There are literally thousands of young designers in Berlin -about 3,000 in the fashion field alone, according to the latest figures. Several are taking to the runway during the first Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate. Kaviar Gauche, Lala Berlin, Macqua and Talkingmeanstrouble are competing for the Karstadt New Generation Award; the winner will be commissioned to design a special collection for selected Karstadt Group department stores. Sisi Wasabi and Smeilinener are among the other young Berlin labels showing on the prominently placed catwalk. Here, a look at the people and ideas behind these six designer collections.

LALA BERLIN


Just over three years ago, Leyla Piedayesh stumbled into the fashion business by knitting her own sweatbands and legwarmers and selling them to friends. Today, her Lala Berlin collection — which has grown to include handmade full-length silk dresses, transparent cashmere jerseys and printed batiste cotton cocktail dresses — can be found at 73 outlets in Germany and another 15 abroad, as well as at her own boutique on the hip Mulackstrasse in Mitte. A pretty speedy takeoff for someone who bypassed fashion school entirely.

"Lala Berlin has grown up into a woman," the designer explained. "It's a mixture of elegance and street. The street is still my main focus, but definitely things have gotten more sophisticated — easy and wearable, but also elegant and sexy."

Wearing an almost weightless silk jersey dress, Piedayesh personifies this eclecticism well. "I come from a family of carpet dealers," laughed the Iranian-born 36-year-old, explaining her passion for wools and weaves that are still a key part of her collection.

Knitwear retails for about 300 to 350 euros ($400 to $475) and printed scarves start around 300 euros ($400). Dress prices have not been set yet.

A business school graduate who worked as a producer for MTV, Piedayesh launched her first collection in January 2004 but quickly moved from legwarmers when summer came. ("What was I going to do? Woolen bikinis?") Lala Berlin's palette for spring mixes muted blacks, whites and grays with a splash of neon orange or electric blue. Silhouettes are A-lines, balloon forms and oversize silk jerseys, light enough to emphasize the body. — Damien McGuinnessMACQUA

She was "much too tall and much too thin to be able to buy anything" — so Meike Vollmar's experiments with fabric began when she was 12. She started making herself pants, sweaters and coats, and suddenly her circle of friends wanted the same. But it took years of travel and soul-searching before she accepted fashion as her "calling."

The 28-year-old Esmod Berlin graduate founded Macqua in 2004. The old Greek word for "magic" as well as a tarot card for the stars, Macqua "essentially expresses my whole philosophy…to let things happen, and it's a kind of reminder to stay on the good side, to remain ethical — values that are important to me," she said.

Macqua combines "Meike" with "acqua" — water — and indeed her signature look is flowing, frequently featuring waterfall draping in her favored viscose, silk and cotton jersey fabrics. Her "mission," she said, was to find new cut and pattern techniques, now refining, for example, last fall's apparel pieces created from one long, square piece of fabric. Next season will be more romantic, more body-conscious, with new draping she calls "jersey couture," in fabric pieces cleverly gathered yet flowing in overall silhouette.

Vollmar is blurring the barriers

between decoration and function; a waterfall drape, for example, becomes a pocket, or zippers are robbed of their function and used purely decoratively.

Japan is Macqua's key market, followed by Germany, Italy and Denmark. Dresses retail between 200 and 600 euros ($275 and $815), though some may be more expensive next season, she added, given the new hand-worked touches. — Melissa Drier

KAVIAR GAUCHE

Bags have always been the cornerstone of Kaviar Gauche, a collection launched by Johanna Kühl, 27, and Alexandra Fischer-Roehler, 32, in 2004 as a symbiosis of apparel and totes.

"The fundamental idea is to feature elements of bags in clothes and vice versa," said Kühl. The chain shoulder straps of their now-classic Lamella bag accent the necklines of dresses, and the floral structure of next spring's new matelasse leather petal bag reappears in a fabric version for apparel.Spring's theme revolves around "nature and technology." There are contrasts between romantic and high-tech elements, such as a silk organza fish scale skirt with a cool and metallic surface but a natural and organic form.

"There's high-tech pixel and metallics, sheen and lacquered surfaces on one side, and animal prints, batiste and eyelet on the other," Fischer-Roehler remarked. Floral prints are executed on silicon and latex materials.

Retail prices for the bags are 280 to 700 euros ($380 to $950), evening gowns are 850 to 1,600 euros ($1,160 to $ 2,175), dresses are 400 euros ($545), tunics are 250 euros ($340) and T-shirt dresses are 115 to 150 euros ($155 to $200).

The two designers joined forces a year after completing their studies at Esmod Berlin.

"People found we had a similar voice," Fischer-Roehler said. "We hadn't done projects together, and each had their own inspiration, but what came out had the same parameters."

They presented their first collection, deliberately "not for sale," at both Premium in Berlin and a guerrilla fashion show in front of Colette in Paris. Soon after, their edgy feminine look with casual, sporty details entered stores in Japan, Germany and Legacy in New York. Last season, they were invited to show during London Fashion Week and took part in the Swiss Textile Award presentation. — M.D.

TALKINGMEANSTROUBLE

While it's true that Andrea and Bianca Hartwig are admittedly quiet types, the sisters behind Talkingmeanstrouble definitely have something to say.

"It's just that we're interested in clothes that speak for themselves," explained creative director and Esmod graduate Andrea, 27. Bianca, 29, oversees the finances and logistics of the label they launched in 2005, as well as its boutique, which opened later that year on the trendy Alte Schönhauser Strasse in Mitte.

"Our look is reduced but somehow pretty full at the same time," continued Andrea, describing details that speak on second view, like a belt on a seemingly solid coat that's actually a bird print, or a fairly classic trench that on closer inspection is really a rounded form.Shirts wholesale between 39 and 100 euros ($53 and $136), pants are 89 to 99 euros ($121 to $135), dresses run up to 300 euros ($400) and coats are around 250 euros ($340).

The goal is "always to keep calm, even if the theme is loud," such as next spring's "Wild Side," which is Lou Reed tough, sexy and glossy on one hand, and quiet, well-bred and well-behaved on the other.

"It's a bit schizophrenic, like a good-girl dress in raw silk accented with rivets," she said, or unexpected styling touches — the tops of net stockings provocatively peeking out just above the hem of a nice little coat.

More structured fabrics and more voluminous shoulders accomplished through cut, not padding, add a new dimension this season, but the focus remains on clothes that "make you feel well in every situation. These are easy pieces even if they're not basic," commented Bianca. "You can forget them once you have them on, leaving you free to be yourself." — M.D.

SISI WASABI

"A fairy-tale princess gone street" is one way of describing Sisi Wasabi's look: possibly what Rapunzel would wear if she were out on the town with her girlfriends, instead of trapped in a tower all day.

Inspired by Austrian and Southern German Tracht, or traditional folkloric style, Sisi Wasabi combines modern cuts and silhouettes with traditional folk-costume elements, such as pleated puff sleeves, horn buttons, silk ribbons or morning coats with a flat Tracht-style collar. Even the name itself juxtaposes old with new: Sisi, the glamorous 19th-century Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the Lady Diana of her day, plus sushi-bar Wasabi, a symbol of modern urban life.

"It's about a subtle, modern take on tradition and heritage," explained 27-year-old Zerlina von dem Bussche, the label's designer and founder, who presented her first official collection in spring 2005 and now stocks 55 outlets at home and abroad. "Every woman just wants to be beautiful, which is why we focus on details that flatter, such as short sleeves cut on an angle."

The line is produced entirely in Germany of German and Italian materials, like batiste cotton, with vintage details, like leather lederhosen buckles. Von dem Bussche is certainly putting her money where her mouth is. "You could cobble that T-shirt together anywhere in the world if you wanted," she said, pointing to a simple German-made T-shirt in thick Italian cotton with pleated puff sleeves. "But you can tell its quality just by looking at it on the hanger. And as a company, we are about traditional values. It would seem almost ungrateful to suddenly move production elsewhere, now that we are getting successful."Prices are around 1,000 euros ($1,360) for a morning coat, between 390 and 450 euros ($530 to $615) for trousers, 1,200 euros ($1,635) for coats and 500 to 800 euros ($680 to $1,100) for dresses.

The palette for next summer includes a gray so pale it is almost white, a bright forget-me-not blue and a rich warm red. "These colors suit everyone — even I look tanned next to this," she laughed. — D.M.

SMEILINENER

If you think Berlin designer style is, by definition, on the dark side, Smeilinener invites you to think again. Smeilinener, the creation of Mischa Woeste, is going into its 10th color-packed season, offering unabashedly bright and graphic ensembles for the young at heart.

"I've always been into color. There's nothing without color," said the 28-year-old designer, who graduated from Esmod Berlin in 2001. After short stints with Berlin designer Mari Otberg and La Casita de Wendy in Madrid, Woeste registered her label — a tongue-twisting, nonsensical anagram of her maiden name, Linsenmeier. Smeilinener bowed at the first Bread & Butter Berlin in 2003, where it was picked up by Fiorucci Milan. Today, the line of apparel and accessories is carried in Smeilinener's vivid cubbyhole of a boutique in Berlin Mitte, international shops like Chez Manon in Connecticut and Purple in Milan, and via the Internet. She said the 'Net was the best direct path to her consumer, a woman she describes as "30 years and up, self-confident, a person who likes to stand out, is trend-free and somewhat upper end, given the cash flow aspect."

Handmade in Berlin, Smeilinener carries price tags of 300 to 800 euros ($400 to $1,100) for a skirt and 500 to 1,200 euros ($680 to $1,635) for a dress. For next spring, "A Summer Night's Dream" contrasts men's shirting and suiting fabrics with soft, cascading ruffles in slightly psychedelic dots, and features patchwork arrangements of large-scale prints. These are echoed in fanciful multicolor shoes and fabric flower headbands. — M.D.

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