BERLIN — The area around the Hackesche Market in Berlin’s Mitte district is often compared with New York’s SoHo in its earlier days. It’s a lively neighborhood of narrow streets and courtyards dotted with galleries, restaurants and some of the city’s most interesting shops. Here are two.
Hidden in a dingy courtyard at Münzstrasse 21 with no sign or hint at what’s inside is Andreas Murkudis’ eponymous shop. The out-of-the-way location hasn’t deterred customers from finding their way to this mecca of unusual design. Rather, the elusive address has given the store the cachet of a private club.
“If people like what they find here they’ll tell others about it,” says Murkudis, whose business style could only be described as laid-back. “If not, then not.”
In 2001, Murkudis opened a series of temporary roving stores, setting up shop three times a year for three weeks at a time in a variety of locations and attracting crowds to each of the happenings. His reason was simple: He didn’t want to be stuck tending a store all year long.
But he became a victim of his own success. Murkudis, the former director of Berlin’s Museum of Things for 15 years, has an eye for well-designed and distinctive merchandise and access to fashion courtesy of his brother Kostas, a Munich-based designer who revamped the New York Industrie label for Staff International in 2001.
What finally convinced Murkudis to go permanent was the number of calls he received during the roving stores’ off periods.
He found a 1,700-square-foot space in October and promptly filled it with furniture and items culled from a variety of sources.
“I sell what I’d personally like to have at home,” says Murkudis. That includes his favorite Haarman chocolate bars ($3), one-of-a-kind notebooks by Christian Haas, naughty rabbit in flagrante T-shirts by Fabrication Creative ($45) and wooden tape measures ($12). Murkudis in October plans to sell Oscar Leopold Kaufmann’s pre-fabricated structure ($8,000) that can be used as a child’s playhouse or dog house.
There’s also men’s and women’s fashion from New York Industries, Martin Margiela, Y3, SaiSo skirts and tops made from antique kimonos and a line created exclusively for the store by Kostas.
On Saturday, as part of the Design Mai festival, the store will feature Kostas’ new fashion collection for Haltbar, Munich, a collective that primarily makes objects for the home.
While Berlin is a notoriously tough retail market and these are tough times in general, Murkudis says business has been “totally good in spite of difficult conditions.” He plans to easily meet a first-year sales goal of $160,000.
“I’m looking for some extra space next door, so I can spread out a bit,” he says. “I want to add more furniture but I also want to keep the store airy and not too full.”
What do a wedding dress, bunny rabbit, cloche, vase, pillow, baby booties and pocketbook all have in common? Felt.
Christine Birkle, Hut Up’s owner, has been stretching the limits of this artisanal fabric since founding the company in 1993. With a team of eight, Birkle hand washes, boils and shapes the fiber into a surprisingly eclectic range of apparel and objects in her Berlin ateliers. The dresses and tops are fused rather than sewn, with the exception of skirts, which have elastic waistbands.
Birkle has expanded the boundaries of felt, using merino wool, cotton, silk, gauze, camel hair and cashmere. For her fall collection, she’s trying to incorporate marabou and rooster feathers.
Her interest in what she calls “the oldest material in the world” goes back to her student days at the Berlin Academy of Art. It was love at first touch and she’s still fascinated by how felt shrinks and the forms “just happen.”
“I’m not the type that can sit and sketch,” she explains. “Through the process of making the material, I see where I want to go.”
While hats were her first effort — the name of her business is a playful mixture of the German and English expressions “Hut Ab” and “Hats Off” — her imagination has lead her in other directions, such as her signature dunce cap-shaped egg warmers.
Birkle opened Hut Up at Oranienburger Strasse 32 in the restored Heckmannhöfe courtyard complex in Mitte in 1999. The 850-square-foot, two-level store displays the full range of her felt fantasy.
It’s a colorful place during spring and summer, with pastel hues bumping up against hot pink, orange, turquoise, bright yellow, cream and white. Birkle also makes whimsical items out of gingham and toile-patterned felt. There’s even felt accented with childlike flowers or squiggles created with decorative threads and yarns.
Birkle’s spring styles include sleeveless tops in red and white chiffon and felt ($187), long red and white cotton gingham and felt dresses with oversized patch pockets ($280), long black chiffon and felt dresses with appliqued felt flowers ($550) and girl’s dresses in white felt decorated with yarn-drawn flowers ($218). There’s also a cream-colored felt and silk chiffon dress with beige muslin roses ($814) and matching slippers ($125). Floral satchels range in price from $165 to $203. All dollar figures are converted from the Euro at current exchange rates.
Hut Up’s wholesale business does $250,000 in yearly sales. Birkle’s customers in Berlin and at stores such as Corso Como in Milan are people who are enthusiastic about the material, she says.
Birkle never gets bored with felt because of the medium’s unpredictability. “Every design is a fresh challenge,” she explains. “I can imagine just about everything in felt. There’s no end to the possibilities.”