By  on January 21, 2009

BERLIN — Despite darkening economic clouds and growing uncertainty about the next round of ordering, visitors to the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin will find Germany’s fashion vanguard more professionally established than ever before.


Especially in Berlin, where the creative scene has long distrusted commerce, local designers have made moves to strengthen their businesses on multiple fronts. Marketing and sales efforts have been expanded; stationary and online shops have been opened; backers or new financial constructs have been found, and collections have been merchandised to better meet retailers’ needs while also sharpening their designer signature.

As for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, the third edition, Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, will feature almost twice as many designers than its January 2008 launch. Twenty-four national and international collections will show on site at Bebelplatz, as well as highly atmospheric venues such as the botanical gardens, Hamburger Bahnhof art museum and the Zionskirche Church.

The mix is more varied than ever and promises to help stamp out Berlin’s stubborn reputation as a center of cool, relaxed — but essentially trashy — street style. The lineup includes solid but imaginative ready-to-wear collections like MBFWB newcomer Schumacher and fashion week stalwarts Hugo Boss, Strenesse Blue, Joop! and Michalsky.

Also showing are proponents of young but elegant designer wear such as Kaviar Gauche, another newbie at MBFWB this season, and Sisi Wasabi; avant -garde visitors like Bernhard Willhelm, Markus Lupfer and Felder & Felder; knitwear enthusiasts Lala Berlin and Allude; edgy entertainers along the lines of Marcel Ostertag or Kilian Kerner; bold constructivists such as Scherer González or the graphically oriented C.Neeon, as well as a bunch of student talents vying for the Becks Fashion Experience or Peek & Cloppenburg Designer for Tomorrow awards.

Of the numerous satellite events and trade presentations taking place concurrently with the runway shows, Premium will host around 850 exhibitors at the Old Post Railway station. The contemporary trade show will offer new “guest rooms” this season for multiple-brand agencies, as well as beef up its fledging Green and “Über Denim” areas.

Bread & Butter’s Karl-Heinz Müller is kicking off a selected denim event called Offshow 14 oz. 2nd floor, a platform of 11 brands carried in Müller’s denim and urbanwear shop of the same name. Though extremely small, this new project has set tongues wagging about a future return of B&B to Berlin. Müller said he had no comment.

Also part of Berlin’s fashion week activities: Projekt Galerie will present the off-scene in two gallery spaces in Berlin Mitte, while Showroom Mile in nine venues near the MBFWB tents on Bebelplatz is designed to allow the public to get a whiff of the city’s fashion spirit.

The global economic crisis is putting a damper on expectations for next season, but the mood among designers and show organizers is nonetheless upbeat. As Premium founder Anita Tillmann noted, “Berlin is always in a recession. We never have money in this city, and we get by. Actually, the rest of the world is now following Berlin.”

She continued, “There will always be bad or difficult times, but Berlin is getting better and better.” Buyers have said they’re coming, she said. “Maybe now for one rather than two days, and with a team of five, not 10.”

“We cannot change the economic situation, but as a start-up company we’re in the mode to invest, grow and improve,” said Michalsky managing director Arne Stoldt. “We haven’t scaled back but have increased our workforce instead, investing in sales and quality management.” This is in part possible because Michalsky, as well as Kaviar Gauche, share a new backer: the former Internet executive Volker Tietgens.

Sisi Wasabi is now a publicly held company, and as such has the means to launch a new sales offensive. “For me, the key is to find a balance between being special and commercial,” said Zerlina van der Busche, Sisi Wasabi designer. “In times of crisis, retailers still want special things but are scared of selling them.

“I’m working harder to make sure every piece that goes out is perfect,” she added. “I’ve found my style. But the next step is telling my story to the retailers.”

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