By and
with contributions from Jessica Saltz
 on January 26, 2012

BERLIN — It was a big Berlin season, as a stronger-than-ever core of designers and brands took part in fashion week and at the same time the city hosted the Bread & Butter and Premium fairs and another eight trade shows.

While neither B&B nor Premium release visitor numbers and there are no official figures, VisitBerlin of the Berlin Tourism and Congress GmbH estimated Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin generated more than 200,000 overnight hotel stays, though numbers as high as 600,000 have been circulating. As Peter Levy, managing director and senior vice president of IMG Fashion Worldwide, aptly summed up, Fashion Week Berlin “gets more credible every season, and that’s the success.”

Going into its 10th edition, the four days of runway shows and studio presentations from Jan. 17 to 21 were fully booked and fully attended. If it was difficult for retailers and others to take it all in, especially given the trade show crush, Levy countered, “That’s the beauty of what’s happening in Berlin. MBFWB is an iconic part, but it’s only one piece of the pie. There are no walls between the other organizations, which is another great aspect about Berlin.”

“Berlin is the place to get the flow of the new season,” said Susanne Sagmeister, buyer for the specialty store Sagmeister in Bregenz, Austria, which carries designer lines from the likes of Prada, Gucci, Celine, Stella McCartney, Miu Miu and Marni.

Her buying starts later in the season — in Milan, Paris and the showrooms of Düsseldorf — but events like the Vogue Salon, which highlighted René Storck, Augustin Teboul, Michael Sontag, Vladimir Karaleev and Dawid Tomaszewski, “are important to showcase new designers,” she stated.

She’s made an appointment with Storck in Düsseldorf and also singled out Sontag for praise, but emphasized “Berlin is an important platform to discuss a lot of things and see how fashion is developing. And there’s a nice development towards a smart chic, a relaxed chic, in finer silk and other fabrics.”

Olivia Zirkel, buyer and owner of Cologne specialty store Simon und Renoldi, which sells Paul Smith Black Label, Paul & Joe Sister, MW by Matthew Williamson and Odeeh, among others, observed, “There’s definitely a dressier trend that’s been long overdue, as everything else has already filtered down to mass. I like the classiness we’re going back to, and I do believe it reflects the economy, in that consumers want to spend money on things that will last longer. That’s why the look is going cleaner.”

The same messages came through at the MBFWB runway and studio presentations, where what was shown also was what was sold, since the two normally don’t differ here. Many designers showing in Berlin don’t have 10 years of business under their belt — and many have less than five — and almost all are stretched financially to get one range onto the catwalk. Then, too, the entire scene seems to be coming of age as designers and their late-twenty- and thirtysomething peers discover the need and desire for a less casual mode of dress.

The fall-winter looks on Berlin’s runway witnessed an ongoing improvement in terms of tailoring, finish, fabrics and overall quality. Two main style camps emerged: The first was cool and clean, with plush or men’s wear oriented wools, shimmering silks, comfy knits plus some leather, fur, shearling, individual prints and artisanal touches worked into nonflamboyant and graphically conceived styles with a contemporary edge. The top protagonists here included Kaviar Gauche, Mongrels in Common, Perret Schaad, Vladimir Karaleev, Issever Bahri, Kilian Kerner, Hugo and the purist but nontraditional men’s wear of Chinese guest designer Wang Yutao’s Beautyberry collection.

The “just can’t get enough” tactics of major German fashion brands Schumacher and Rena Lange represented the flip side. Not one nonnovelty piece was allowed down their runways, each multiitem outfit compiled of embellished, accented, boldly printed, draped or somehow reinvented pieces designed to be “special” and thus cherished. Augustin Teboul’s intricate and artistically detailed artistic pieces straddled the divide, as did the collection of Dawid Tomaszewski.

Zirkel summed up many buyers’ feelings when she described herself and her team as “running around like headless chickens” in Berlin, given the ever-growing number of fairs. Yet she found the brand new Show & Order a welcome addition, providing her with a preview of MW by Matthew Williamson or Paul & Joe Sister. “The location [in a former power station] is fantastic, and I’m sure the show will grow in future.”

Both she and Sagmeister declared themselves optimists regarding the season ahead, and a positive spirit pervaded throughout Berlin’s multiple show venues. Despite its more funky streetwear origins, Berlin has now consolidated as a center for contemporary fashion. This also came to the fore at Bread & Butter which, citing “the strong development of the dressed-up fashion segment,” saw more action in the Urban Superior halls, which will be significantly expanded next summer. The new fashion accessories area Treasury also got off to a good start.

Premium looked spruced up, adding 25 percent new brands to its portfolio of 800 brands or 1,400 collections, and surpassing the organizers’ own expectations for its three-day run. Jay Alwani, buyer for Warehouse, a 32,000 square foot young fashion store in Iserlohn, Germany, commented, “I’ve been coming to Premium since it started and it gets better, bigger and more international in every sense. It’s great to have something like this in Germany and adds weight and importance to the fashion industry here.”

The reaction from international retailers was similarly positive. Marieke Hermans, a Dutch buyer for the online store Welovefashion.com, said, “Premium is a good trade show for us because it brings a lot of really eclectic brands together. But the connection to Berlin or German fashion isn’t so important for us. We are here to take a look at brands from all over the world. The trade show just happens to be in Berlin.”

After debuting in Berlin last July, Capsule was back, and bigger. The show spread out over an additional section of Berlin’s drafty former mint, increasing attendance to 2,500 from 2,000. According to the show management, the highest concentration of retailers was from Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, but the world was represented — Bloomingdale’s, Galeries Lafayette and United Arrows (Japan) were all on hand to see the 73 brands (up from 52) showing trendy men’s and women’s wear.

One new Capsule highlight was Collect, Arne Eberle’s showroom for Berlin brands, which appeared for the first time as a show-in-show. With a prime place just off the entrance desk, the collection of labels included Esther Perbandt, Hien Le and Lunettes Kollektion. Eberle called the experience a “clear win-win situation” for both sides, saying his team collected 800 business cards, wrote a few orders, and expects more in the next weeks.

Attendance at luxury-minded eco-salon Green Showroom, located in the Hotel Adlon, was also up, according to organizers. Twenty-six international brands showed their wares in richly adorned suites; nearly 20 were on display in a runway show. Iceland’s Atlantic Leather, which produces fish leather for labels including Alexander Wang, Prada and Puma, was on hand for the first time. “We’re impressed and surprised by all the interest in this fair,” said the company’s German sales agent Frank Ultsch, “It’s more effective for us to be here than at most other events.”

The Düsseldorf CPD organization’s new format, The Gallery, also had a good Berlin premiere. Audrey Heppner, the German distributor for Shokay, a collection of knitted yak yarn accessories and sweaters, said the location in Café Moscow “was perfect, and the shuttle service assured everyone could get here easily.”

In contrast to earlier show experiences in Berlin, Heppner said she actually wrote order: “And pretty decent ones — from Paris! Plus people came looking from Lodenfrey [in Munich] and want to touch base again in Düsseldorf or Munich.”

She said her fellow exhibitors in the accessories area were also writing.

“Berlin was always the place where retailers would come to look at us, but then they’d write us in Düsseldorf or Munich or I’d have to go visit them. This is the first time I’ve written decent orders in Berlin,” said Heppner.

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