This week’s launch in Berlin that saw the revival of a long-lost men’s wear brand will be the first of many such events, if all goes according to plan for a new luxury goods collective in the German capital.
Five experienced media, marketing and business executives are behind the relaunch of Manheimer suits, founded in Berlin in 1839, part of the German capital’s thriving prewar fashion sector. The historic brand returned to life officially at a glossy function on Thursday evening, where well-heeled investors rubbed shoulders with potential customers, journalists and be-suited models.
But, as WWD has learned, the company behind the revival, Jandorf Holding, has bigger plans. The revival of Manheimer is to be the first of many resurrections.
Jandorf Holding has been “collecting” historic personal luxury brands in Berlin, explained Lothar Eckstein, one of the founders of the new business, who formerly ran Amazon in Germany. One of the other founders, Matthias Düwel, is a lawyer, Eckstein explained, and has been working on getting the legal rights to mostly extinct trademarks “that it might be possible to revive.”
The next most likely launch will move into another realm: crystal glassware from a vanished brand, Josephinenhütte, founded in 1842 and named after German royalty. A soft launch may happen before the end of the year, Eckstein said.
Further launches in fashion are also possible. Aside from the Manheimer brand, which was one of the biggest and most important clothing labels in prewar Berlin, Jandorf Holding also have the rights to Manheimer’s biggest competitor at the time, Herrmann Gerson.
Eckstein also mentioned Breitsprecher, a Berlin-based shoemaker that existed around the same time. The company was one of the best-known footwear brands in the country and supplied handmade shoes to royal courts all over Europe. Does Jandorf Holding have the rights to this label, too? Eckstein preferred not to comment on that. “There are more products in the pipeline but it would be going too far to talk about them now,” he told WWD.
“We do have quite a few personal luxury brands,” Eckstein then admitted. “It’s an ambitious project and also a longer-term one. In German there’s a saying: ‘To take the long breath.’ That’s what we’re doing. We know we need to give it time. We have a lot of ideas about what to do with the brands — but let’s see what happens two or three years from now. We have patience.”
It’s likely that reviving historical brands would also entail significant costs, as it will involve restoring production facilities, as happened with the Manheimer men’s wear. “There’s been a solid seven-figure investment,” was all Eckstein would reveal about finances.
The whole project came about due to the founders’ interest in the city’s history. Eckstein said after he had moved to Berlin from western Germany, “I became privately interested in the idea. It’s hard not to notice the past here; you stumble on it, on every corner. And that got me more and more interested,” Eckstein explained. In particular, he found it remarkable that in 1933, there were around 2,700 clothing companies, employing around 90,000 workers, in the German capital. More than three-quarters were Jewish-owned. Then the Nazis came to power and by 1939, there were only 150 left. Ready-to-wear was actually something invented in Germany, Eckstein said: “You could even say it was the basis for the whole fashion industry globally.”
“There was also a strong market for personal luxury brands here but that disappeared during the war, too,” he added.
It’s not just nostalgia driving Jandorf Holding’s plans, though. The authenticity, the unique selling points and personal stories, the focus on quality and the sustainability often inherent in hand-crafted luxury products like this all tick many of modern retailing’s boxes. Luxury is also increasingly going online, Eckstein noted. “There are a number of changes in the industry that make this a viable business,” he explained. “It’s two things coming together: History and opportunity.”
This week’s launch of Manheimer, which was previously owned by one of the city’s most prominent Jewish families, has already drawn plenty of international interest because of the fascinating back story. But as Eckstein said, Jandorf is a small team — the other three founders are media agency owner Christian Boros, production specialist Ingo Brinkmeier, who has worked with Jil Sander and Strenesse, and business executive Martin Picherer — and although the long-term aim is to sell far beyond home territory, the focus for now is firmly on Germany.
One of the guests at the Manheimer launch suggested that perhaps this was the beginning of a new luxury conglomerate for Germany, similar to the likes of France’s LVMH. Eckstein laughed at the suggestion. “I don’t think so. It took them decades to become what they are,” he argued. Although, he mused, maybe Germany would already have had its version of LVMH if not for the war.
“We have the patience — but establishing even one brand takes time,” he noted wryly. For the time being, the entrepreneur said, he’s just hoping that the official launch of the Manheimer web site on Nov. 25 goes smoothly.