S.Wert Design began with a research project of Fernsehturm graphics in 2001, which turned into the book publication Von der Partei zur Party 1969-2003 – Der Berliner Fernsehturm als grafisches Symbol (2003), by Dirk Berger, Ingo Müller, and Sandra Siewert.
I met with the Swiss graphic designer and architect by training, Sandra Siewert, who came to Berlin in 1992 from Basel, and has been translating Berlin’s surfaces and façades into her graphic designs. After researching her work, visiting her store, and writing about it in our Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion (Intellect 2011), I had a chance to sit down with Sandra in person and learn more about the story of S.Wert and Stadkluft. Susan and I dedicated Berliner Chic to the women of Berlin, and Sandra Siewert and Claudine Brignot were among the few we singled out. Here is why:
Even before the Fernsehturm became the now-popular symbol of reunified Berlin, before the publishing houses realized the best-selling potential of Berlin urban and architectural history, Sandra and Dirk founded S.Wert with their own publication. The book documents the history of the Fernsehturm in different graphics published in the GDR, and simultaneously traces the history of life in East-Berlin, with the ever present tower accompanying its citizens from the first school day, to weddings, to anniversaries and state celebrations. Well researched and documented, the book became a best-selling homage to the city and its tallest structure, and a history told in images, postcards, graphics, and advertising.
In 2004, came the wrapping paper project “Ruhesitz am Zoo” (“rest near the Zoo” named after a home for elderly people located next to Berlin Zoologischer Garten, the former center of West-Berlin), showing four decades of architecture around Bahnhof Zoo. The “journey” starts in the 1950s – the time of building and rebuilding the city after the war and ends in the 80s – before the wall came down and East-Berlin was attracting more people than the former center of West-Berlin.
In 2005, Bahnhof Zoo, once a key arrival point in West-Berlin was demoted to a regional train station, and practically fell into slumber. Today, the Zoo area is a construction site, revamping and gentrifying the former West-Berlin structures and buildings, and adding some new skyscrapers that resemble Potsdamer Platz. The former DOB fashion headquarters were housed in the Bikini House – which stood empty for decades, and is now under renovation to become part of new shopping and condo complex.
After that, S.Wert began to work with textiles, creating the Angry Children pillow collection – homage to the erasure of Berlin post-war modernist facades. Sandra began working with various textile print techniques. It turned out to be a challenge to find textile manufacturers that still remained in Germany (most textile production has been moved to Asia in the 1990s), and who were interested in collaborating on smaller textile print orders.
In 2006, a friend introduced Sandra to Claudine Brignot (also from Basel) – thus began a collaboration on a fashion collection entitled Stadtkluft (first presented in Tokyo). Both Sandra’s pillow design and Claudine’s dresses featured similar motifs of the city. In Stadkluft, Sandra’s urban graphic design and Claudine’s fashion design came together. Since then, they collaborate on one collection per year, singling out different cities. The next collection features Barcelona.
Since 2008, S.Wert Shop is located in Brunnenstr. 191 in Mitte, U-Rosenthaler Platz. This is where I first came across the designer’s work and then wrote about them in our last chapter of Berliner Chic (2011). Claudine’s Urban Speed fashion atelier and shop is located nearby in Gipsstr. 7 (also near U-Rosenthaler Platz).
Next came a collection of curtains that featured city motifs, the most popular and best-selling design pattern being the street lamps, with the poetic name “City Flowers.” Sandra and Dirk think of themselves as story-tellers as much as a creative design team. Fascinated by the constructed environments of Berlin, they tell the stories of the city, its buildings (forgotten and newly constructed), and the changes that take place.
In summer 2010, began the collaboration with fashion designer Barbara Gebhardt (originally from Munich), who moved to Berlin for fashion school and founded her label NIX in 1990. Since 2010, NIX uses Sandra’s fabrics in her fashion designs.
Regular patrons are mostly local Berliner and ex-Berliners because most tourists don’t really get the conceptual layering of meaning behind S.Wert design, they don’t have the background knowledge of the architectural and social transformations in Berlin, they look for more recognizable symbols and images of Berlin. S.Wert Design is an original Berlin brand that requires a certain amount of insider knowledge of Berlin, a certain relationship and engagement with the city. Those who discover it and understand its multi-layered and intricate web of significations and symbols bring their friends to the store and show them around, and explain the symbols to them.
S.Wert presented their collections multiple times at Premium, but as of last year they no longer accept smaller Berlin labels, and only deal with large trademarks. Culturally, this is counterproductive and stifles Berlin creativity, since undiscovered, new, and young designs are no longer show-cased.
Currently, the designers are working on the ICC calendar project for 2012 – Berlin’s International Congress Center is closing for renovations and asbestos removal. One of the most expensive buildings ever built in West-Berlin, the futuristic structure looks like a space station out of Star Wars. The calendar is Sandra and Dirk’s homage to the building.