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Wednesday marks the start of Berlin’s Art Week, an event that usually draws around 120,000 visitors to private galleries, public institutions and art fairs around the city. This year, despite restrictions around COVID-19, local fashion designers are joining in, too.

For the first time, 20 Berlin-based designers will take part in the Positions art fair, starting Thursday, which boasts 130 exhibitors and last year attracted an estimated 10,000 visitors. Participating art galleries curate their own booths inside the city’s defunct airport, Tempelhof, and this year the local designers will mount a display called Fashion Positions.

“The designers take 20 very different positions in fashion, but all have an atelier in Berlin,” one of the project’s initiators, Mira von der Osten, who also has her own label, Cruba, told WWD. “Some will collaborate with artists or galleries, others will have their own space to display their works.” The whole event will also be accessible online.

“We want the same things from this that the galleries want,” von der Osten explained. “The designers want to sell their work and raise their profiles.”

Several of the labels involved, including Michael Sontag and Lou de Bètoly, have previously shown at Berlin’s biannual fashion week. Earlier this year, it was announced that a key element of the event — the seasonal trade fairs — would depart for Frankfurt in 2021. There was some doubt about whether Berlin Fashion Week could continue without them.

Yet this art fair collaboration does not replace that event, von der Osten insisted: “That was B2B, this is very much a B2C event. But I do think there was a shift away from how fashion week was happening here anyway. Berlin Fashion Week had been running on empty for a while now. This is more of a collective designer effort,” she said.

“By designers, for designers,” added co-initiator Olaf Brachmann of the Berlin-based label Brachmann. “Putting up tents in front of Brandenburger Tor always felt like a bit of a knock-off anyway,” he noted, referring to some of the first fashion weeks in the city.

Now that the more commercial trade fairs are leaving for Frankfurt, independent designers in Berlin have more freedom to arrange things the way they want them. And that includes collaborating with the German capital’s vibrant art scene.

“There was scepticism from the art world at the beginning,” Johann König, founder of König Gallery, which also has premises in London and Tokyo, said when asked whether “serious” artists were offended by fashion’s incursion. “But today this kind of cross-genre collaboration is more and more common. Looking at what Louis Vuitton did [with their art world collaborations], that had real impact on artists’ global reach.”

For several years now, König‘s gallery has been producing König Souvenir, a range of clever products, including clothing, that sees well-known artists such as Elmgreen & Dragset, Isa Genzken and Monica Bonvicini leave their mark on T-shirts, scarves, yoga mats, face masks and other items. During Fashion Positions, König will exhibit a new work by photographer Juergen Teller, as well as those products.

“Berlin is known for its interdisciplinary connections between creative disciplines. The city lives from its local creative activities,“ Ramona Pop, Berlin’s senator for economics, energy and public enterprises, told WWD.

Pop has been a staunch supporter of Fashion Positions, and while the designers are paying a fee to participate, the city’s government has also provided financial support with a budget of “five figures,” Pop said. This included hiring the space and providing media support. “Many Berlin-based fashion labels like Esther Perbandt or Dawid Tomaszewski have loved to play with various creative genres for years. Cross-genre collaboration is part of Berlin’s DNA. This is our big advantage,” she argued.

Another example of cross-genre collaboration during the week is Studio Berlin, which, Pop said, “arose from an art collector’s request for cooperation with one of the city’s most famous music clubs, Berghain.”

According to organizer von der Osten, there are also other compelling reasons as to why fashion should get closer to art.

“This is also about designers trying to solve the structural problems that the fashion industry currently faces,” she said. “We feel a new approach is needed, something that makes fashion valuable again. If you approach clothing the way you approach a painting, where you look at the detailing, you find out who made it and where it comes from and the story behind it, and you view it as something that goes beyond seasons — that is our approach.”

“There is a structural change in fashion and that’s directly reflected in our [potential] customer base,” Brachmann agreed. “This will be an experiment, but we hope that an art-interested crowd are the same clientele who will be interested in independent and sustainable design.”

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