France has what local designers call “la Fédération” and the U.S. has the CFDA. As of this week, Germany has its own industry association “by fashion designers for fashion designers,” as the founders put it.
The German Fashion Designers Federation was initiated in spring 2018 after two years of preparation and launched officially today in Berlin, a few days before the city’s biannual fashion week begins. As yet, the Federation, or GFDF, only has a handful of members but they already have some impressive supporters: Financial backing is being provided by Mercedes-Benz and German skin-care stalwart Dr. Hauschka. German designer Bernhard Willhelm is a member and other big, local names, yet to be announced, are also expected to join. The GFDF’s board includes Renate Künast, a senior member of German parliament for the Green party and former federal minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection.
The GFDF was the brainchild of Eva Gronbach, a Berlin-based designer who previously worked for Hermès and Yohji Yamamoto, who will also serve as the body’s first president.
“We were very inspired by the CFDA in New York because it is a younger organization than the Federation in Paris,” says Gronbach, who started the project by simply e-mailing other designers to ask them if this was something they saw a need for.
It is true that there are other apparel industry groups and associations in Germany but, as the GFDF’s vice president, local designer Monya Wasilewski notes, “these tend to be industry-oriented and not run by the designers themselves.” The GFDF won’t be competing with any other association. Rather, they plan to network with others. And as Gronbach and Wasilewski both add, they are grateful for organizations like the Fashion Council of Germany, whom they credit with introducing the merits of fashion to local politicians.
However, unlike similar bodies elsewhere, the GFDF will not use an accreditation or invitation-only procedure but will be open to all-comers, including students, as long as they are fashion designers, German or working in Germany, and willing to pay a yearly 150 euro fee. “We’re German, we’re more democratic,” Gronbach laughs as she explains the membership system, before more seriously noting that the founders are also very concerned about social justice and sustainability in fashion.
The GFDF will be there to advocate for German fashion design and all those who undertake it, Gronbach and Wasilewski explained. Topics they want to tackle include ongoing state support for new designers, sustainable fashion and the certification and provenance of that, health and unemployment insurance and parental leave, as well as the legalities around copyright and intellectual property, a problem particularly for less experienced designers. More long-term and esoteric aims include increasing the level of professionalism in the sector and changing the way that Germans perceive fashion design in general.
“We have a problem with the culture around fashion here,” Berlin-based designer Kostas Murkudis, who spent seven years working for Helmut Lang, confirms. “In France, [former president, Francois] Mitterand described fashion as a high art — that is, not an applied art, but equal to fine art. We don’t have that in Germany.”
The German industry tends to be seen as the manufacturer of entertainment opportunities, or what might best be described as “skirts and shirts.” And although the attitude to fashion is changing, a general German tendency toward practicality means that for many locals, high fashion is often still seen as foolish or frippery, Murkudis notes.
Both Wasilewski and Gronbach say they’d like German fashion design to get the same kind of international recognition as German product design or German engineering. And a decade from now, their fondest dreams include a GFDF museum of fashion and a research institute specializing in fashion, history and textile development. Clearly they have big ambitions.
For now, perhaps one of the most controversial is a planned push to eventually change the dates of Berlin Fashion Week, which starts on Jan. 15. Currently the event, which has been becoming less relevant to the international fashion industry for years, coincides with the Paris men’s wear shows. “If you were a buyer, where would you be?” Wasilewski argues. “We have to find our own unique selling position here.”
There may be resistance from organizers of the trade shows that run concurrently with the Berlin event but Gronbach and Wasilewski say whatever happens, the outcome will be democratic. “We will have to ask all the other designers and the other federations. If everybody wanted to keep the current date, then we would,” Gronbach concludes.