BERLIN — The future outline of Berlin Fashion Week is in flux as IMG eyes shifting its Berlin fashion engagement to the consumer level. And a new time slot.

With the involvement of Mercedes-Benz and IMG reportedly winding down or taking new shape after completing 10 years as partners in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin in July, the runway shows’ organizer IMG said it will be coming back with a consumer-driven concept in Berlin for the second half of the year, WWD has exclusively learned.

The event is to merge music, fashion and retail, and aims to boost awareness and help attract new audiences for Germany’s independent designer scene. IMG sources noted designers can expect direct-to-consumer retail opportunities, increased international attention, and an expanded customer base.

Through its partner agency WME, IMG has deep ties to the music industry, and while details are not known at present, there is speculation that the event could coincide or overlap with Berlin’s Lollapalooza music festival slated for Sept. 9 to 10 at the Hoppegarten Racing Track. The festival reportedly drew upward of 50,000 visitors daily during its two-day run last year.

This would also position the event about a week after Bread & Butter by Zalando’s second edition to be held Sept. 1 to 3 at The Arena Berlin. B&B by Zalando’s 2016 consumer debut drew more than 20,000 visitors. Confirmed brand partners for the 2017 platform include Adidas, Alpha Industries, Converse, Lee, Reebok and Vans. A Zalando spokeswoman said the e-tail giant had not yet heard anything about IMG’s consumer-oriented plans. “It sounds interesting, but we can’t comment on speculation,” she told WWD.

The future role of Mercedes-Benz in Berlin and the German fashion scene is another unknown factor at this point. A Mercedes spokesman told WWD, “We will stick to Berlin whatever happens. Berlin is important to Mercedes-Benz. We’ve been here since 2007. However, a lot of things are changing and we are still in discussions with IMG. Many things are on the table. We should be able to say more later in June.”

IMG is not the only organizer of runway shows during Berlin’s broader fashion week, which has included up to 50 shows and presentations per season in recent years. The Berliner Mode Salon, organized by Berlin production and creative agency Nowadays, also stages designer shows on and off the main DBMS venue, and the DBMS German designer group presentation includes a large portion of the nation’s most promising talents.

From the perspective of Marcus Kurz, founder and chief executive officer of Nowadays, co-initiator of DBMS with Vogue Germany’s Christiane Arp, and a member of the board of Germany’s nascent Fashion Council Germany, the (runway) shows will go on. Could Nowadays go it alone in the absence of the existing Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin set-up?

“In terms of setup, expertise, experience and our visionary view of Berlin and how it could be, yes we can,” Kurz stated. “I’m not talking of Nowadays in particular, but maybe it’s time for a new model. We all foresaw the end of the contract (between Mercedes-Benz and IMG) and however it’s going to be from next January on, we need to work it around the new needs of the market. Something like this has been on the way for several seasons. It’s not the point of no return, it’s a new step.”

From the start, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin has been primarily a web-oriented photo op for the smaller labels participating. International designers have been few and far between, and after Hugo Boss decided to focus its show efforts elsewhere, the heavyweight action was very mainstream.

Moreover, Berlin’s runway shows have never drawn a significant retail audience, either domestic or international. The early season timing proved more and more difficult for buyers busy with important pre-season ordering, while the pricing and design of the labels were considered a hard sell up against leading international collections.

Not that Berlin has no buyers in town, with an estimated 200,000 trade visitors heading to the German capital each season, thanks to nine fashion fairs running concurrently during fashion week.  Berlin is now indisputably the center of German trade show activity, and indeed Europe’s largest concentration of fashion fair offerings for men, women, accessories, contemporary and urbanwear, green fashion as well as midmarket ranges.

Anita Tillmann, founder and director of Premium Exhibitions and one of the earliest and most vocal supporters when the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin runway platform was launched, is equally enthusiastic about the new developments. “In the end, IMG never managed to attract relevant designers to Berlin, but this move could be good for Berlin, to show we can do business here but also address consumers too. The possibility of having an early B2B and later B2C date is perfect. It’s so modern.

“Strategically, for us it’s amazing,” she continued, “because it means we can offer our clients different events around the second date. And if we end up with two weeks of fashion parties for young people in September, great. It’s what Berlin is best at — buzz.”

As for the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin from July 4 to 7, IMG sources said, “we have great designers returning to the MBFWB schedule this season, as well as Prabal Gurung, who will be joining the calendar with his resort collection.” The show activity will be centered in Kaufhaus Jandorf, which will also repeat last season’s consumer-facing retail space “The Shop.” More information on participants there and on the runway will be forthcoming closer to the show dates.

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