Berlin is chic. And as it turns out, traces of its style, culture, and history can be found all over the globe. Along with the pieces of the Berlin Wall that have been sold to amusement parks and museums around the world (Montréal has a piece at the Centre de Commerce Mondial), Berlin culture and fashion is beginning to transcend borders. Having established various “locationalities” of Berlin fashion in cultural establishments such as film, photography, music, museums, and fashion shows, I could not help but notice how far Berliner Chic stretches.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent post-Cold-War global mobility, people transcended global borders on an unprecedented scale (“across distances that make the journeys of Visigoths look like a Sunday stroll” (Randall Halle, German Film After Germany: Toward a Transnational Aesthetic, 2008, p.134), and with them, their clothes, cultural artefacts, and, inevitably, personal histories. “Culture is about contact and exchange” (Halle 20). The Berliner Chic phenomenon is becoming somewhat of a global culture.
This summer I uncovered a treasury of German and Austrian fashion, as well as many Berlin-designed clothes and artefacts collected by a Vancouver-based, Canadian fashion collector and historian, Claus Jahnke. Having visited the archives, costume libraries, warehouses, and vaults of Berlin museums that have been collecting and exhibiting fashion for decades, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a rich and important collection on my home turf, in Vancouver.
His collection, that rivals the Berlin Stadtmuseum fashion collection (featured in Christine Waidenschlager’s Berliner Chic fashion exhibition, currently not on display, but stored in a warehouse in Spandau) and coveted by the fashion departments of Berlin museums, is a rare and rich plethora of personal histories of cities and clothes. Jahnke’s collection is as yet undocumented and deserves to be mentioned, considering what implications his findings have, not only for the collections housed in Berlin museums, but also on the phenomena of fashion’s migration.
As I discovered, Berlin-made fashion articles turn up in vintage shops across North America (from Victoria, British Columbia to antique rows in New Hampshire). Jahnke tracks them down, buys them, researches their manufacturing history, the history of their owners, as well as the cultural history around the people, places and clothes.
Jahnke lends his collection pieces to various museum exhibitions and photo shoots. In 1998 he co-curated the Broken Threads exhibition at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center. The exhibition detailed the history of the destruction of Jewish fashion and manufacturing industry in Germany and Austria. The exhibition catalog, illustrated with ample photographs and fashion plates from the Jahnke’s collection, explores this little-known yet fascinating part of fashion history. Much of Jahnke’s collection comes from leading Jewish-owned couture houses in Berlin and Vienna, closed during the Second World War. In preparing the exhibition, Claus Jahnke worked in association with Vancouver’s Original Costume Museum Society and the curatorial assistance of Ivan Sayers.
Currently, three pieces from his collection are on display at the Modern Woman exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, including a turn-of-the-century corset from Hamburg. Jahnke also lent articles from his collection for a photo shoot by Jeff Wall.