By  on November 21, 2007

BERLIN — With shows appearing and disappearing with startling regularity, the German scene certainly likes to keep the industry on its toes. And this coming season is no different.

New shows in Berlin and Düsseldorf, and increased consumer confidence, are raising hopes that the German market, the largest in Europe, is on the move. Is upstart Berlin the country's brash new fashion center? Or can Düsseldorf remain the place where the industry actually gets down to business? After years of growing competition, and at times outright antipathy, the two cities may now be making an uneasy truce. Maybe there is room for both after all.

"Berlin's turning into the big glamorous kickoff event which starts the season, and then its off to the showrooms in Düsseldorf," said Premium's co-founder Anita Bachelin. "It's here [to Berlin] that people now come to party, talk, see new things and be inspired. Then you make appointments to see people in the showrooms in Düsseldorf, where you wouldn't necessarily make new clients, but can spend time with your existing ones."

What will certainly help Berlin as a location is fashion week's early date. IMG Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, which premiered last season, will be held from Jan. 27 to 31, followed by Premium, from Feb. 1 to 3, with a whole range of other shows to run alongside.

But considering how low buyer traffic was during the summer, is it wise to spread events over an entire week? Premium attracted 13,822 visitors, a drop from the previous season's record-breaking 15,647. And the fourth Ideal Showroom at Café Moskau had only 1,500 visitors to see the 100 avant-garde designers on show there. The worry is that, with a longer fashion week, visitor frequency will be spread even more thinly than was the case last season.

"As far as buyer-visitor figures went, it was the worst season ever. Those are simply the facts and there's no getting round that," said Ideal's founder Sumi Ha. "We need some pretty big changes, and quickly. Nobody has enough money and time to wait to see what happens."

She believes that this coming season will be make or break for Berlin's reputation as a serious place to do business. Her Ideal show will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.But Bachelin remains confident about Berlin's nascent fashion week. "I was disappointed by last season's visitor figures," she said, "but all our exhibitors are coming back, and we had amazing feedback from buyers, so it can't have been that bad."

And indeed, despite a low turnout, exhibitors and buyers at last season's Premium did say they were very happy with the quality of visitors and the professionalism of the show itself.

The next Premium will expand its Green Area of environmentally friendly fashion, will launch a new "Uberdenim" section of upper-range denimwear and promises more big-name brands. The show will present 850 collections, compared with last season's 800.

Alongside Premium, also from Feb. 1 to 3, Norbert Klauser, head of the fashion agency Klauser, will launch a new women's wear collection, Stark Women. Located in the former Vitra Design Museum in the hip Prenzlauer Berg district of eastern Berlin, the show will be spread over 100,000 square feet of floor space.

"The dates for Berlin couldn't be better," said Klauser. "It's very important we all work together and make Berlin a fantastic warm-up event for the German season."

For more cutting-edge fashion, Projekt Galerie Showrooms, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, will be combining art with fashion by showing between 25 and 30 avant-garde designers to press and industry visitors in three galleries along the Torstrasse in Mitte. Other galleries in the area will be open to the public with fashion-related exhibitions.

"The idea is to go back to how fashion was displayed in Berlin in the Twenties and Thirties," said Sven Krüger. "Back then, people would just wander round designers' ateliers."

As far as the IMG Mercedes-Benz catwalk shows are concerned, final numbers of participants and locations have yet to be announced. And despite a certain amount of skepticism among industry professionals in Berlin, according to IMG Fashion's director of public relations, Zach Eichman, the event will be taking place in both January and July.

In Düsseldorf, meanwhile, the Igedo company, which will be holding their four-in-one trade show concept (women's wear at CPD, men's wear at HMD, orders at Global Fashion and bodywear at Body Look) from Feb. 10 to 12, feels unthreatened by competition from Berlin. "Düsseldorf has once again established a firm footing," said Igedo chief executive officer Frank Hartmann. "It remains the number-one choice for the German and central European market."However, for many buyers, Düsseldorf's remaining relevance is more down to the city's impressive number of showrooms, rather than CPD itself. During the show season, more than 3,000 labels are presented in some 800 showrooms. And despite CPD's recent innovations (the increased number of progressive labels in the "Style & Signatures" section, for example, has helped rejuvenate the fair somewhat), traffic at CPD remained low. Back in 2001, CPD alone managed to attract more than 50,000 visitors, whereas at last summer's event, the four shows together had 42,600 — still a respectable number, but for many exhibitors, particularly smaller and newer labels, buyers were few and far between.

In a bid to boost Düsseldorf's profile, Mark McGuire, formerly of the giant streetwear show Bread & Butter, will be launching a new trade fair for contemporary fashion. WEARe will be located on the same fairgrounds as CPD, but in a separate area (Hall 8B), and will aim to attract a very different type of visitor — one reason why the event will start two days before CPD. Running from Feb. 8 to 10, the last day of WEARe will coincide with the first day of CPD. The show wants to pick up where Bread & Butter left off when it moved to Barcelona, and aims to cater to the sophisticated streetwear market in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe.

"We want to provide a cool atmosphere, but with a bit less party and a lot more business than Bread & Butter," said McGuire. "Bread & Butter has turned into an event catering to Southern Europe, and we really need a platform for Northern Europe."

While Berlin and Düsseldorf push forward with new events, a scrap has broken out in Munich between Munich Fashion Fair WoMen and new competitor Munichfashion.women, which was held for the first time last season. George von Berger, ceo of Munich Fashion Fair WoMen, has canceled his coming show and said he will be taking the organizers of Munichfashion.women to court for plagiarism.

"They have copied our name and with one blow have managed to destroy what we have spent five years building up," von Berger said.But Corina Klippel, ceo of Munichfashion.company, which organizes Munichfashion.women, and a former employee of von Berger, is unperturbed and plans to go ahead with the second edition of the women's wear show from Feb. 23 to 26.

"These are just sour grapes," she said, adding that the fashion industry is full of events with similar names.

Less controversial is the huge sportswear show Ispo Winter (Jan. 27 to 30), which takes up almost 2 million square feet of space and is already completely sold out. Also doing well is the JAM, or Jeans Affair Munich, which premiered last July and is scheduled to be held again Jan. 27 to 28. Last season 80 exhibitors were present, and so far more than 100 have booked for January, including Freesoul, Bench, Firetrap and True Religion.

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