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Pretty Tough

In Berlin, the cool girls are trading their jeans in for pencil skirts.

If you can imagine Jessica Rabbit with tattoos, then you are halfway to picturing what some of Berlin’s hippest girls look like. Fifties skirts, girly ponytails and tailored uniforms are combined with piercings, tattoos and out-of-control hair to create looks that are both pretty and tough at the same time: rockabilly meets burlesque with a touch of WWII army sweetheart and Japanese schoolgirl thrown in for good measure.

Berlin traditionally has been a rockabilly stronghold, with numerous concerts every week and at least five bars catering to the scene. But, according to designer Valena Fürstenberg, over the last couple of years, rockabilly girls have started dressing more femininely, ditching the masculine plaid shirts and the dark, turned-up jeans in favor of dresses, skirts and Forties makeup. “The popularity of burlesque, and personalities such as Dita Von Teese, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera have certainly helped,” she believes. The fact that mainstream fashion in general has become dressier and more feminine also makes it easier to pull off a Fifties dress.

Fürstenberg’s label, Pony Maedchen, which translates as “girl with bangs,” is inspired by the Forties pinup style created by Alberto Vargas. Launched in October, the label produces sexy sailor tops, cute schoolgirl uniforms or sassy army outfits. All the materials are stretch, to make them wearable, easy to care for and, most importantly of all, figure-hugging. “Well-covered, but sexy,” is how Fürstenberg describes the outfits, where skirts often go below the knee and tops button up to the neck. “It’s important for me to make clothes that are wearable and don’t look cheap,” she says. Blouses retail at around $107, skirts are $94 and uniforms, complete with hats and belts, sell for around $215.

Immaculately made up and with both arms covered in traditional-style tattoos, Fürstenberg herself personifies the new hard-core femininity of Berlin. These women may be wearing the ultragirly clothes of a more conservative era, but with a sailor’s tattoo peeking out of a pink three-quarter-length sleeve, they are clearly not going to be pushovers.

“For me, this is the next stage of feminism,” says Fürstenberg. “Trying to be strong by being like a man is the wrong sort of feminism. Real strength lies in standing by your femininity.” Having the tattoos also has its advantages, Fürstenberg explains, laughing: “You certainly get more respect. And in a bar, you don’t get hit on by idiots.”