By  on August 3, 2007

BERLIN — The debut of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin was by no means the only game in town last month.

The women's and men's trade show Premium presented 700 labels at its 10th event, July 13 to 15. That represents a significant increase from the first show in 2003, which featured 80 collections in an underground train tunnel. According to the show's organizers, Premium attracted 13,822 visitors, a dip from last season's record-breaking 15,647.

Although numbers were down slightly, many exhibitors said they were happy with the quality of visitors. "Premium is the perfect platform for us," enthused Norbert Reipert, Filippa K's sales representative for Germany. "On Friday, all the big [stores] were here, from KaDeWe to P&C, and it was probably the busiest day we've ever had here. Saturday was quiet, but Sunday was good. That's an important day for small customers who leave their store for the day to travel to Berlin."

Less crowded than Bread & Butter in Barcelona, which this year attracted a staggering 91,000 visitors, it seems that Premium slowly is building a reputation as a serious place to do business. For many visitors, Premium's relaxed atmosphere is a direct contrast from the flashiness of Bread & Butter.

"We have been very impressed by Premium," said Marino Edelmann, sales manager at Drykorn, at Premium for the first time. "Although there are fewer people [at this show], the quality of visitors is much higher."

But the one fact that not even the most positive exhibitors could escape was the lack of international visitors. The majority — 64 percent — of the crowd was from German-speaking countries, with 16 percent from Italy and the rest of Europe, and just 2 percent from the U.S., United Arab Emirates and South Africa.

"When people abroad thought of Berlin, they thought of Bread & Butter. So Bread & Butter's decision to go to Barcelona has caused a lot of uncertainty among foreign buyers: Berlin is simply not on the radar anymore for a lot of international visitors," explained Wolf Jochen Schulte-Hillen, chief executive of the German retail consultancy SH Selection. "Usually, I see a lot of Japanese and Italian buyers, but they don't seem to be here this year. A lot of the international labels and buyers have now gone to Barcelona. Berlin's senate should never have let Bread & Butter go. It's a shame because Premium is an excellent trade fair."But, while Berlin certainly could improve its fashion profile internationally, for the German market, the capital is rapidly becoming the country's most important fashion resource.

"There is so much happening in Berlin that it's a real inspiration — it really did me good," said Claudia Wilhelm, buyer for the German boutique Mode Bey Dorette. "Obviously, fashion is about business, but it's also about artistic inspiration, and we get that by coming to Berlin. Düsseldorf may be a good business platform, but you just don't get involved in the city."

In fact, if anything, there was almost too much going on in Berlin over just one weekend. Often, visitors were spread too thinly and many events clashed.

The fourth Ideal Showroom at Café Moskau presented 100 avant-garde designers. Although the fashion show was well-attended, with 800 people at the show and 2,000 at the party, only 1,500 made it to the trade fair itself. "There were a lot of journalists but there just weren't enough buyers, which is a real shame for the exhibitors," explained Sumi Ha, who runs the show. "The problem is that when Bread & Butter was here, they used to do a lot of marketing for buyers. We don't have that anymore. And we also need to change the date."

Meanwhile, the Styleserver Showroom presented young independent designers, including c.neeon, Sarah Heartbo and Pulver, in an urban, edgy space on Torstrasse. And numerous one-off events set out to present fashion in innovative new ways. For example, the event July 13 united fashion, art and music by combining work by designers such as Bernhard Willhelm with music performances and art installations in the newly renovated Admiralspalast cabaret theater. And the Underground Catwalk showed Goth, punk and rock 'n' roll-inspired fashion, fittingly enough for underground fashion, in the city's metro system.

It is this plethora of creative off-site events that could make Berlin a true destination for international visitors, believes Filippa K's Reipert. "For retailers, Berlin's so inspiring," he said. "You just need to walk through the city, and you can't help going home with a smile on your face."

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