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Berlin: Hip, trendy but lacking fashion cred

Fashionlovers on Berlin's steets. Source: Bia Ferrer
Fashionlovers on Berlin's steets.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Berlin, an affordable hub of youthful energy in Europe, is working to promote the German capital as a major European center for fashion.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Tourists to Berlin’s Fashion Week spent €119 million at the July trade fair, the city said.
    • Bread & Butter, one of Berlin’s biggest fashion fairs, is leaving for Barcelona.
    • About 200,000 people from the fashion industry attended Berlin Fashion Week in July.
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    Audio

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By most measures, Berlin is experiencing a cultural renaissance, attracting growing numbers of tourists who are filling its bars and cafes, enlivening its already vibrant night life.

But in fashion, the German capital is a work in progress, a minor way station in Europe for small independent makers of urban streetwear. Overflowing with affordable and Michelin-star restaurants and entertainment options, the city lacks a world-renowned designer or a global fashion industry event.

Recently, Bread & Butter, the city’s biggest convention of labels and designers, was going to make the failure of Berlin as a fashion capital an official fact. The organizer announced plans to leave the city for Barcelona, but shortly after, backpedaled and said it will stay here after all “despite the appeal and possibilities for something new”. But city officials say Berlin remains attractive. Its home-grown outgoing mayor, Klaus Wowereit, calls Berlin “poor but sexy.’’

Berlin is having a hard time establishing itself as a major international fashion hub. In August, the organizers of Berlin Festival, a summer concert show, said they were leaving the city’s historic Tempelhof airport locale amid noise complaints.

A local fashion industry blogger, David Kurt Karl Roth, said Berlin’s biggest fashion event, Berlin Fashion Week, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and organized by IMG, a global event manager, does not reflect the city’s hip underground scene.

“Berlin Fashion Week does not get to capture Berlin’s cool, urban and rough image,” Mr. Roth, author of the blog DandyDiary.de, said. “They have not succeeded in using the unique image of the city and creating something unique as well.”

Many larger German designers have stopped showing at the event, such as Escada, Hugo Boss and Rena Lange, as well as smaller ones like Kaviar Gauche, which is now showing in Paris, not Berlin – its hometown.

Many larger German designers have stopped showing at the event, such as Escada, Hugo Boss and Rena Lange.

Even so, others are coming in, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Germany’s most-famous global designer, who opened a shop last July in Berlin’s central Mitte district. But he has no plans to show his line at the Berlin Fashion Week. Mr. Lagerfeld is chief designer for the French fashion house Chanel in Paris, where his work for Chanel is shown.

German designer label Hugo Boss said in 2013, it would also leave Berlin Fashion Week and start looking elsewhere for venues.

“We plan on showing at other shows, such as New York,” according to a Hugo Boss statement at the time, which is located in Metzingen, a town near Stuttgart.

Some of the smaller upcoming labels such as lala Berlin, a women’s clothing and knitwear maker, are still registered at Berlin Fashion Week, but have decided to show their designs elsewhere in Berlin.

Pier Paolo Righi, chief executive of the Karl Lagerfeld brand, said Berlin is still a hub of creativity, and does not necessarily have to seal its reputation with the biggest shows or designer labels.

“As I see the DNA of Berlin, it’s not a question of: What is the next big thing?” Mr. Righi said in an interview with Handelsblatt Global Edition. “There can be several small and cool and innovative things at once. It doesn’t have to be a big show.”

He plans to open a second store this year when Germany’s largest mall is set to open near Potsdamer Platz.

 

Hugo Boss at Berlin Fashion Week July 2012. Source Reuters
Hugo Boss used to show in Berlin at Fashion Week, but left in 2013. Source: Reuters

 

Almost 20,000 employees work in the fashion industry in Berlin and together generate €3 billion ($3.88 billion) a year in sales, according to Berlin city figures. During Berlin’s Fashion Week, 200,000 visitors this year spent an estimated €119 million ($154 million) in Berlin, according to Investitionsbank Berlin, a city development bank.

The shows of Fashion Week have taken place for the last few years in a large white tent next to the Brandenburg Gate. This year, the main fashion event was forced to move to a stadium in northern Berlin’s Wedding district because the gate was being used for outdoor World Cup TV viewing.

The industry could do more to promote Berlin as a fashion center. The major business trade fairs, Bread & Butter, Premium and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week all exhibit in the summer and in February, but the events are spread across the city and aren’t coordinated, making it difficult logistically for visitors and exhibitors.

lala Berlin used the Deutsche Oper venue in Berlin in July to launch its Spring/Summer collection. Ideal, an exhibition of avant garde designers, only lasted a couple of years in Berlin. Bread & Butter’s announcement to leave the German capital in July, which hinted at Berlin’s irrelevance as a fashion city, set off a debate locally about the importance of Berlin as a fashion center.

Weekly magazine Der Spiegel criticized organizers of Fashion Week in July.

“Hardly any international buyers or international journalists are here to cover the event,” a writer for the magazine wrote. “This week, they will be showing 51 shows, and the question remains: Who cares about it?”

Some see the city faltering in its promotion of fashion events.

Almost 20,000 employees work in the fashion industry in Berlin and generate a combined €3 billion a year in sales, according to Berlin city figures.

Economic factors seem to play a role for labels and trade fairs to move to more profitable markets than Berlin, which still offers creativity, inspiration and affordable living costs.

A spokeswoman for Berlin said fashion is only one part of Berlin’s wider creative industry that includes many arts and crafts.

“We do not want to focus on fashion only, but we want to become a creative hub that also includes film, music, digital industries and other areas,” said Nadine Jüdes, who is in charge of media and creative projects for the city of Berlin.

 

lala backstage
Models waiting backstage at Deutsche Oper for lala Berlin’s show to start. Source: lala Berlin

 

One Berlin designer, Michael Michalsky, said criticism of the city’s efforts is overstated.

“As long as the media and fashion retailers think things are better abroad, Berlin will have a hard time establishing itself as a fashion capital,” Mr. Michalsky, who lives and works in Berlin, said.

And the city – a youthful hub of creativity from across Europe and the world – can still trade on its bohemian image going forward.

While the city may lag Paris and Milan in big-name shows and designers, Berlin is cool and irreverent, and people will continue to come for inspiration, said Mr. Righi, the Karl Lagerfeld executive.

“The established fashion industry might look down at Berlin with arrogance,” Mr. Righi said. “But you should ignore this arrogance. It is the typical arrogance of big, established companies that lack innovation.”

 

The author is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. Contact: scheven@handelsblatt.com

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