The Berlin fashion world has ambitious goals. It is not a matter of competing with Paris and emulating other fashion cities, but of establishing the German capital as a fashion metropolis in its own right, according to the frequently emphasised and readily repeated goal of the Fashion Council Germany (FCG), which holds the patronage of Berlin Fashion Week (BFW).
To restore Berlin to its former glory as the epicentre of German fashion, but above all to put the city in the international spotlight, the Fashion Council Germany, together with Berlin’s Senate Department for Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry, is focusing on promoting young talent – perhaps also to tie them to the German capital, as former Berlin talent, such as GmbH and Ottolinger, were recently drawn to Paris Fashion Week.
What does the fashion of Berlin stand for?
“Berlin has its very own narrative,” emphasised FCG chairwoman Christiane Arp at a fashion week opening event, underscoring what the first day of fashion week already proved: Berlin thrives on style plurality and contrast. This applies to the artistic performances as well as to the city’s architecture, which often managed to steal the show from the actual main attraction, fashion. In addition to lots of fashion, the week offered a sightseeing tour of Berlin, which, thanks to a full programme and tour bus, took on the character of a fashionable class trip and set the mood for a diverse and sometimes contradictory BFW already on the first day.
At the core of the Fashion Week were the winners of the concept competition “Berlin Contemporary”, which was initiated in January by the Senate and the FCG. A total of 18 prize-winners, including four Ukrainian brands that have already been helping to shape and politicise the face of the fashion week since last season, each received 25,000 euros to put on a show during BFW.
The week was opened by the Ukrainian label Bobkova of the eponymous designer Kristina Bobkova. In the heart of the city’s Museum Island, in the garden of the Kronprinzenpalais, she presented a delicate, albeit unspectacular, collection of soft pastel shades with floral prints and soft, flowing dresses in contrast to silhouettes with a masculine touch. Anyone who thought afterwards that this first show would set the optical tone of the week was wrong, because from pretty everyday clothes in the historical monument on the boulevard Unter den Linden, we went to the backyard of a prefabricated building. On a somewhat shaky catwalk, Melisa Minca, winner of the Platte Award for Sustainability, presented a provocative and very conceptual upcycling collection that was bursting with ideas, but stumbled a bit in terms of workmanship – a tendency that could be observed occasionally, because in some collections technique and tailoring gave way to concept.
After a mini-rave at Lucas Meyer-Leclère, who devoted himself to choreography and couture this season, Otto Drögsler and Jörg Ehrlich of Odeeh rounded off the first day of BFW with a colourful, sequin-rich collection at the James Simon Gallery, bringing to close a day that foreshadowed the contrasting programme of the coming days.
Commercial appeal and conceptual statements
Shows with obvious commercial appeal, such as the collection of the Ukrainian label Podyh, met performances during the fashion week that made a name for themselves particularly through their basic idea and their staging, such as Acceptance Letter Studio or the designer Irina Dzhus, who also comes from Ukraine. The latter presented her literally convertible line in the Feuerle Collection, a renovated bunker from the time of World War II. The show of her compatriot Lilia Litkovska at Kraftwerk was comparatively unspectacular – both in the staging and in the choice of location. The collection, however, marked by clean lines and impeccable craftsmanship, turned out to be one of the favourite shows among the visitors. And that without much frippery, or any seating.
Collections like Litkowska’s prove that Berlin can do more than the already outdated stereotypes of the techno temple Berghain, even if these were of course not forgotten, but refined this season. Thus, the designer duo behind the Richert Beil brand, Jale Richert and Michele Beil, presented a collection that questions gender roles, wrapping them in latex and leather without necessarily evoking the connotations usually associated with the materials – especially thanks to impeccable workmanship and tailoring. “Father, Ours”, the name of the collection presented in an old supermarket store, not only effortlessly combined pinstriped suits, rocker garb, BDSM elements and grandma’s lace doily, but made the combination desirable. The title of the collection may be both a reference to the “paternal” elements of the collection, such as said pinstriped suit, but the religious undertone was not absent, though it was far less provocative than the religiously wicked collection of Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, whose Namilia brand caused a stir and outcry – both with excitement and outrage.
While the small crowd at most shows would not give any indication that the fashion of the coming season will be presented behind closed doors, the Kronprinzenpalais was swarmed by disciples of the brand before the Namilia show itself. Fans dressed in the brand’s clothes and interested onlookers are a familiar sight in other fashion metropolises, but for Berlin this season were still a rarity. Only Namilia managed to trigger such a hype – even though other domestic designers deserved at least the same level of attention. The colourful audience of trade press, local celebrities and fans of the brand were presented with an incredibly clever, entertaining but also extremely provocative collection in the halls of the Kronprinzenpalais.
With “In Loving Memory of My Sugar Daddy”, the commendably diverse Namilia models paid homage to their seemingly deceased patron. The distinctive name of the collection said it all, and so trademarks of the “nouveau riche,” such as Juicy Couture-inspired jogging suits, met “old money” classics, such as the iconic Birkin bag by Hermes that was unceremoniously repurposed into skirts and tops. According to the show notes, as many as 50 of the designs were inspired by “couturier legends like Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior,” but these were lost in the sea of latex, bare skin and Catholic iconography. However, the salacious slogans and theatrical performance certainly created a buzz among the visitors, as no other show was celebrated with so much bawling, heckling and applause.
Young talent lick blood: Berlin’s promising future
While Namilia already made a splash in January with diversity, inclusion and provocative fashion, BFW was an impressive debut for the label Milk of Line. The designer duo, who studied together at the Royal Academy in Antwerp and then demonstrated their skills at Givenchy in Paris, literally took guests to the stars at the Zeiss Major Planetarium. The earthy colour palette and mix of leather and sheer, flowing fabrics of her runway debut “Dozen” combined idyllic countryside flair with the gritty big city. Some of her designs were somewhat reminiscent of Ludovic de Saint-Sernin’s first and only collection for Belgian fashion house Ann Demeulemeester, however it is inconceivable that this collection will be the duo’s last.
One of the most promising hopefuls in Berlin fashion is Rosa Marga Dahl and her label SF1OG. While the name of the brand may present many international guests with an almost insoluble puzzle, the potential of the sustainable label was crystal clear as soon as the first piano sounds echoed through the Ludwig Erhard Haus. Dahl’s design language combines a certain darkness that so many associate with the aesthetics of the German capital, adding lightness and a touch of nostalgia especially through the mix of materials like century-old lace and upcycled leather. The “21:16-3-1” collection presented in the former Berlin Stock Exchange was dedicated to equestrian sports and childhood memories of the designer, but the result was anything but childish – despite wooden horses as handbags. The brand’s logo, a kind of upside-down G, was more prominent than ever in this collection, foreshadowing a commercial but no less creative direction for SF1OG – and Berlin fashion.
Even before the start of BFW, designer William Fan presented at the Delphi Filmpalast to debut his documentary “William Fan – In Between”. The film has since been available in the ARD media library and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the colourful world of the designer, who showcased a subtle Pride collection at the Gropius Bau during Fashion Week. The fact that Fan’s show was one of the most elaborate of the fashion week was already clear upon entering the building, where a photo wall for guests – rare in Berlin – could be found and flashbulbs followed the attending celebrities. Fan was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, as the entire fashion week once was, but even without the lucrative partnership, the designer’s collection would probably have gone down as one of the most emotional, colourful and subtly political performances for SS24 – because Fan was almost secretly waving the rainbow flag.
Under the title “Ceremony” the fashion designer presented a collection under the sign of the Pride movement, but took away any visual clichés and dissected the well-known flag into its individual parts. Total looks in the colours of the rainbow, a logo shirt with the inscription “Are you a friend of Dorothy”, a reference to the character of the Wizard of Oz, prints that became bridal bouquets for grooms and fashion that celebrated every occasion met an elaborately choreographed show to the sound of Guns’n’Roses “November Rain”.
The entire Fashion Week under the umbrella of the Fashion Council Germany was also a celebration of the young Berlin talent. The fashion designers proved that Berlin, with all its rough edges has quite the potential to be a fashion city, especially for all those who are looking for fashion that catches the zeitgeist and does not see diversity as a trend, but as a matter of course.
It remains to be seen whether Berlin will join the fashion calendar and in the distant future not only be perceived as the fifth wheel on the wagon behind New York, London, Milan and Paris but also as a serious fashion metropolis, but the young talents of the capital definitely deserve it.