As the World Cup kicks into the final week of competition, Germany’s apparel market is gearing up for a championship season when spring 2011 launches in Berlin July 6 to 10.
Tens of thousands of domestic and international trade visitors will be converging on the German capital for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin, Bread & Butter, Premium, TheKey.To, Greenshowroom, 5 elements.berlin and Bright in various venues around town. Berlin’s fashion offerings cover a wide spectrum, and while Germany is the primary focus, fashion week here is a multinational affair.
It also caters to a diverse palette of tastes, with MBFWB’s runway shows running from young independents and fresh-out-of-school talents to established brands and upscale designers. On the trade show front, jeans, street and urbanwear makers for men, women and now kids power Bread & Butter, whereas all manner of contemporary collections are the draw at Premium. Green’s the theme at TheKey.To and Greenshowroom, while the latest in intimate apparel, provides 5 elements.berlin’s special niche, and Bright covers the skateboarding scene.
But regardless of orientation, the mood going into the next round of shows is fairly optimistic, despite ongoing challenges and a rash of crises. German retailers fared better this spring than the cold and dreary weather would lead one to expect, with the German Association of Apparel retailers reporting a 1 to 2 percent sales gain at the end of May. More recently, sales of high summer and beach gear got off to a healthy start.
“All the horror headlines, whether about the oil spill, euro crisis, Greek crisis, government crisis in düsseldorf…don’t seem to have gotten [German] consumers down,” noted the association’s director, Jurgen Dax.
Retailers remain a bit cautious and skeptical, he said, but “there’s less concern about the consumer climate suffering than about the weakened euro.”
Indeed, Dax expects retail prices to be on the rise next year, and this promises to be a sensitive issue during the next ordering round. Denim brands are particularly affected by climbing cotton prices, though in Dax’s view, it’s the premium market where “some brands are having difficulty justifying their price position to the consumer.”
But there’s also a flip side. “The trend is toward more timeless looks, and these are allowed to be a bit more expensive,” said Carl Tillessen, director and a founder of Firma, a Berlin-based proponent of sleek, understated chic. “Moreover, our statistics show that it’s the most expensive items that sell first. of course, customers say, ‘Oh, no,’ at first, but then the leather jacket is bought nonetheless. in our sector, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Firma recorded a 30 percent sales gain for fall, which Tillessen attributed in part to a fundamental shift away from fashion’s extravagant opulence of recent years. While Firma is a specialist in contemporary tailoring and defined cuts, Tillessen also is encouraged by what he sees as a major move toward larger volumes and more draped, amorphous shapes.
“A break like this comes only every 30 years or so, and silhouettes are literally in motion,” he said. “The volume alone shifts things completely, but the challenge is to keep the look edgy and young.”
There are other sea changes under way, as well. The buyer for a major specialty chain, who, like most German retailers, was loathe to go on the record, summed up spring’s direction as “the chicer, the better.”
“We have all these years of sportswear behind us, and I’m looking forward to seeing more well-dressed looks. But it’ll be a coexistence of sportswear and well dressed,” he added, “though the really rough, vintage, worn look is on its way out.”
“Sporty, sporty, sporty has peaked,” agreed Matti Heitzler, head of women’s wear design for German fashion house René Lezard. “All of a sudden, we have to change a bit. The comfort factor won’t disappear, and fluidity for fabrics is a must. But the look is better if it’s a bit more pulled together.”
That translates into tailored blazers with a defined — but not Eighties-defined — shoulder, Heitzler explained, paired with more relaxed pieces, such as lowcrotch fantasy pants, or in longer versions worn over dresses. The company’s ceo, Heinz Hackl, reported a “very good start with the opening women’s ranges for spring.”
“The mood is positive,” he added, “but brands must have a sharper profile to distinguish themselves.”
Laurèl, a former Escada subsidiary that changed ownership last year, hopes to do just that with its debut show on the MBFWB runway. And stylistically, “we want to show a more progressive and gutsier direction,” a spokeswoman said. Laurèl’s calling its new look “distressed luxury,” pairing sharp lines with lightness, femininity with geometry and casual with chic.
And what about the younger market? Marino Edelmann, marketing and sales manager for Drykorn, thinks put-together looks and sportier styles work well together. “Especially in the pants segment, there’s a looser, casual and slightly used look with a safari and outdoor feel, while at the same time there’s also a more dressed-up look around with high-quality blazers and knits. those are the two directions we believe in for next season.”
While he said buyers have been careful, waiting until they’re fully convinced by an item before committing, he said they’ve also actively been looking for new products. At the moment, Drykorn’s bestsellers include jodhpurs, cargo pants, boyfriend chinos and cropped skinny jeans. Plus, blazers have been moving well lately, he added.
For jeans specialists such as Levi’s, however, “denim is definitely still king” for spring, according to Rosey Cortazzi, vice president of women’s merchandising and design for Levi’s Europe, Middle East and North Africa. She said Levi’s is focusing on new hands and lighter weights, and noted: “We’re doing some innovative finishes on superstretch fabrics. Our finishes track the life of a pair of jeans from Day One to the end of its life cycle.”
Levi’s is introducing new fits for spring, like a customized low-rise skinny. “Imagine jeans that someone has customized, removing the waistband and lowering the rise,” she explained. For high summer, Levi’s also is expanding its offer of denim shorts, dresses and skirts, as well as presenting a full chambray story in various silhouettes. Cortazzi also forecasts head-to-toe denim “will remain a strong message through the spring 2011 season.”
She’s bullish about Bread & Butter and the season ahead. She said the January show was buoyant, despite extreme weather conditions, and “I feel the spring edition will be even more positive.”
While the business climate in Europe “continues to be challenging, we believe there is a healthy market for brands rooted with a strong heritage. During difficult economic times there also tends to be a greater spirit of creativity,” she concluded.