By  on August 1, 2007

BERLIN — Youth carried the day at the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin July 12 to 15.

Against all expectations, the Karstadt New Generation Award, featuring young Berlin designers Kaviar Gauche, Talkingmeanstrouble, Lala Berlin and Macqua closed the three-day event with a creative bang.

Praising the finale, Josef Voelk, owner of The Corner, a multibrand designer shop here whose key collections include Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, Roland Mouret, Stella McCartney and Nina Ricci, said: "We should be proud to have these people in Berlin. They could all hold their own on any international catwalk. They don't all look the same and each has his own identity. They will definitely make their way."

Voelk said he's made appointments with the four collections. While he's picked up pieces from Berlin labels such as Sai So and Rilke Feuerstein in the past, he is now considering installing a "little Berlin corner," noting, "I think these people are worthwhile."

Retail consultant Wolf Jochen Schulte-Hillen, chief executive of SH Selection Retail Consultants in Münster, was also enthusiastic. He noted the Karstadt prize was not only a good opportunity for the young designers, but, given the quality of the four participants, also a "great chance for Karstadt" to boost its fashion profile. The prize, which this season went to Kaviar Gauche, designed by Johanna Kühl and Alexandra Fischer-Roehler, involves creating a special collection for exclusive distribution at selective Karstadt doors next spring.

Of this first Berlin Fashion Week, Schulte-Hillen said: "I think it was fantastic and the presentation was spectacular. There could have been more big labels there, but it really showed how talented young Berlin designers are. There is a massive amount of creativity in Berlin, and fashion week is an enormous chance for young Berlin designers to get international visibility."

According IMG, which produced Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, the 11-show debut event drew a total audience of around 9,000. Each show seated about 800 in the tented runway, erected just in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate. About half of those in attendance were journalists, IMG said. Retailers were estimated at 15 percent and were generally a rare commodity in Berlin over the weekend.Nevertheless, IMG and Mercedes-Benz said they were more than satisfied with the Berlin premiere and reconfirmed their five-year commitment to staging a Berlin Fashion Week twice a year.

"Everyone felt the potential and opportunity here," stated IMG Fashion vice president Fern Mallis. "Rome, Milan, Paris and New York were also not built in a day. Every fashion week in the world has its own personality and character. Berlin is evolving and will find its reason for being."

Mallis suggested Berlin's edition will be most important as a marketing vehicle for German designers. "I can't predict the future, but, as a marketing tool, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin can help [German] designers establish credibility and demonstrate their creativity. Of course they can show in London, New York or elsewhere, but they get lost on those schedules. Here, they have their moment in the sun, and in the country, which I'm convinced will probably be their main market. If they need a showroom in other cities to sell their collections, OK, but retailers read the papers and check the Internet and will start seeing what they do."

While she's all for a sprinkling of international brands showing in Berlin, she said that what makes it special is the core of German designers — "and there are plenty of them."

The German fashion industry's big boss — Hugo Boss, that is — kicked off the season with a refreshing glimpse of its edgier Hugo collection for women and men. Christina Ricci, Mischa Barton and Rupert Everett were in the front row to witness variations on a few key themes: peasant blouses or tapered white shirts paired with knife-pleated double skirts with a distinctly Grecian flair, or borrowed-from-the-boys tailored suits with short jackets and short, wide pants with low back pockets.

The after-show party at the Russian embassy was, in true Boss fashion, gigantic. The vodka flowed, the Soviet delicacies enticed, quite a red-light show in the garden wowed and the partying went on until 6 a.m.

Strenesse and Anglomania took over Friday night. Strenesse paraded flirty little dresses in hot purple, plum and fuchsia or kelly, bottle and forest green, as well as bold prints in a lineup of contemporary and commercial looks. While Vivienne Westwood wasn't there in person, that didn't stop her many Berlin friends, former students and fans — it was the best-looking show crowd by far — from packing the tent to cheer her "best of" looks from the Anglomania collection.Saturday night fever belonged to Michael Michalsky. Though this is only the second season for Michalsky's signature collection, the former creative director of Adidas and Y-3 and current creative chief of MCM is indisputably one of this city's highest-profile fashion names. The spring collection aimed to provide everything "bad boys and bad girls need for a very wild weekend in a very wild city," he said. This included high-voltage sportswear, like the skinny neon yellow, high-waisted motorcycle jeans, city-tailored shorts suits and dare-to-dress-up confections in flowing chiffon, studded with graphic black jet accents.

Elke Bremer, buyer for Berlin's tony Quartier 206 Departmentstore, who picked up Michalsky's debut collection last season, found the new evening looks "lovely, and the jeans are much better. The color concept was super and we can definitely go forward with it for spring."

Of the less-established labels showing, Berlin-based Sisi Wasabi convincingly mixed folkloric touches with fast-paced urban styling while Anett Röstel provided a personalized example of what's known here as "alternative" fashion, with its mix of 19th-century, Japanese and Belgian design elements.

To celebrate the label's 60th anniversary, Puma launched its Rudolf Dassler Schuhfabrik line, which aims to merge street edge with vintage silhouettes. "The idea of the collection is to go back to the future. It's like a time capsule," explained the collection's creative director, Paolo Gabrielli. "For example, the hexagonal logo and cuts are inspired by Twenties modernism in Berlin. After all, Rudolf Dassler, the father of Puma, was born in Berlin."

Andie MacDowell was among the front-row guests, as model Irina Lazareanu took to the runway accompanied by Australian rock band Van She. The collection was a mix of rock-inspired elements, with slim-fitting silhouettes and shiny glam-rock blousons, plus sporty elegance in short, high-waisted denim skirts combined with high-top sneakers.

But it was the four Karstadt Award finalists who really showed what Berlin has to offer. Dresses were a shared focus, but each label had its own signature.

Talkingmeanstrouble went for sharp-but-easy tailored sportswear looks, like a shaped, black cotton twill coat accented with rivets and worn with a wide, tangerine plastic belt; a black sequined shorts suit, or softer dresses in tangerine dream chiffon or more naturally toned jersey.Knitwear specialist and scarf-loving Lala Berlin splashed colorful chain prints on minidresses and bags, and expanded into wovens, layering black lace over indigo for sophisticated tops, shorts and halter dresses, and landed a hit with her floor-length caftan dresses.

Macqua continued to refine her circular cuts and ingenious piecing while staying low-key.

And award winner Kaviar Gauche exhibited an arty ease with fish scales or three-dimensional petals and geometric shapes for modern mermaids and sophisticated flower children.

Dates for the second Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin have not been set, but it is expected to take place in mid- to late January. Mercedes-Benz, however, already has announced a new initiative under the patronage of Roberto Cavalli to honor "outstanding achievements in the world of fashion." Targeting international top designers, the first award ceremony is slated for July 2008.

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