commemorated in ceremonies in many countries, including France. "But nobody made the connection," Mr Joffe said. "The theme of the display was simply `sleep'."

The designer, Rei Kawakubo, on the other hand, is more inscrutable. "The meaning is there is no meaning", she is quoted as having said - adding that she had always deeply respected the Jewish people.

Mr Joffe hopes that on hearing a full explanation, the World Jewish Congress will not issue its formal protest tomorrow. But Serge Cwajgenbaum, the Congress's secretary-general for Europe, who viewed the collection on Friday, is known to be concerned about the increasing use by fashion houses of Second World War iconography, including Nazi uniforms, insignia and jackboots.