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KUNZELSAU, Germany — No matter how big they get, German labels often display remarkable loyalty to their hometowns.
Hugo Boss still has headquarters in the small Swabian town of Metzingen. Adidas and Puma have remained within shouting distance of each other in the town of Herzogenaurach in the Bavarian countryside. But denim label Mustang has gone one step further, opening a museum dedicated to jeans in the small town of Künzelsau, nestled among the wooded hills of southern Germany.
Spread over two floors of the company’s original family home, a villa built in 1928, the multimedia museum occupies more than 3,000 square feet. Nine rooms chart Mustang’s development over three-quarters of a century, and the history of jeans and the development of youth culture during the last 100 years. One room is dedicated to how denim finishes are achieved, another deals with jean styles throughout the 20th century and others give a detailed chronology of Mustang’s past growth and present strategy as a global lifestyle brand.
The museum was designed by the German creative agency Atelier & Friends, which won awards for the Levi Strauss Museum in the Bavarian town of Buttenheim.
The nearest major city, Stuttgart, is a two-hour drive away, making it unlikely that the museum will attract a wealth of passing traffic. But for the label’s chief executive officer, Heiner Sefranek, the facility has been well worth the effort.
“This is a very emotional project for me,” he said during a private viewing before the museum’s official opening on Sunday, which will coincide with the label’s 75th anniversary. “I lived in this house for many years and so did four generations of my family. Converting the building into office space would have really hurt. This way, we can keep the integrity of the house and use it to give something back to the local community.”
Sefranek said the museum would strengthen the label’s identity by highlighting its heritage.
Mustang was established in 1932 by Luise Hermann, Sefranek’s grandmother, to help out her husband’s ailing timber business. Together with six local seamstresses, she started producing workwear in a room in the family home — the room now featured as part of the exhibition, complete with six sewing machines dating from the Thirties and the original chairs used by the women. Within six years, Hermann had expanded the firm to 42 employees, a major accomplishment at a time when women were rarely financially independent, let alone running their own businesses.
“She was always an inspiration for me,” said Hermann’s 27-year-old great-granddaughter, Verena Sefranek, who runs her own Internet design company. “It’s great to see what she achieved at a time when women were supposed to be standing in front of the cooker.”
After World War II, the company branched out from workwear to jeans. In 1948, Hermann’s son-in-law, Albert Sefranek, met an American soldier in a bar and exchanged six bottles of German schnapps for six pairs of U.S. jeans. A year later, despite opposition from his mother-in-law, he used them to copy the first batch of European-made jeans, or “tube trousers,” as they were first known in the local German dialect.
“She was a very strong woman, so we did clash occasionally,” Albert Sefranek recalled.
In the ensuing decades, Mustang grew steadily, getting an extra boost in 1972 when the company provided leisurewear for the West German Olympic team at the Munich games. By then, the company had stopped making workwear and was focusing entirely on denim.
Mustang now employs some 1,600 people, sells products in 44 countries and, by the end of 2007, should have 180 franchise or partner stores and 605 in-store shops around the globe. The company is intent on establishing itself as a lifestyle brand, and makes bags, perfumes, watches and shoes.
To keep track of the latest trends, at the beginning of this year Heiner Sefranek set up a design lab in a hip area of East Berlin. In seems the six bottles of schnapps were a good investment.