Call it the era of the individual — as in specialized assortments and concept-store-style exhibitions.
This approach is moving to the forefront at the trade fairs, fashion presentations and runway shows during Berlin Fashion Week, Jan. 18 to 22.
While overall economic conditions in Germany remain solid, apparel retailers and makers continue to face mounting problems. On the plus side, Germany’s GDP is forecast to grow by 1.6 percent in 2016. Employment and wages are on the upswing, consumer optimism is back up after a minor dip and willingness to buy is stable on a high level.
Still, the nation’s fashion retailers, who struggled with diminishing traffic, heavy online competition and spending patterns not necessarily favoring fashion. Though up against fairly weak comps, unseasonably warm weather put a dent in holiday and winter sales. The German Apparel Retailers Association now expects final 2015 numbers to come in flat, if not slightly down, said associate director Siegfried Jacobs.
With too much — and too much of the same — merchandise on the market, Jacobs sees a trend toward more individualized assortments. This could be good news for smaller, independent labels and designers who traditionally have a hard time capturing German retailers’ attention. But for the stores, he pointed out, this also means more concentration on the actual buy, and improving in-store presentation. With these aims, some are looking to borrow concept-store tactics, and Berlin’s fair organizers are out to help with new initiatives.
For the more volume-oriented, mainstream market, Panorama is launching Nova, a separate, 80,000-square-foot hall devoted to more directional or specialized fashion brands, plus lifestyle and non-fashion articles. “Retailers want inspiration. With Nova, we’re creating a concept-store environment out of recycled materials that not only reflects the pop-up fashion culture, but can be inexpensively implemented,” said Panorama founder Jörg Wichmann.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the German designer platform — the Berliner (Mode) Salon — is also tapping into a wider product mix in its third season. While plans to install a “Salon of Small Things” in the nearby Palais am Festungsgraben has been pushed back until the summer round, a handful of German product designers, offering everything from wooden benches to fragile drinking glasses, will already be included in the Kronprinzenpalais group presentation on Jan. 20.
“Our mission is to connect German designers to retailers, ,” explained the platform’s cofounder, Marcus Kurz. “These retailers are not only looking to discover new designers, but also little items to feed the interest of consumers.”
“The concept of the future is the concept store, where the customer is surprised at every visit with something they want to buy,” added Christiane Arp, the Salon’s other cofounder. And from a retail standpoint, “you don’t need a 50,000-euro budget, but 5,000” to make it happen, she pointed out.
Introduced last season, Show & Order’s Francophile SO area curated by Sophie Guyot is being expanded for fall with new labels such as Douce Gloire, Hironaé Paris and Then Paris, said fair founder Verena Malta.
Soren Kishgewitz, founder of the new children’s fair Cookies, also noted “there’s a trade show trend toward the fair as concept store. Cookies offers a palette of all relevant brands in our sector, but also associated products such as maternity and play style.”
Indeed, with its contemporary and urbanwear core, Berlin’s fair scene has offered a curated, lifestyle assortment touching on music, art, handpicked home accessories and food from the very start. “For us, it’s the basis for everything we do,” said Thomas Martini, codirector of Bright, the board sports and streetwear fair that now shares a venue with Seek and also belongs to the Premium Exhibitions Group. “We try to show how the lifestyle is lived. It’s essential to streetwear.”
As such, in the way that Berlin’s on-the-street looks provided inspiration in the earliest days of groundbreaking shows Premium and Bread & Butter, the German capital today is also concept-store central, housing genre pioneers and trendsetters like Andreas Murkudis, Voo, Super (Market), Soto, Gestalten, Happy Shop, The Corner and, in the broadest sense, Departmentstore Quartier 206.
As for runway shows, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin is touching more bases than ever, and in a new move, there will be showrooms in the Stage area in the Me Collectors Room for several of the participating designers. As for the official 50 show/stage presentation lineup, Baldessarini is joining broader-distribution players like Marc Cain, Riani and Laurèl this season, but there will also be a number of young German designer debuts, including Sample-CM or Louise Friedlander and visiting designers like Spain’s Xavi Reyes.
The heart of the action, however, has a decidedly German accent, and in its third go-round, the Berliner Mode Salon’s group presentation of emerging and more established German designers has grown to 50 participants. These will fill the Kronprinzenpalais with capsule still-life and/or informal presentations on models of their fall collections. New to the ranks: Escada, with creative director Daniel Wingate creating a lineup of the 20 top looks culled from the in-house show Escada is staging in Aschheim Jan. 18.
“I believe that German fashion needs cheerleaders and support, and I’m a cheerleader,” Wingate declared. “We can all help each other, plus for Escada, the Salon allows us to show a different side of the brand.”
Quite a few young designers will only be presenting at the four-hour Berliner Mode Salon exhibition. Others, like Bobby Kolade, one of Berlin’s most promising young talents and hottest show tickets, is trying something different. On Monday, the day before Berlin Fashion Week officially starts, he’s inviting 20 editors to one-to-one meetings “where we can chat about the collection and where it’s going. Before, I almost felt we were doing the shows for ourselves and bloggers, as buyers unfortunately were rare. But this is for the people who count. Plus, frankly, we just don’t have the time for a show,” he said.