The Road From Germany

Reflecting the international representation at Lyon, Mode City, a trio of German lingerie and swimwear firms will be part of the young designer pavilion called Expression Dessous.Shop HoppingHave swimsuit will travel. That was the business strategy of...

Reflecting the international representation at Lyon, Mode City, a trio of German lingerie and swimwear firms will be part of the young designer pavilion called Expression Dessous.Shop HoppingHave swimsuit will travel. That was the business strategy of the fledgling Berlin swimwear company Noot when it started up operations three years ago.Thomas Funk and Marcia Stanley designed a mini collection of five one- and two-piece swimsuits, packed them in a bag and headed for Naples, Italy, stopping at shops along the coast.“We covered 8,000 kilometers in seven weeks, via Sardinia, Rome and Marseille, stopping in all of the stores where we thought our products could fit,” Funk recalled. “It was very tiring, but we wanted to see what the response would be.”The design duo got the best reaction from a shop owner in Porto Carvo, Italy, who, like Funk and Stanley, had a background in tailoring and patternmaking. While other Italian retailers said Noot’s clean, sporty looks like a round turtleneck style with cutout sides jarred with Italy’s more “La Dolce Vita” beach style, the duo was encouraged enough to return to Berlin and put a collection into the works for summer 2001.Noot was not named for newts, those small semiaquatic salamanders, but rather for a little girl character saved by actress Sigourney Weaver in the motion picture “Aliens II.” Funk remembers that he and Stanley liked the fact that Noot sounds Dutch and is the Belgium word for footnotes.From a design standpoint, the collection stresses simple, graphic lines and construction accomplished through carefully placed seaming. For summer 2003, the first theme uses a light but tightly woven elasthane polyamide from Italy that results in suits “that fit like tanks,” said Funk.A key look is a black circular halter-neck suit with a contrast inset in brown with tangerine, brown and blue. The accent colors appear in French stitching along the neckline, as well as along the seams.The second theme uses a heavier but more flexible stretch polyamide in pale khaki or olive. The bikinis and one-piece suits feature belts or pockets. The third theme focuses on silkscreen designs that are engineered on various parts of the swimsuit. All of these styles are free of underwiring due to the use off-seaming for support, as well as graphic accents, said Funk.“That won’t work for certain bodies, of course,” he acknowledged. But Noot’s four-size system of small, medium, large and long covers many consumer types.The 18-to-20-piece collection is manufactured under the team’s watchful eye in Berlin.“It’s expensive, but I can control things much easier here than if we were producing somewhere in the Far East, Monaco or Tunisia,” said Funk.Suggested retail in Europe is about $150 for each suit.Something FishyFor six years, Jutta Teschner has been serving Berlin’s new club generation with trendy innerwear from designer brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Undress by Marlies Dekkers, Christian Dior, Paul Smith and Versace at her store, first in Schoneberg and then in Mitte.Now, she’s added a more personal touch: her own Fishbelly collection.“There’s a lot of erotic and high-fashion underwear in the market, but there was nothing fresh for everyday,” she said.So, the 36-year-old designer decided to test a few ideas within the confines of her shop. She took a sportier approach to lace, edging a soft brown lace bra and panties in black. She came up with her novelty brief with a striped feline face print.“I was really surprised when people started buying my stuff,” she said. “Apparently, I’d hit upon a variant, and I decided that for summer I would do it really professionally.”That includes making her first debut at the Lyon show, where she will show playful items like a “Marrakech” silhouette, which features an Oriental border, elastic red fringe and is embroidered in Indian mirror beads. There’s also a cami with a triangle inset, an underwire bra with a wooded accent between the cups and a range of tiny bikinis. Other items include mesh camis and slips in a photographic fruit print, and underwire bras, bikinis, briefs and garter belts in a yellow floral.The comfort factor is important to Teschner, who noted, “Unfortunately, this aspect has been clumped under the awful name of wellness, even though it’s important how a woman feels well. I know personally that I keep my lace things for special occasions, and I do a lot of sports, so I don’t want underwear that’s super complicated.”Hence, she will also offer a bandeau bra in white terry cloth with wide black banding, and white panties in a waffle-pattern cotton with a bit of smocking along the center of the derriere.Then, there’s a white terry T-shirt with red zigzag edging and a gingham bow.“People screamed ‘Oh! That looks like what I wore as a baby,” she said. “But they didn’t only scream, they also wanted to buy it. I guess it’s really plucky to go to Lyon with all of this. But if you don’t risk, you don’t win.”Corset CreationsIt was at a costume-design class in the early Nineties, during her studies in Hannover, that Christina Kramer first came into contact with the intricacies of corset making.Her fascination was such that that she found herself building a career around the bones and bows of these constricting yet seductive undergarments.The now 33-year-old Kramer moved to Berlin in 1997, formally founding her company, Cris-Cris, in 2000. She set up an atelier and shop in the midst of the artists’ scene, a former craftsman’s center, in Berlin Mitte. It’s a suitable address for her multilevel operation that combines art, crafts and commerce. Kramer designs and hand-makes made-to-measure corsets, plus any number of related items, from skirts and slips to lace gloves and even spats. She also oversees a more commercial line of Cris-Cris underwear, lingerie and swimwear.“I can work on a couture piece as a concept for the week, and then it’s the job of my partner, Christina Dageforde, to come up with the commercial version,” said Kramer.As examples of the crossover into the commercial arena, Kramer outlines two examples: “Couture panties, a mix of shaper, garter belt and Josephine Baker-inspired briefs, which incorporates a flocked net print with insets…and a viscose jersey print from Swiss fabric house Jakob Schllaepfer. The sides are accented with raffia trim, a glittery, dark burgundy ruffle across the waistband and legs and lace-up detailing at the back.The commercial version is a panty with insets of solid net, minus the burgundy ruffle but sporting an apricot raffia band at the front and a lace-up treatment at the back.The 50-to-60 piece Criss-Cross collections are primarily produced in southern Germany, though the more complicated styles are made in the Berlin atelier. Kramer said she sells to lingerie shops throughout Europe, but noted that she sees further potential through ready-to-wear retail channels.“My corsets, for example, look good under a pinstriped suit or you could even swim in one if you want,” she said, adding that Cris-Cris bras can do double duty as evening tops, and the collared swimsuit she will show in Lyon would also work out of the water, paired with a summer skirt or pants.

This story first appeared in the July 15, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.