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BERLIN — This city’s fashion week is still going strong.
Despite a soft winter season in Germany and loads of merchandise on the markdown racks, the mood in the German capital was upbeat and energized as the fall-winter 2013-14 fashion week season kicked off here last week.
According to the Berlin Tourist Association, more than 200,000 domestic and international visitors poured into the city for the latest round of trade and runway shows, which ended Jan. 18. This suggests a 20 percent downturn in overall attendance compared with July’s estimates, but Bread & Butter and Premium, which no longer publish visitor numbers, as well as the other eight trade shows all reported very good traffic. Buyers and brands praised the atmosphere, look and content of the fairs.
Buying activity was mixed, as writing is generally not the main order of the day in Berlin. This is especially true for German retailers, who come to get a first impression of the season’s offerings and trends before sitting down to write in Düsseldorf, Munich or, on the more high-fashion level, Milan and Paris. However, the Berlin fairs are not for Germans only, either on the brand or visitor level.
Bread & Butter said 70 percent of its guests were from overseas, with 88 percent of the 560 brand portfolio coming from outside Germany. Managing director Karl-Heinz Müller was particularly excited about the uptick in Japanese brands and buyers at the show. “Compared to the last two seasons, we now had twice as many guests from Japan,” he reported. “That makes us very happy, as Japan is always an essential yardstick in matters of quality and future trends.“
As for the show’s selective house-cleaning, which resulted in one less hall and 100 fewer brands this season, notwithstanding the addition of 100 exhibitors and 50 reentries, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “From time to time, a ‘cleanup’ is absolutely necessary, ” remarked Senka Stütz, director of marketing and communications for the Holy Fashion Group, who added that the group’s three brands, Strellson, Joop and Windsor, had a great B&B show. “The fair looks refreshed, hip and more grown-up,” added Kai Stolte, central women’s wear buyer for the Peek & Cloppenburg specialty store chain.
Premium’s 10th anniversary edition also went off without a hitch. New brands made up 30 percent of the 900-brand portfolio, which cofounder and codirector Anita Tillmann suggested was their “best ever.” The halls were bustling, and not just with those simply looking. Richard Blackburn, director of Prey of London, one of Premium’s first-time exhibitors, was more than satisfied.
While he noted London is more edgy, “Hall 1 is good for smaller companies, and we had a lot of people coming through, including a few cool shops in Berlin like Salotto. We already took some orders this morning,” he said on opening day.
The rock-inspired collection, a fresh collaboration between designer Donovan Pascal and marketing creative director Hannah Man, who stood behind brands such as Religion and Idol, “is already present in the U.K. and Benelux, but we want to make a footprint in Germany,” he said.
The debut of Panorama, the new fair for some 350 large-distribution, midmarket brands, literally went the extra mile. Located a good 30-minute taxi drive at the conference center adjoining Berlin’s new airport in Schönefeld, which is scheduled to open two years behind schedule in 2015, the show had about 350 brands for fall-winter.
“I’m happy there’s now a fair for what we could call more ‘normal’ collections,” commented Hermann Schmitt, export manager for German modern woman collection More & More. “The first day was strong and the second day good. It’s not really about ordering, but networking,” he pointed out. “The only handicap is the offside positioning. It would have been a good idea to land in Berlin and go directly to the fair. But people are still happy with it.”
“No one could say if this was going to be a pure image or sales platform,” noted Florian Köhler, domestic and international sales executive for Apanage, the German coordinates producer, which also operates its own vertical retail network. “We tried to do both: present our image and reach customers we don’t already work with. It’s been a positive start-up,” he said.
At the contemporary show Capsule, which featured 80 global brands, cofounder Edina Sultanik noticed “an increase in retailers from Russia and Korea for the season, and we also saw buyers from the best stores all over Europe, Asia and America. One of the deals I heard about (that was organized at the show),” she said, “was a special collaboration of product by Mark McNairy made especially for Soto, Berlin which will be in stores in June.”
James Hammonds of American Rag was in Berlin for Capsule and Bread & Butter for a second season. “We work with a lot of smaller brands that don’t have much distribution, so that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. Gesturing across to first-time Capsule exhibitor, the Korean upcyling collection Re;Code, he said “that was really cool. We’ll probably bring that in. It’s a little bit expensive, but we’ll see if we can work something out.”
The higher prices of independent brands producing locally was also an issue for Mary San Pablo, an assistant buyer at Topshop, who was attracted by Maiami and Starstyling at the Collect Showroom section, which features Berlin designers. “We’d like to work with Starstyling, but it’s just tricky. We’d have to buy it in, and on the money side of things…it’s just how willing a brand is to push their prices.”
Show & Order, The Gallery Berlin and Bright also reported good fall showings, and green fashion activity was up at Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion.
Perhaps the most German fashion event, in terms of participants and audience, is Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin. Now in its 11th season, the majority of MBFWB’s 50 shows spotlight German or German-based talent, providing a stage for the nation’s designers and, thanks to the Internet and the runway-presentation images, a way of boosting domestic and global visibility. For many young designers, however, that’s as far as it goes. Stretched to their financial limits and without showrooms and agents, getting the attention of retailers and actually receiving some orders remains the most serious challenge. Indeed, with the exception of more established labels like Schumacher or Rena Lange, who invite key customers to their shows, retailers were a rare breed in the tent.
Though the consensus was that Germany’s new designer generation had made strides this season in building their own design vocabulary, as well as in matters of make, any number of collections on the runway and in the MBFWB studio could have benefited from some editing and more careful fittings. And, some advised, a bit more courage.
“It’s all too polite,” stated Emmanuel de Bayser, co-owner of Berlin’s three-door designer-studded specialty store The Corner. “They should do something stronger, more daring. People expect that from Berlin.”
For the designer-oriented retailer, Berlin’s timing was also a problem. Many were in Paris or still had their hands full with writing pre-collections from major brands. “It’s too early for me to look for next fall-winter,” said Sue Giers, owner of Linette in Hamburg, which carries the likes of Marni, Miu Miu, Chloé, Lanvin and Isabelle Marant. Giers was primarily in town in her second capacity as public relations person for Closed, of which her husband is a co-owner, but took the time to visit Vogue Salon, which features eight of Germany’s most promising young creators.
She said she was open to seeing fresh names, but disliked the little box stands at most fairs. “I love to go to Paris and Milan, and after I saw Achtland (at Vogue Salon), I made an appointment to see them in Paris. And I will definitely be in Munich (during order week), and maybe Düsseldorf.” She suggested young brands with a similar mind-set “pull themselves together and rent a showroom space. That’s the next step.”
In the meantime, the Berlin Senate and Arne Eberle, who was the first to do just that with his Collect Showroom, will be bringing 23 Berlin labels to Paris in March under the banner of Berlin Showroom.