Fresh faces to check out on the runways and at the trade shows.
This story first appeared in the January 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
BLAENK: A Tale of Two Cities
German designers Silke Geib and Nadine Möllenkamp met in Amsterdam, where they both worked for Viktor & Rolf. They founded their label Blaenk in 2010, a collaboration that spans contrasting sensibilities: opulence with recycled castoffs and masculine and feminine viewpoints, not to mention Berlin and Amsterdam.
The 39-year-old Geib, a graduate of Esmod Paris, is based in Berlin, the Blaenk studio there housed in a raw, industrial loft with a riveting view of the city’s red city hall, while Möllenkamp, 36, a Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium, alumna, lives and works out of a stately manor in the Dutch capital, complete with elaborate stucco ceilings and wide, planked wood floors. The two travel back and forth, both geographically and aesthetically, as evidenced in their second collection for spring 2013 — which won them the 25,000 euro first prize in the Berlin Senate’s Start Your Fashion Business competition.
A fanciful vision for modern-day Snow Whites and Rose Reds, the red and white spring collection is marked by intricate and hand-crafted assemblages of silk chiffon, pearls, fur, dangling yarns and threads, and often melds vintage apparel pieces with top-of-the-line Italian fabrics. Some collaged cases in point: the white trench jacket made of an old curtain, then lined in silk and accented on one shoulder with softly gathered silk, handmade silk roses and Blaenk’s signature threads, or the red rose capelet, fashioned out of synthetic georgette from a vintage item, worn over an oversize nightshirt-dress of fine sheer silk, precisely detailed with shoulder tucks, an elongated placket and tiny covered buttons.
For fall, the duo has been inspired by artist Louise Bourgeois’ allusions to protective cage or cell-like constructions. “It’s about big, outside layers that protect, but inside, it’s all very fragile and opulent in soft silks,” explained Möllenkamp. The honey, ochre, silvery gray and taupe tones are opulent, too, and there are handcrafted macramé ornaments and various hand-woven accents.
Geib and Möllenkamp suggest Blaenk is more about collector’s items than a collection per se, for the use of fabrics derived from secondhand clothes means no two pieces are exactly alike. “There’s such a mass of discarded clothes out there, and we always come across odd pieces that have an interesting detail or texture. So why not use it? It’s just our way of contributing to sustainability,” Möllenkamp explained.
With handmade embroidered patchwork tops, for example, carrying a 2,600 euro ($3,430) price tag, man-tailored pants running 750 to 800 euros ($980 to $1,045) or their favored long dresses commanding 1,200 to 1,500 euros ($1,570 to $1,960), Blaenk occupies a lofty niche — especially by Berlin standards.
“The Berlin product as I know it is not luxe. It’s either very commercial or very minimal — all beautiful, but not what we do,” commented Geib. “We need people with money and occasions to wear and show these clothes,” she acknowledged.
Their first runway show was presented to an art-loving audience at the preopening of the Cologne art fair last October. “But we don’t say we only want to do art. We want to make an image collection, but also pieces that sell,” Geib stressed.
Friday, Jan. 18, will be a busy day for Blaenk, which will first make a presentation in the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Studio space, and later take part in the Vogue Salon. Paris, where Blaenk made its 2011 debut in a gallery, is also in the designers’ fall sights, but for now it’s via a sales agency.
— Melissa Drier
FRANZISKA MICHAEL: Pins and Needles
In a tiny yet meticulously tidy atelier in Berlin, young designer Franziska Michael is getting ready to present her fifth collection. And more importantly, her first runway show during MBFWB. Though working against the clock with just a few weeks to go, Michael seems calm and in control. On Dec. 6, she learned that she’d captured one of the four coveted MBFWB show slots allocated by the Berlin Senate to young designers.
This self-financed, one-woman operation is designer, seamstress, sales, marketing, public relations, sponsor and production all in one. “Sometimes I have one or two interns but mostly it is just me,” she smiled.
Born and raised in Magdeburg, Germany, the 28-year-old came to Berlin six years ago. “I was always creative, though I only realized very late that I wanted to study fashion,” she noted. “In school, one of my favorite things was drawing and to get my hands into anything creative, but I did not know where this would take me. It was in my last year of high school that I decided on fashion.”
After graduating from Berlin’s Esmod in 2011, she further decided to dedicate herself to her own collection rather than work for other brands.
A true Berliner, she doesn’t follow trends. She designs her own prints, uses unconventional fabrics and mixes them in playful ways. Styles and shapes from previous collections reappear, Michael favoring a gradual evolution of design ideas from season to season.
“Contrasts between the organic and the man-made, realized through the use of high-quality wools, cottons and silks alongside unusual modern textiles is the main focus of my designs,” she explained.
Texture is the key attribute when it comes to choosing her core fabrics. “I find the right fabric from the feeling I get from the texture,” she said. This season’s picks are a woven red burgundy tapestry cloth and a gold upholstery fabric, which will be used for trousers, jackets, fanny packs and baseball caps.
Her fall prints were inspired by red roses. “Every print in every collection I have made by myself. I design, draw, sketch and scan, then I play with the print on the computer.”
When the printer she previously used went out of business, she had to scramble to find a new company to make her prints, another challenge in this season’s race against time.
Her all-over-print suits, worn with black oxford shoes and white socks and complete with matching hat and bag, are her signature look. She likes to mix feminine and masculine, and juxtapose different colors, patterns and materials. “I always play with contrasts — light fabrics with heavy, solids with prints and masculine and feminine shapes.”
For example, “colorful and playful shirts are a bit masculine, but the dresses are very feminine,” she said, pointing to a see-through lavender lace dress from last spring.
In terms of building her business, Michael said her first step is to get into the tents and the next step is to focus on distribution. She was also in New York last September, presenting her collection during Brooklyn Fashion Weekend. She said the response was good, considering she didn’t expect more than just promotion.
Fashion blogs took notice and she made valuable industry connections.
Like many of Berlin’s emerging talents, Michael prefers to remain behind the scenes, though she knows she needs to be “out there” promoting her brand. “One time I saw someone walking down the street wearing my designs. I took a picture and walked away.”
— Norma Quinto
HOLY GHOST: Sacred Trio
There’s nothing spooky about the Munich-based women’s wear label Holy Ghost. With five collections in the books, this brand strives to embody the feminine urban spirit inside every woman, according to its makers. A collective endeavor, the label consists of designer Sedina Halilovic, production manager Ivana Bogicevic and sales and marketing manager Jelena Radovanovic, who share a close friendship, a love for fashion and a growing business.
Their upcoming fall collection, which will be presented on the MBFWB runway for the second consecutive season, channels the spirit of YSL and Paris in the mid-Sixties. Titled Le Smoking, the collection will feature tuxedos and masculine suits along with jumpsuits and overalls accented with feminine yet somewhat sinful plunging necklines. Some notable looks: Holy Ghost’s take on the pussy bow collar blouse paired with a ruffle back pencil skirt, and the silk blouse and lace suit with top hat and tails — androgynous yet stylish.
“This season we want to be elegant, not only with the classic tuxedo jacket but also in overalls and jumpsuits,” said Radovanovic. This one-piece garment has been a staple in each collection, and this season the jumpsuit has evolved in black lace, nude leather and black velvet renditions.
While they previously never used black in their collection, this season, Holy Ghost will introduce strong shades of black and gray in asphalt, stone and anthracite, working in accents of fire red and Bordeaux.
Childhood friends, the trio attended the same high school and share similar backgrounds from the former Yugoslavia. Halilovic then studied Fashion Management at the Akademie für Mode und Design in Munich. Bogicevic earned a master’s degree in fashion development from the Public School of Fashion in Munich, and Radovanovic has an economics degree from the State University in Munich.
After college, Halilovic and Bogicevic worked for other design ateliers, and Radovanovic was a model. The friends said it felt like a natural progression to start a business together. “The first idea came from our desire to make styles that we love that we could not find out in the market,” Radovanovic commented, explaining that the market lacks the combination of style, quality and price they could afford.
She said they came up with the name Holy Ghost spontaneously. “We thought it sounded special and strong and ultimately decided to use it.” Their customer, she added, “is a working woman, like us, who is busy at work during the day and ready to go to a party in the evening.”
She said feedback from retailers indicates the Holy Ghost woman likes to combine business and style. “Our customers are the ones who dare to try,” she said, citing their bold silhouettes. “Our look is sophisticated, very sexy and cool.” She noted that Yves Saint Laurent inspired them to make clothing that’s wearable from morning to night, not too glitzy but not so casual.
Holy Ghost is currently selling in small high-end boutiques in Germany and Denmark. Without investors or outside money, their plan is to grow the business slowly, starting in Germany and then expanding to Austria, Sweden and Switzerland before moving to other international markets like Paris and Milan.
The collection is produced in Europe. Retail prices range between 150 euros ($196 at current exchange) for a jersey blouse to 1,500 euros ($1,960) for a leather jumpsuit.
ISABELL DE HILLERIN: Home Style
Isabell de Hillerin seeks to weave together the traditional and the contemporary. The Munich-born designer uses handmade folk fabrics from Romania and Moldova to create modern — and sometimes challenging — shapes for today’s women.
The 28-year-old studied at Barcelona’s Felicidad Duce, and when it was time for her graduate collection, she remembered the beautiful hand-worked fabrics she saw at markets while visiting family in Romania as a child. “It was always everywhere,” she recalled. “But when I really wanted to use it, I couldn’t find it.”
Modernization and globalization meant that few of today’s generation in Romania are even interested in learning these artisanal weaving and embroidering techniques. So de Hillerin made it her mission not just to find those remaining craftspeople, but to try to help resuscitate this time-honored, painstaking work.
With the founding of her Berlin-based line in 2009, de Hillerin started turning these traditional fabrics, usually used for tablecloths and other decorations, into cocooning coats, tailored tops and elegant dresses with a subtle sexiness. At times, she uses the handmade elements as hidden linings or refined trims.
Starting with the spring, she moved on to neighboring Moldova, where she found remote villages and techniques that were almost lost, including a raised embroidery used only for carpets. De Hillerin recast its ornate meringuelike mini peaks, forming them into tops, clutches and shoulder treatments on shifts and blazers. She’s introducing an additional Moldovan embroidery for fall, but noted, “The ethno look is not what I want to do. I really try to translate the traditions in a modern way.”
Her collection for January’s MBFWB Studio presentation will go darker and simpler for winter, with tone-on-tone stitchwork in black, dark blue and pine green delivering a feminine minimalism in cotton and organic silk. Oversize coats will wrap the body, and dresses will trend chic and simple.
Wholesale prices for the European-made garments start at 85 euros ($111) for trousers; 143 euros ($186) for a jumpsuit; dresses run 90 to 300 euros ($118 to $392), depending on the fabric, and coats start at 240 euros ($314). De Hillerin’s pieces have been sold at Opening Ceremony in Tokyo for two seasons and are carried by Konk in Berlin, Schön in Hamburg, Weltenbuerger in Los Angeles and at several online concept stores including Not Just a Label and Hong Kong’s A Boy Named Sue. Her spring and fall collections were shown at Lavera Showfloor Berlin, home to sustainable and green designers.
Still, de Hillerin challenges and confuses most buyers at home in Germany, though she offers many pieces in each collection with and without embroidered elements. She hopes that her recent turn in German Vogue with a selection of other Berlin designers will help convince more retailers to come along on her journey, one she’s taking right beside the women of Romania and Moldova with whom she’s forged relationships. She says the union between their traditional techniques and her innovative shapes will remain an unbroken thread. “It’s somehow the signature, or my handwriting. I’m going to stick with this.”
— Susan Stone
SLOE: Out of the Bag
Although the name refers to the blackthorn shrub rather than matters of speed, the young Berlin brand Sloe nonetheless confronts the pace of the modern fashion industry with its core offer, design orientation and launch strategy.
The brainchild of Central Saint Martin’s fashion design graduate Antonia Siegmund and her partner, art director Matthias Last, Sloe got its official start last June when it went online via its e-shop at sloeberlin.com. It was a rapid development, for the duo had seriously started work on their concept and product only at the beginning of the year, Last developing the logo and CI and Siegmund the first Sloe bags.
In contrast, the Sloe bags, launched in three different styles and complemented by three apparel pieces, a necklace, a bracelet, a key ring and patchwork pillows, avoid fast-paced trends. They bypass seasonal and in many instances gender limitations, their style concentrating on what the duo calls the “natural beauty of form” executed in low-key but carefully chosen materials.
The initial focus on bags was both a pragmatic and personal choice. “We had many ideas, but it wasn’t possible to bring out 30 items in the beginning,” Last said. “And we were also trying to answer our own needs. I wanted a rucksack in nice leather, and Antonia had the bag problem, too.”
“I found so few bags out there for women and men that were a tactile experience. Or that didn’t have too much stuff piled on,” noted Siegmund. “When working on the bags, I was trying to find a perfect balance between more and less.”
The result is a trio of contemporary duffels, lead by the Puritan in gray, black or cream apparel-grade nubuck; the signature Fringe, the side panels here cut in waving slats; or the cotton canvas and leather Hybrid. Handmade in Europe and crafted, according to Sloe, “from the skin of animals that were raised in the appropriate manner,” the bags are respectively priced at 400, 500 and 250 euros, or about $523, $655 and $327 at current exchange rates.
Also in the initial lineup: the buttonless Gouache cardigan jacket for men and women in black silk, the surface of which softly shifts from dark gray to black tones, and Gouache trousers for her, which carry price tags of 300 and 250 euros ($392 and $327), respectively. There’s the navy wool Aviator jacket, another no-closure model at 300 euros ($392), as well as a bracelet, a necklace and a braided key ring of nubuck and patchwork pillows using leather remnants from the bag collection.
As for Sloe’s online launch strategy, “neither of us had any desire to open a store, plus it would have been too small and too regional an approach. Good Web sites are international,” Last remarked. To date, Sloe’s buying public has come from Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt, followed by Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and London.
“With fairly limited means, we’ve managed to establish a relatively good presence in four to five months,” he added.
The collection will follow no specific timetable. “Every apparel piece or bag is here because we’re convinced of it, not because conventional collection thinking says it has to be,” said Siegmund. However, Sloe will be opened to wholesale distribution for fall. The range will include new smaller-sized bags as well as three women’s ready-to-wear looks and will be presented at Collect Showroom, a group of advanced German design brands at the Capsule trade show in Berlin.
JULIAN ZIGERLI: Swiss Mister
You won’t find basic black on Julian Zigerli’s rainbow-hued runway. “Colors have more to tell,” insisted the Swiss-born 28-year-old.
Reality means he will, in fact, create a few black pieces for sale, but his candy-colored vision of men’s wear is about sweet practicality and sporty chic, not the serious or somber.
Now based in Zurich, Zigerli studied fashion at Berlin’s UDK (University of Arts), and retained a strong connection to the city. But, he says, when he returned to Switzerland in 2010, he fell deeply in love with the flora and fauna of his homeland. He started his line in 2011, and some of the natural elements quickly found a home in his designs, such as photorealistic lichen prints from his spring 2012 collection, called “Over Stick and Stone.”
He also pays tribute to his country by using innovative Swiss textiles — often performance and technical fabrics — such as fleece-lined Neoprene, or water-repellent cotton that looks like regular cotton. Clever, convertible pieces, such his signature Jackpack — a hybrid backpack and jacket created for his diploma collection — bring to mind another utility transformer: the Swiss Army knife.
During Berlin Fashion Week, Zigerli will show his collection, called Happy Tears, in an off-site presentation at Kreuzberg’s Galerie Cruse & Callas. “It’s about being full of joy that almost makes you sad,” said Zigerli. “Intense, but beautiful.”
He noted the designs were partly inspired by this past summer’s Olympic Games, with their glory and emotion — particularly South African swimmer Chad le Clos’ tear-filled turn on the gold medal podium.
Collection colors are warm and cozy — light blue, light pink, strong orange, brown and beige — while shapes are tight and puffy. Some prints evoke the body turned inside out, patterned like abstract veins, others are made with magnetized iron powder. Fake fur is used as cuddly lining that hugs the body, while Steiff bristly plush fabric usually utilized for the company’s famous stuffed animals is shaved and cut into a cozy coat. Other fabrics are twisted, an idea that came to Zigerli while watching Olympic divers bedecked with their tiny towels. “A story comes with every piece, and I enjoy giving that to people,” he explained.
Zigerli’s designs are currently in 12 shops worldwide, including a Strasbourg women’s shop, and he’s attracted a bit of attention since his start.
Wholesale prices start around 55 euros ($72) for T-shirts, 110 euros ($144) for a hybrid vest-backpack, 112 to 144 euros ($147 to $188), for jackets, and 173 euros ($226) for an overall; pants start at 87 euros ($114), and shoes at 102 euros ($133).
His first collection was nominated for the Swiss Design Prize in 2011, and his second won the Federal Design Prize of Switzerland in 2012. This will be his second off-site showing in Berlin. Zigerli has also presented collections in Paris, London, Seoul, Florence and Zurich.
Soon, Zigerli will get a bit more gentleman glam — actor and well-suited Scot Alan Cumming will appear in Zigerli’s first fashion film, which will be shot by Berlin-based director-photographer Martin Monk and presented in New York during that city’s fashion week.