Berlin Fashion Week
21 August, 2014

A blend of coolness and Elegance, Perret Schaad.

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© Getty Images

Quo vadis, Berlin Fashion Week? Some believe you to be in crisis, others are happy that some substance is at last to be seen. Let’s just call it ‘change’. 

By Joachim Schirrmacher

Fashion in Germany used to involve large businesses: Hugo Boss, Esprit, Steilmann. No-one spoke about designers – even Jil Sander and Wolfgang Joop were peripheral figures. That situation has changed fundamentally. Despite significantly lower visitor numbers at the latest Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and despite the announcement of Bread & Butter’s partial move to Barcelona, a core of designers has been building up in Berlin for some years who have now rocked fashion week: Hien Le, Vladimir Karaleev, Perret Schaad, Michael Sontag, Augustin Teboul and Dawid Tomaszewski, not to mention Dorothee Schumacher.

Refined and realistic?
And the next generation is also impressive, if the winners of the European Fashion Awards, FASH, are anything to go by. The recipient of numerous other awards in the textile industry, Tim Labenda (FASH 2013) is among “the best of German design talent”. And the collection of Ioana Ciolacu (FASH 2011) as ‘Designer for Tomorrow’ was, for Elle, one of the highlights of the fashion week.
All of them, young or old, are changing and developing from season to season. Theirs is no ego show but one that concentrates on the product. Their designs are refined and realistic. With their own unmistakeable styles they offer a combination of personality, quality and wearable fashion. In doing so, they embody the alternative to mass fashion that the trade is looking for.
Vertical and virtual
The Berlin designers are encountering a fundamental shift. Competitive advantage is to be found today in business models more than in fashion. New young companies such as Brand4Friends, eBay, HSE24, the Otto subsidiary Collins, and Zalando, shaped by their start-up culture, are playing to entirely new rules. They are more like publishers – they are reacting rapidly to the massive shift in customer interest from mass-produced goods to small cutting-edge ranges, with designers such as Malaika Raiss, C’est tout and Tim Labenda launching collections.
They have opened design bureaus in Berlin whose employees bring expertise from Zara, Mango, H&M and Topshop to the German capital. Why weigh yourself down with cumbersome structures? Like Hugo Boss, for example: the fashion multinational has just spent EUR 100m on opening a new logistics centre that will, in a few years, allow it to generate 80% of its turnover from its own stores.
Perhaps the future looks rather more like C’est tout, in Berlin’s Linienstrasse. Instead of building their own fashion house, stylist Katja Will and salesman Michael Will work as a virtual business. Together the two of them manage three collections; all other work is outsourced. They sell their C’est tout label to 40 shops, C’est Paris on the German TV shopping channel HSE24, and Ce’nou, designed with Eva Padberg, through eBay.
It could be a recipe for success: a strong story, strong sales partners who bring attention and customers, but with virtual structures that provide the manoeuvrability of a speedboat. It is a clever and powerful combination that makes many other brands look old-fashioned. For not only do they have cumbersome structures but crucially they are losing their charisma: their message is melting away through more and more channels, they are too impersonal and interchangeable, they too often remain mass-produced goods dressed up in marketing.

Believing in themselves
Berlin therefore has a good opportunity to create a culture for itself as a fashion city. What is missing, though, are the structures to provide cohesion. The industry has no think-tank, no body to represent its interests, no Fashion Council. This makes it difficult to establish a timetable that would allow international journalists and buyers to come to Berlin for two days as well as to Milan and Paris. And the bodies that could negotiate with economic and cultural policy-makers, notably at a national level, do not exist.
It also needs more self-confidence. Why does everything always have to be world-class? Even in Paris, New York and Milan, only a few manage that. With a realistic self-belief and steady development, Berlin will create for itself a powerful voice in the world of fashion. The designers are leading the way.Published
Textile Network, September/Oktober 2014, page 18 – 19, with the heading “Substance, at last

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