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Four fresh names on the city’s fashion scene.
This story first appeared in the January 8, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
MADS DINSEN: FASHION DEMONSTRATION
Frustrated by social inequities in Europe and elsewhere, and a generation that seems to have forgotten those who forged change on the front lines, Berlin-based Danish designer Mads Dinesen decided to celebrate those fighters through fashion.
From suffragettes to gay rights activists to Russian feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot, his fall collection, dubbed “Smoke-clad Warrior,” takes protest and demonstration as inspiration. Adopting some of the signifiers — covered faces and hoods, slogan patches, badges and T-shirts — and applying his own tribal-tinged, handcrafted spin, he’s infused it all with the mystical spirituality that has become a trademark.
This will be Dinesen’s third season, and his first event on-site at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin. And there’s another first: He’ll be adding women’s wear to his men’s designs, many of which have always had unisex tendencies.
RELATED STORY: Berlin Fashion Week Calendar >>
Dinesen, who comes from Copenhagen and has a background in dance, graduated from Berlin’s UDK (University of the Arts) in 2010, and went on to intern at Boudicca. He participated in Hyères in 2011 and was invited to compete in the 2012 Mango Fashion Awards, for which he was surprised to discover he had to submit a women’s wear collection. Ever resourceful, he turned the men’s wear he was working on into women’s, then transformed it once again for his well-received January 2013 off-site men’s wear presentation, which took shamanistic street musician Moondog as its starting point.
Now, Dinesen wants to use his designs to send a message more powerful than a style statement.
“I think fashion is quite a strong voice, I think there’s just not enough people using it that way,” he insisted, citing the pointed provocations of Vivienne Westwood and the more visual commentary on masculinity offered by Bernhard Willhelm.
Dinesen’s modern armor showcases inspirational slogans such as “fight the fight,” “choose your battles” and “look within” inscribed on separates and accessories. Only readable when close up, the words are embroidered tone-on-tone with pearl details adding a glam touch. Additionally, the circle shape of badges and patches encourages wearers to think about filling in the blanks.
“Some will see it as pure decoration.…Others will buy it because of the message and the visual,” he said, noting it’s not necessarily cause-specific, but supports the idea of a struggle.
In a mostly black, white and red palette with some blue, next fall’s women’s looks lean either unisex or ultrafeminine, while men’s shapes are mostly fluid. High-collared coats fasten across the body. Trousers have volume and come cropped, tapered or flowing. They’re topped with hoodies and sweaters layered with tunics in jersey or knitwear similar to oversize T-shirts, or Asian-influenced dresses with deep slits at the side.
“It’s also a little bit Nineties — I kind of liked it when women were wearing pants under these long dresses,” said Dinesen, explaining he finds the combination elegant and strong.
Materials include thin wool, linen, waxed cotton and organic silk, as well as repurposed jersey and recycled camouflage. He’s moved away from fur and leather, and uses only found feathers. Still, Dinesen doesn’t want to make green his signature color. He says he’ll go with environmentally inclined fabrics whenever he can, but not at the expense of his creative vision.
Produced in small runs and requiring copious handwork, wholesale prices start at 70 euros, or $96 at current exchange, for T-shirts, 95 euros ($130) for trousers, long sweaters at 300 euros ($413) and coats and jackets at 215 euros ($296). Pieces are currently available at The Flag in Berlin, Hong Kong’s 10thshop.com and The Unconventional in the U.K.
While his point of view is clear, Dinesen is still finding his audience. To that end, he’s using crowdsource tool IndieGogo to help fund his MBFWB show, as well as assistance from German shoe retailer Deichmann, which hosted Mads Dinesen and others in an atelier project. He will also show in his home city of Copenhagen for the first time this year.
“We can’t save the world as one person, but we can at least take a little step,” said Dinesen. This season, his will start on the MBFWB stage.
— Susan Stone
BOBBY KOLADE: TAKING CHANCES
In his 26 years, Bobby Kolade has literally come a long way.
Born in 1987 to German-Nigerian parents in the Sudan, Kolade grew up in Uganda, where his good grades at the British International School were expected to lead to a career in law or business. However, lacking the funds to attend the Warwick Business School, he accepted his music teacher’s invitation to accompany her to Berlin.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the capital city, or even what to study. Fashion was a spontaneous decision, but you have to be open to these chances,” he said. “And to take them.”
After a few misguided weeks in communication design at Berlin’s Weissensee Arts Academy, he switched to the school’s fashion design program in 2006.
“I started discovering things in Berlin like dressing up, crazy parties, cross-dressing. I realized I really liked crafting and making things,” which is something necessity required of him as a child. “We had a pretty horrible school uniform, but there were also fund-raising days when you could wear whatever you wanted. But I didn’t have cool clothes, so I just cut things up and sewed them back together with the seamstress down the road,” he recalled. “I didn’t know then you could use this creativity to have a job.”
In 2010, however, he felt stuck in the school’s established program: “I didn’t feel I was discovering enough, and needed to broaden my horizons.”
Armed with only a suitcase, he moved to Paris. “I had no friends, no hostel, no internship, and spent four months looking for one.” He landed at Maison Martin Margiela, followed by a 2011-12 stint at Balenciaga.
“Those two years in Paris changed my life,” he declared. Both houses were in periods of restructuring, “and I learned what to do and what not to do.” Summing up that formative time, he said, “At Balenciaga, I learned when it comes to textiles, nothing is impossible. And at Margiela, I learned spontaneity.”
He returned to Berlin, graduated from Weissensee and, directly after completing his graduate collection “Things Fall Apart,” decided to simultaneously launch his label and show this graduate work in an off-season runway show. “This was me being Margiela-esque,” he quipped. “But I observed how people work one year on their final collection and land in a void. I wanted to do this differently and show it on models.”
The buzz started immediately after this unorthodox April 2013 launch. His cool elegance and androgynous edge helped him win the Berlin Senate’s Start Your Fashion Business award just three months later, and he was also chosen to participate in the Berlin Showroom in Paris during fashion week last fall.
That first collection featured the use of East African fig tree bark, bonded to wool for voluminous yet flat coats, or as the basis for silk-screen prints on crisply paneled dresses and tops that nonetheless softly flutter. Or the motorcycle-inspired jacket, which like most of his pieces incorporates rectangular strips doubling as belts, a loose tie at the neck or a piece casually hanging from the wrist.
For his new collection, Kolade’s “working on the audacity of simplicity. And an African country I’m very fascinated by, but it’s a surprise.” The African connection is something he wants to develop, hoping not only to produce there someday, but “my dream is to build a vocational school and create this know-how.”
As for January, he’s temporarily stepped on the runway brakes, and will present his collection off-site at the September/Container at 8 Blumenthalstrasse.
“I want to grow slowly,” he summed. “I don’t want to be forced to hold a dinosaur on a dog’s leash. First, let the puppy grow.”
— Melissa Drier
JULIAANDBEN: TWO TO ONE
In 2008, after graduating from Esmod in Berlin, friends Julia Heuse and Ben Klunker founded their namesake label, Juliaandben, in the back of a rough-and-tumble art gallery on Berlin’s Torstrasse. In those early days, Heuse reminisced, “people who came to our studio and shop were really shocked. We were like squatters.”
By spring 2011, Juliaandben was operating a far more presentable shop on Gormannstrasse, their edgy yet easygoing looks in step with the area’s hip young crowd. The two designers, however, had fallen out of step with each other, and in August 2011, Heuse took up the reins alone. Wholesale deliveries continued through January 2012, but when the shop’s one-year lease was up, Heuse opted for a change.
“I’d been more a saleswoman than a designer that year, and spent most of my time telling ladies they weren’t too fat for leggings,” she laughed.
Her next step, as the fashion director for a Chinese producer of printed butterfly and polka dot scarves, took her even farther afield. “I learned to do all that management stuff,” she said, and also made contacts with printers in India, for example, that would prove helpful to her own designs later on. “But when they offered me a really good full-time position, I knew that if I accepted, I’d never make a T-shirt again.”
Instead, she rebooted the collection for fall 2013 under the Julia Heuse label, “When I saw my name on the label, I thought, ‘Oh wow, that was wrong,’” she admitted, nor was she satisfied with the colors of her new signature patterns. For spring 2014, Heuse put Ben back in the name, tired of explaining she owned the rights and that she and Ben were still friends.
More importantly, the spring collection was back to fully expressing Juliaandben’s cool off-style, with looks like a women’s bathrobe coat in pebbly black silk, cut a bit oversize and louche, the sleeves a little too long, the big patch pockets a bit haphazard and the edges simply raw. Or a men’s black sheer silk knit “big T,” loosely slipping off the shoulders for a casual asymmetric feel, paired with white curved pleated cotton trousers, the thin black leather belt peeking through the top. Or her gritty signature prints, based on photographs of crumbling walls, peeling facades, even a bathroom floor showing up on the front of his-and-her leggings, jackets, tops, scarves, et al.
Heuse also started getting daily inquiries from sales agents. “Not from Germany. They’re too high-street-oriented,” but instead from Paris, Milan, Sweden or New York, she reported. “When I asked the Paris guy how he found me, he said by researching Berlin brands on the Web. He’s a bit into this twisty dark stuff, so he likes what I do.” Whereas the Stockholm agent saw her clothes in Göteberg at the store of one of his Facebook friends.
Though a Juliaandben online shop was launched in November, the social network remains an important sales tool. Most of the stores she sells to are Facebook friends, she said, and end consumers also contact her via the social network. As for the trade-fair network, it’s not Heuse’s cup of tea, but she will stage on off-site show as part of the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin lineup.
Coats currently retail between 550 and 750 euros, or about $756 and $1,032 at current exchange; dresses 350 to 500 euros ($481 to $688); trousers around 200 euros ($275), and T-shirts from 99 to 109 euros ($136 to $150), depending on the material.
Four years of running a shop has given her a practical perspective when it comes to design, too. “When I design, I’m thinking of sales. Not only, of course, but I know women need a normal long sleeve, and that the typical 40-year-old man wants pleated black pants with a little edge. If it was art,” she went on, “my look would be more wild and deconstructed. But I like people dressed in a more classic way, too. A man in a black suit is pretty sexy.”
— Melissa Drier
WUNDERWERK JEANS: NO PANIC. IT’S ORGANIC
German brand Wunderwerk Jeans’ philosophy starts with what it does not have: no plastics, no chrome, no chlorine, no potassium — and that’s just the beginning.
Childhood friends and denim/sportswear pros Heiko Wunder and Tim Brückmann teamed up to launch Wunderwerk Jeans in 2012. Wunder’s experience extends from managing men’s and women’s brands to design and production for Esprit, Tom Tailor, O’Neill and Vanilia, while Brückmann held a sales position at Replay Jeans and managed an import, distribution and sales agency for 12 years.
The partners’ Düsseldorf-based enterprise serves as a lab to advance the craft and sustainability focus of denim.
“Our target is to produce fashion that everybody likes without preaching sustainability. And the bonus is that we are organic,” said Wunder, who is the brand’s designer. Nonetheless, sustainability is a way of life for this vegetarian with a passion for healthy living. He makes a point to be conscious of the chemicals to which humans are exposed through what we ingest, and the potential harm to the body via the clothes we wear.
Wunder searches for organic cotton, wool from controlled-biology livestock, extensive certified raw materials, as well as the almost complete abandonment of petroleum-based raw materials. He primarily focuses on European fair-trade production and the use of new, innovative sustainable production techniques.
Wunder created his own list of restricted substances and requires that his suppliers disclose the process and chemicals used. “It is better for nature to work with ecologic colors,” he said, and further works with his suppliers to help them develop organic denim.
While Wunderwerk, like other brands, supports various causes through the sales of products like T-shirts, Wunder declined to name names. In his view, “Once we promote the name of the charity we support, then we are no longer supporting the cause.”
“We can eat healthy and organic and we can wear sustainable and ecological clothes as much as possible, but we need to do more,” he said.
There are social aspects to consider as well, which is why the brand’s jeans are produced in Greece and Portugal.
“These countries are struggling with their economies,” he explained, further noting, “I can get my buttons cheaper from other places, but I’d rather source them here in Germany.”
The brand has had a healthy start. Half of its customer base is eco-shops, and the stores that cautiously placed small orders the first season have sold out and reordered, he reported.
“It is encouraging that some forward-thinking retailers have provided a place for our brand,” said Wunder. But non-eco specialists also carry the label. “Daniels in Cologne, for example, ordered from our second collection, but they don’t care that we are organic.”
The collection includes jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, knitwear and outdoor jackets. Retail prices for bottoms are 89 to 159 euros ($122 to $218 at current exchange), with knitwear ranging from 89 to 269 euros ($122 to $370).
All denims are 98 percent organic cotton (GOTS) and 2 percent Lycra spandex, with no oil-based resources, in basic raw to vintage washes or dip-dyed without chlorine or potassium permanganate. The new Wunderwerk collection will be on view in Berlin at Premium in January.
— Norma Quinto