Marc O'Polo

The Inelegant Germans

Werner Böck, AR, Marc O’Polo
Marco! Polo! Werner Böck, the CEO of German clothing brand Marc O'Polo, is having trouble finding trendy German clothes. Source: Thomas Dashuber

Germans are better at making cars than clothes, leaving the country decked out in vanilla fashions that find fewer international buyers than high-profile global clothing chains. At least, that’s what Werner Böck, the CEO of German brand Marc O’Polo, thinks. He’s trying to make progress and puts his brand as a direct competitor to Polo Ralph Lauren.

“Many German brands’ collections aren’t hip, not fashionable enough. That’s why they can’t compete with big chains like Zara that are successful globally,” Mr. Böck told Handelsblatt during an interview. “It’s difficult to dress elegantly in German brands.” Even though he said it may be difficult, it’s not impossible thanks to rivals such as Hugo Boss.

The executive, who holds a majority of Marc O’Polo, also knows how German clothing makers should dress themselves for the global market. “I think that as a German fashion brand you can only be successful internationally in the absolute premium and luxury segment,” he said. Sure, downmarket Birkenstock and Gabor are household names in some non-German places, but that’s because they’re niche: “For both, it’s more about expertise in a specific area, about the fit, and less about design.”

Talking luxury and premium is an ambitious statement for a label whose clothes seem more ballgame than boardmeeting. But Böck said that isn’t a contradiction — even high-end fashion labels like Zegna are increasingly focusing on casual clothes.

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