In early December, the luxury car maker confirmed that, after 15 years, it would no longer pay to headline the event, which runs through Jan. 21.
“The requirements of the fashion industry, the needs of the public and the formats of Berlin Fashion Week are constantly changing,” Jens Kunath, a member of Mercedes-Benz’s management board, explained of the move in a statement to local media. “After 15 years as title sponsor…we will now reposition ourselves in the fashion sector in Germany with a further format.”
Mercedes-Benz has been sponsoring fashion weeks around the world for 28 years. The company declined to share any information with WWD about return on its investments in fashion weeks but it is strongly associated with fashion week because of its global presence.
The Berlin announcement — in the automaker’s home country — sparked concern that it might be pulling back from the fashion sector in general.
But a spokesperson from Mercedes-Benz in Germany allayed those fears, saying the car company would remain engaged with fashion and design sectors in the future in Germany and further afield.
“In order to reach customers in the best possible way, Mercedes-Benz is continuously and individually reviewing all communication platforms in various industries, from automotive to lifestyle and fashion,” she said. “This includes the brand’s commitment to international fashion weeks and events.
“Mercedes-Benz proactively works to future-proof the responsible growth of its fashion partnerships,” she continued, noting that “the brand remains dedicated to supporting the next generation of talent.”
Each time the carmaker has ended a fashion week sponsorship, it has rolled out similar statements.
In 2015, when Mercedes-Benz dropped its sponsorship of New York Fashion Week, a relationship it had for around a decade altogether, a U.S. spokesperson told WWD that, “our relationship with fashion is not ending, and we do support fashion globally…we routinely review those events for return on investment and general engagement. In general, it’s important to note that…we will support fashion well into the future.”
When asked how many fashion weeks or events Mercedes-Benz was involved in, the spokesperson at the company’s German headquarters said the number fluctuates and that no exact tally was available.
She explained this was because different offices in different territories make their own decisions about how to engage with the local fashion sector, including who and what to sponsor.
However, with some online research, it is possible to make a rough calculation of the number of fashion weeks Mercedes-Benz has had naming rights to over the past two decades or so. It is only an estimate because it is difficult to pin down all Mercedes-headlined fashion events. In some cases, they have changed locations, formats or names — for example, the African Fashion Festival became Accra Fashion Week.
The first fashion week Mercedes-Benz sponsored was in Australia in 1995. Since then, the car maker has been paying for naming rights to fashion weeks around the world, from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe and Latin America and everywhere in between.
That includes fashion weeks or events — often known as the “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Days” — in Ghana, South Africa, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovenia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Zurich and Amsterdam, among many others.
Some of these events held on to Mercedes-Benz’s headline sponsorship for two years or less, whereas others — like the weeks in Mexico, Berlin, Moscow and Australia — partnered with the business for 10 years or more.
What becomes clear when tallying up all of the various fashion weeks that Mercedes-Benz has had naming rights to since 1995 is that this aspect of its marketing has been winding down since 2018.
For a long time, Australian Fashion Week was the only such event the German brand sponsored. However, from 2007 onward, the number of fashion weeks bearing Mercedes’ name grew rapidly, going from around four in 2007 to a peak of between 18 and 22 from 2014 to 2017.
By 2019, Mercedes-Benz press releases were regularly stating that the company “had a presence” at 80 fashion platforms around the world. In 2015, it was 50 platforms. Today, Mercedes-Benz’s spokesperson in Germany says it is 40. These include fashion competitions, smaller events and also the provision of luxury vehicles to VIPs at fashion weeks.
But since 2017, the number of Mercedes-Benz-branded fashion weeks has been falling. By 2022, there were only about eight fashion weeks bearing the Mercedes-Benz name. For this coming year, there appear to be just four confirmed — in Georgia, Mexico, Prague and Madrid.
However, as the company’s spokesperson also pointed out, Mercedes-Benz remains involved in many other areas, including in promoting and mentoring young designers, which it has been doing since 2009, and also with the International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories in Hyeres, France.
The car company is not leaving Berlin Fashion Week altogether either. It is launching a format called “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Moments,” explaining that these will be “more flexible.”
One of these “moments” will take place in the middle of this week’s showcase in Berlin, on Wednesday. The format will likely be used again later in the year, in two other German cities, the company has told local media.
Back on Berlin’s runways in December, though, local designers were left without a sponsor for their shows. At the last minute the Berlin Senate, which runs the city-state, stepped in, offering 18 designers as much as 25,000 euros ($27,000) each so they could move ahead with their collections. The city is also funding eight conferences that will take place during this edition of Berlin Fashion Week, mostly focused on sustainability, innovation and diversity.
Unlike Mercedes-Benz, Berlin’s Senate thinks it’s a good idea to spend all this money at once.
“In the course of only a few days, it [Berlin Fashion Week] reflects all of the diversity and innovative power of the capital, and then carries it out into the world,” Michael Biel, the city’s state secretary for economics, energy and public enterprise, told WWD.
Promoting the city’s already-creative image brings more talent to Berlin, which in turn attracts investment, he said in explaining the motive for the city’s financial support. And, Biel concluded, “it’s much more efficient to concentrate funding on these flagship events, rather than distributing public funding on a small scale.”