The 9th Fashion Week in Berlin (July 5-10, 2011) revealed the new Spring/Summer 2012 collections at a new location on Strasse des 17. Juni, with the main entrance across from the Brandenburg Gate (also known as the Fan-Mile during the World Cup public viewings). The key players of the Berlin fashion scene who were invited to present in the main tent this year included: Michael Michalsky, Michael Sontag, Vladimir Karaleev, Katja Will (C’est Tout), Iris van Herpens, Lala Berlin, Marcel Ostertag, Kaviar Gauche, and others.
Berlin is particularly clever in its approach to mobilizing and capitalizing on fashion. For one whole week in July (and then again in January) the city is transformed into a chic and fashion-oriented playground, cashing in on about 100 million Euros in revenues from hotels, restaurants, taxis, and the fashion boutiques around Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstrasse (according to the article “Fashion Week – Top or Flop?” by Sandra Piske, in Prinz Magazine, July 2011, pp.18-19).
The main critique of the Berlin Fashion Week is its still somewhat provincial status in comparison to Paris, New York, London, and Milan – i.e. the lack of top designers, topmodels, international fashion critics and buyers. Many critics (such as the SPIEGEL Magazine after the January 2011 Fashion Week) have declared Berlin’s attempt to establish itself as a fashion capital as a failure (Vue Berlin, eine Verlagsbeilage von Berliner Zeitung und tip Berlin, Nr. 1, 05.07.2011, p.46).
Yet, the supporters argue that Berlin cannot possibly establish in only four years (since its first Fashion Week in 2007) what Paris, New York, London, and Milan have been establishing organically for decades (Piske, p.18).
Moreover, Berlin’s genius (and this includes the current mayor Klaus Wowereit and his senate) lies in recognizing the power of the cultural industries and in capitalizing on fashion identity formations that simultaneously provide a fertile ground for new, young, avant-garde fashion designers (by allocating a budget that supports new designers who establish their businesses in Berlin) and by attracting more and more capital by way of the culture industry to strengthen the city’s economy.
This type of savvy investment in the construction of a fashion identity is what Montréal-based scholar, Norma M. Rantisi discusses in her article, “The Prospects and Perils of Creating a Viable Fashion Identity” (in Fashion Theory, Vol. 15, Issue 2, 2011, pp.259-266). She points out that “fashion contributes to place-branding,” not to mention the promotion of tourism; “it also contributes to defining the aesthetics of place which in turn, can shape the design and marketing of cultural products”(Rantisi, p.260).
Fashion weeks facilitate a “network of relations,” and the “presence of key industry activities – production, design, marketing and distribution; what is more important, however, is the interaction and coordination between industry actors” (Rantisi, p. 261).
Fashion weeks are an “intermediary institution that can promote relations among actors within the fashion industry and aid in the construction of a fashion identity. It is not coincidental that many emerging centers, e.g. Amsterdam, Berlin, Cork and Oslo, have established their own fashion weeks within the last six years. These shows are deemed critical for promoting local design talent to buyers and to the fashion media” (Rantisi, 263).
Yet the problem in most cities (including Montreal), is a lack of “investment in resources and time needed to develop a localized design tradition” because “fashion is viewed primarily as a medium for place marketing rather than place making. This translates into limited vision of what constitutes a fashion identity and an emphasis on branding initiatives, e.g. the fashion show as a stage rather than genuine intermediary (Rantisi, 266).
Berlin seems to have recognized the importance of localized fashion identity, and is on its way of establishing and developing a strong fashion scene with precisely the networks and relations necessary to become a fashion capital.
Thus the former Adidas-manager, Michael Michalsky calls Berlin “the place to be. The place, where fashion of the 21st century is created. Paris was yesterday.” (quoted in Piske, p.19)
Key locations during Fashion Week included: Radialsystem, a former brick factory building dressed in glass and steel structures, and converted into an event center on the riverbank of what is known as the Mediaspree district. The hip building hosted a fashion trade show, “In Fashion Berlin” (which also takes place in Munich in August, also in a funky building, a former liquor factory on the Praterinsel), composed of international and local designers, new and already established.
The 3rd annual Green Showroom at the Adlon Hotel next to the Brandenburg Gate presented eco-friendly and fair-trade luxury designs in Adlon’s wood-paneled hotel rooms and bathrooms. Each designer presented his or her creations in a separate room. The culmination of the event was a salon show, with a catwalk set up in the hotel. The representatives of Ethical Fashion Show also set up their displays in a separate wing of the hotel to promote and educate about eco-fashion and the upcoming September show during the Paris Fashion Week.
In his welcoming address, printed in the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Magazine, Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, announced: “Right where the Berlin Wall once stood, hip neighborhoods are buzzing with life. The city’s optimism and can-do attitude have inspired talented young people from all over the world. And they come to Berlin to make the most of their opportunities here… Fashion “made in Berlin” has become a trademark in its own right, and Berlin Fashion Week is its most important showcase” (Nr. 12, Spring / Summer 2012, p.5).
Connecting Berlin to its history in light of fashion is a clever way to capitalize on Berlin’s historical and cultural heritage. History and culture promote fashion (they become brands), and in turn, fashion promotes culture (by way of tourism). What becomes apparent from this cultural policy is a strategy to capitalize on culture industries, in a process of what Susan Ingram and I called “branding Berlin” in our last chapter of Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion (2011).
Wowereit also showed a warm welcome to Marc Jacobs, and showed his support for Berlin’s young designers at the “Designer for Tomorrow Award” ceremony held in the main tent. Marc Jacobs was invited to be the honorary patron of the “Designer for Tomorrow by Peek & Cloppenburg Düsseldorf” award. The goal of the award is to support young designers over the course of a longer period of time and to provide them with a platform. For the first time, the competition was advertised in all of the 15 European countries where P&C is represented with retail stores. From a field of 150 contestants, Marc Jacobs chose his top 25 and together with the jury, came up with the top 5. The five finalists received personal coaching from Marc Jacobs in Berlin and presented their collections to a select trade audience in July during Fashion Week. The winner, the 28-year-old graduate of Berlin Weißensee Art School, Alexandra Kiesel, will receive her own fashion show during the January 2012 Berlin Fashion Week.
Parallel to all the events, but especially at the shows organized by the Berlin fashion schools, representatives from the Humanity in Fashion Award provided information about the award competition, under the logo: “I am human. I am Fashion.” Rising designers are invited to participate in the design award for green fashion. The winner will receive a prize of 25,000 euros and an exclusive contract to create a women’s capsule collection for the largest brand of ecological and ethical fashion in Germany, hessnatur. Entry deadline is: September 15, 2011.
The Berlin Weißensee Art School picked a very impressive location for its catwalk: the rooftop of the House of World Cultures (former American congress hall) in the Tiergarten. There were two shows, at 4:30 pm, and at 7:30pm in the golden sun glow, just before sunset. The event, entitled seefashion11 attracted not only the fashion scene experts, but also museum curators and administrators. The show was open to the public (15/10 euros) and was perhaps the most interesting of all the events organized during Fashion Week.
Among the guest professors in the fashion-design program at Weißensee Art School are Clara Leskovar and Doreen Schulz of c.neeon, who not only supervise the graduates as well as the students who are just starting out, but also organized the whole event, including transporting 20 tons of green grass onto the rooftop of the cement structure.
The young designers presented avant-garde, aesthetically and conceptually stunning designs, that ranged from daily wear, to exquisite gowns, to futuristic and filmic costumes and attires. The range was very impressive, and so was the craftsmanship.
It is becoming obvious that Berlin Fashion Week has become increasingly commercial, mainstream, and formulaic. Premium trade show stopped accepting smaller, local Berlin designers to present in their space, and are only fishing for big-name brands. The MBFW main tent is expanding, and every celebrity and even the relatives of celebrities are celebrated by the press as the brightest stars in the fashion galaxy. Yet, at the same time, Berlin Fashion Week provides a platform, space, media attention, and “network of relations” for extraordinarily creative work and shows by young and avant-garde designers that will be taking fashion identity into the future.
One of the most impressive collections was by Weißensee Art School graduating designer Isabel Vollrath, entitled, “Lost and Found in St. Petersburg” (inspired by the designer’s trip there). The combination and interwoven themes of romanticism, nostalgia, classicism, high and low cultures, the old and the new, the conventional and the rebellious, the covered and the revealed, all come to the fore in Vollrath’s designs and sum up how the imaginaries of St. Petersburg can be perceived, interpreted, and mediated.
Last year, within the contest series Berlin – Made to Create, the fashion competition Start Your Fashion Business (SYFB) started to help young designers with getting started in the business. The award and initiative was organized by the Berlin Senate Department for Business, Technology, and Women Initiative (also known as part of the Project Future initiative). The focus of this Senate competition is to honour fashion designers who are planning to start a fashion label in Berlin or have already founded one. The award and its prize money gives three talented Berlin-based designers invaluable start-up capital and coaching in all aspects of their business to help them on their way to independence. This aims to keep talent in Berlin and to strengthen the local infrastructure.
The event was hosted at Römischer Hof, Palazzo Italia, at Unter den Linden, where the three selected finalists presented their collections to the press and a select VIP list of Berlin’s cultural and political elites.
The jury have nominated a number of Berlin labels (10 were short-listed, but only three are picked for the finalists) that presented their collections for Spring/Summer 2012 during Berlin Fashion, and in the last round competed for prize money of up to €25,000. The total allocation is €100,000.
After Michael Sontag, Perret Schaad, and Vladimir Karaleev won last year, this year Augustin Teboul, Hien Le, and Issever Bahri were among the top three. The winner, the duo of Augustin Teboul, got the highest cash prize along with a fashion show slot at Berlin Fashion Week this July, whilst second and third place received smaller money prizes, as well as coachings and workshops.
The jury was comprised of: Christiane Arp/ Nicola Knels (VOGUE Deutschland), Jette Joop, Volker Tietgens (Michalsky Holding GmbH), Alfons Kaiser (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Michael Werner (Textilwirtschaft), Andreas Bissendorf (TCC GmbH/ Kreativ Coaching Center), Anita Tillmann (Premium Exbibitions), Rike Döpp (Agentur V), Karin Leiberg (Sportswear International), Grit Thönnissen (Tagesspiegel), Bettina Homann (Zitty Berlin).
An innovative way to present fashion is the Underground Catwalk at Alexanderplatz, in the train of the U5-Line connecting Alexanderplatz to Kreuzberg. In two separate metro train rides – street couture and U-couture – 20 different labels and designers show appetizers of street-, urban-, sport styles as well as rock couture, gothic, punk, pinup & co.
Approximately 900 invited guests took their seats inside the moving U-Bahn trains to see the catwalks with two differently themed rides. Along with the new collections by Puma, Swatch, and IC! Berlin, there were also several new and experimental labels such Iron Fist, Zuckerschloss, and Elfcraft.
Two European premieres featured designs by Noah Becker, the son of tennis-star Boris Becker, who presented his new label, Fancy, and Abbey Dawn by Avril Lavigne. The Canadian singer chose to launch her new label at the Underground Catwalk and Bread & Butter in Berlin as her European doorway.
Bread and Butter (BBB) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Established in Köln in 2001 by Karl-Heinz Müller (54), it soon moved to Berlin, then to Barcelona, then back to Berlin. What started as a minor off-show for jeans labels, is now the largest trade show for street and urban wear in the world, and takes up the whole area of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin (the last plane took off from Tempelhof on October 31, 2008) (“10 Jahre Bread & Butter” in Vue Berlin, eine Verlagsbeilage von Berliner Zeitung und tip Berlin, Nr. 1, 05.07.2011, pp. 10-14).
For the 10th anniversary, Bread and Butter opened up to the Berlin public for the evening celebrations right on the airfield. The “B&B Night Ticket” granted full access through the airport’s main hall, past the trade show booths set up along the covered plane docks, and into the party area out back on the air field. The historical and monumental location was perhaps the best part of the whole experience.
The gigantic trade show took over the airport where only Allied planes of Britain, France, and US were allowed to land during the Cold War, and where a monument commemorates the famous Berlin Airlift (Platz der Luftbrücke) of 1948; the same airport that was converted into a private airport for private jets after reunification, and is now being used for massive events like the Berlin Summer Rave.
The theme for the BBB anniversary party concept was “Back to the Future” – an attempt to reference (consciously or unconsciously) Berlin’s anarchist, freedom-seeking, empty, un-reconstructed, punk past, while simultaneously looking into its increasingly commercialized present and future. The result had a rather unpleasantly chaotic effect, and could perhaps be described as a nostalgic acid trip re-imagined by someone too young to have been there and to have witnessed it all first hand, i.e. second-hand nostalgia.
The public attending the anniversary party seemed to be divided between local and touristy/visiting hipsters, and young fashionistas dressed à la Sex and the City in little skirts, silk blouses, and funky stilettos. The airfield was adorned with a large stage, a VIP stand with an exclusive bar and a red carpet, many sand-bars (very popular in Berlin in the summers, but not at all compatible with the stilettos), food stands serving beer and sausages (Budenzauber), and Tacheles-inspired alternative art installations. The event felt like a mix of what one imagines to be typical German things: a street festival beer and sausage, a sandbar on the Spree, electronic music, and underground art one imagines to have originated in a former squat. Fashion, not to mention chic, fell by the sideways. Spectacle, kitsch, and commerce reigned above all else.
Around 800 fashion designers of different styles – from street wear to couture – work in, and are inspired by Berlin. The city has 10 different fashion schools, whose graduates establish their labels shortly after finishing their studies. New boutiques pop up monthly in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Friedrichshain. Eco and fair-trade fashion are the norm.
Berlin Fashion Week takes place earlier in the seasons than the other, more established fashion weeks, namely in January and in July, in conjunction with the already established trade shows. Smaller designers and boutique owners, like S.Wert, +33, and many others organize their own events, displays, shows, and parties in their stores. There are still many Berlin-based designers (like c.neeon) who choose to present in Paris, or organize their own exhibition spaces during and under the umbrella of the Berlin Fashion Week, which contributes to making the Berlin Fashion Weeks extremely diverse, big, and culturally fascinating.
Already in January 2011, Berlin Fashion Week featured more 120 fashion shows, presentations, and events under the platform of the Fashion Week. More than 1500 exhibitors, 240,000 invited guests, and 85,000 buyers participated at events such as Bread & Butter, Premium, Bright, 5elements, thekeyto, the Green Showroom, the Showroom-Mile, as well as many other events. Berlin now ranks in the top five cities of the fashion world (according to the Senate of Berlin website, Project Future).
Berlin Fashion Week is a major facilitator in the project I described as “Branding Berlin,” which the Berlin Senate integrated as a major part of its “Project Future,” and which Norma M. Rantisi discussed in terms of fashion identity and place making (rather than just place marketing), as well as “network of relations.” Other cities can and should learn from Berlin’s (and Wowereit’s) example. What remains to be seen is whether, or how long, the city’s “poor, but sexy” chic shall remain poor, or sexy, for that matter.
This article is also available in German.