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BERLIN The fun and pleasure factor returned to Berlin Fashion Week this season, despite ongoing challenges and uncertainties in the market.

Indeed, there was a widespread feeling that the nation’s players — designers, manufacturers, buyers, fair organizers, councils, press and even politicians — are prepared to show more initiative these days, embracing for themselves the “experience driven” mood of today’s consumers.

The result: more smiling faces, a more buoyant attitude and definitely more positive Berlin takeaways than has been the case for a long time. And that against the background of a shortened three-day run (Jan. 16 to 18) and a downsized fashion show/events schedule.

Less is more? With nine trade shows covering all sectors, from more contemporary to heritage, mainstream into mass, sustainable, sports or tech-driven, plus assorted conferences going on, it’s difficult to talk about less in Berlin. Specialization might be a more appropriate term, with buyers targeting their visits more carefully to meet their needs or priorities, even if that involves investigating new trade platforms to find the unexpected.

When it came to Berlin’s fashion-driven presentations, it was a tale of two cities. The decision by Mercedes-Benz to not only shrink its sponsored Berlin runway lineup to 10 shows but take it in a more commercial direction did not appeal to all, especially those looking to fortify Germany’s design reputation. What shows or presentations remained, largely under the auspices of Der Berliner Salon, might have been less in number, but the less gave more.

Some cases in point: Berlin’s favorite up-and-comer William Fan hit the fortune cookie on the head, dishing up wit, style, individual savvy and just plain fun in his Fan Dynasty show in a camp Chinese restaurant. Inviting all to “enjoy your meal,” guests sat at tables, decked out with drinks, steamed buns and other edibles, as models and a medley of real-life characters of all ages, genders, sizes and shapes brought his “not posh but vibrant” designs to life.

Fan’s unisex collection playfully mixed classic wool glen plaids, crisp cotton poplin, cozy knits or Chinese brocades with macro-teddy, tinsel, cork, dazzling metallic leather looks, Lurex lettering, clear plastic crystal pendants, in a free-for-all where coats work half off rather than on, eveningwear-meets-workwear, sheer bibs are worn under or over for a contrasting flash, and layering is a way of life. The designer’s fans — and the winner of KaDeWe’s 2017 Vote for Fashion competition has many — will again find his signature pieces and details, including the core, long shirts, with or without bell sleeves; his ankle-tied pants; inappropriately textured and dimensioned back belts and pockets on tailored jackets and coats; plus new entries like the Fortune cookie leather bag and earrings, and maybe even the plastic fish-head slides he picked up at a Hong Kong market.

Money is always an issue for Berlin’s young designers, and while Fan is confidently looking for an investor, this latest runway splash, as were his others, was all self-funded. “I thought it was time to invite you to some food and drink, and to say thank you for the support. KaDeWe has given me space and freedom which has been great, and I see this evening as an investment that will pay off.” Next up: a store above his former atelier, due to officially open soon.

Odeeh was another standout, and continued to build on its eclectic fashion signature in the empty expanse of a former East Berlin supermarket. Designers Otto Drögler and Jörg Ehrlich, old hands in the premium fashion segment, are opulent minimalists, going precisely tailored one moment, blithely bohemian the next for a look not overly designed nor middle-of-the-road mundane.

Fall featured CPO renditions in knit, wool checks with silver leather collars, or elongated into coats, as well as painterly mohair lumberjack checks, and camouflage demilitarized with painterly hearts for all manner of outerwear, pants and tops. Print specialists, Odeeh did overprints this season on silk or wool, placing graphic Nordic-style leaves on more romantic mini florals or black-and-white scribbles. In their freewheeling mix, outdoor wools rubbed shoulders with silver brocade, marabou met jewel-encrusted brocade and a medley of novelty fabrics, and double-breasted blazers went frock-coat long for a new balance. As Ehrlich noted, “we like to animate women to rethink their wardrobes.”

It’s no secret that Berlin has out-of-the-ordinary venues, any number of which were put into action this season, including a haunting, half-renovated ballroom unknown to most locals, which Dorothee Schumacher took over for her still-life display. Nonetheless, few venues have the raw power of the 60-foot-high Halle am Berghain, Berlin’s famous techno club — the home of Fashion HAB presented by Mercedes-Benz, a new cooperation between Mercedes-Benz and the Fashion Council Germany. Planned as an annual collaboration between the FCG and another international fashion organization, the premiere involved the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, which brought Damir Doma’s fall collection to the Berlin stage.

Doma lost two days of sales in Paris to do the men’s and women’s show in Berlin, but for a designer whose theme was “Who Needs Perfection?” the venue was irresistible.

Doma said fall is a strong continuation of last season in terms of approach, “but I used to be more monochromatic and brainy. I’m now trying to break it up by bringing men’s and women’s together. Fashion is about change and zeitgeist,” he continued, “and our job is to be sensitive and feel what’s out there. We’re living in a time of anxiety, and so I want things to be a bit more easy.”

Wandering through the massive space were male and female fashion travelers and collectors, assembling hikers’ hats, workers’ suits, casual pieces emblazoned with the size (as in M for medium), long tailored blazers, flat jackets, cropped pants, lots of cord and twill, dimensional drapes and ties, Lurex, patchwork hand-knits, bonded wool tops and dresses patched together with silk, assorted military references and draped confections in super 100s wool marked with Doma’s signature selvage by Reda 1865. “All together the feeling is bohemian, even if that was not my idea at first.”

Other Berlin runway and still-life highlights: Dawid Tomaszewski’s offbeat lush looks (one of the two fashion forward collections at MBFW) which was chosen to open MBFW at Ewerk; also at Ewerk, Ivanman’s men’s wear homage to cleaning ladies, featuring duster-worthy floral prints peeking out of double sleeves and the sleekest rubber gloves ever seen (tip: wear them 2 two sizes too small); Isabel Vollrath’s sculptural silhouettes impeccably executed in nylon taffeta, velvet-like corduroy, industrial cotton and silk, and frequently incorporating Swedish textile artist Sofia Olander’s surprisingly street-worthy elephant patterns; Perret Schaad’s haphazard yet poetic color code; Marina Hoermanseder’s clever brand-building quilting in her signature buckle and strap motif, though beware the fattening jumpsuit; Strenesse’s classy return to city tailoring, epitomized by a sleek black double-breasted coat cinched with a wide leather belt; the insouciant flair and hopeful optimism of Malaika Raiss, who did her show online followed by a showroom “Resee,” and Lala Berlin’s art to sleep-in with König Gallerie’s second König Souvenir (following that with MCM) consisting of a 10 piece limited silk pajama edition, styled in a print based on a Corinne Wasmuht painting (at 1,000 euros a shot).

Then, too, there was the Berliner Salon and Vogue Salon at the Kronprinzenpalais. The curated group exhibitions feature more than 50 apparel and accessories designers, plus this season selected artists, interior and culinary suppliers. Aiming to bolster the appreciation of German design per se, the consensus among press, exhibitors and visitors was that both did so more impressively than ever.

“We’re always on the lookout for new talents that impress us, and that’s the reason we’re here. It’s a dream,” commented Bert Sterck, an Eickhoff veteran, well-known fashion adviser and now associate at the designer-oriented Modehaus Beck in Wetzlar. The specialty store already carries Talbot Runhof, Odeeh, Iris von Arnim, Allude and Dawid Tomaszewski in its international assortment. Sterck was particularly excited about bag designer Lili Radu, and said Beck intends to follow her collection more closely. “We want to find something that people don’t already have. It’s about desire. Need has nothing to do with it.”

Another frequent Berliner Salon visitor is Emmanuel de Bayser, co-owner of The Corner in Berlin. “The Salon looks more open this season, and is very well-edited. But I think they need to concentrate on bringing more retailers from all over Europe. It’s a great format, but there are almost no retailers and wholesalers here, so what’s the point?” he asked.

Perhaps it’s to gradually convince internationally designer-studded stores like The Corner to support the home team, which de Bayser said The Corner is now ready to do again after a long hiatus. “Next fall season, we will have a small corner with German designers. We have decided to do so, and we will invest in it,” he reported.

Luxury department store KaDeWe is ahead of the game, and was the scene for a high-spirited designer/press/selected customer get-together Thursday, when it hosted its sixth Berlin Mode Salon pop-up and the second Vote for Fashion poll to determine this year’s favorite Mode Salon participant.

What perhaps started as good will has developed into a more tangible business. Mode Salon members Allude, Antonia Zander, Dawid Tomaszewski, Dorothee Schumacher, Gabriele Frantzen, Iris von Arnim, Maiami, Odeeh, PB 0110, Rianna + Nina, Strenesse, Talbot Runhof, Unützer and William Fan are part of the store’s assortment. Other participants in the pop-up, and in the running as this year’s Vote for Fashion winner, are Hien Le, Horror Vacuii, Lili Radu, Malaikaraiss, Margova Jewelry, Marjana von Berlepsch, Michael Sontag, Nina Kastens, Perret Schaad, Peter O. Mahler, Saskia Diez, Sminfinity and Stiebich & Rieth.

“Since we opened the new designer department in 2016, we now have a real home for this. It’s not only a marketing move, but it’s our duty to help young and special designers become established in Germany, as well as to bring our customers something others (stores) don’t have,” André Maeder, chief executive officer of the KaDeWe Group, told WWD.

“All the collections we have in KaDeWe should have the potential to be viable for Oberpollinger (in Munich) and Alsterhaus (in Hamburg),” the other two doors in the KaDeWe Group. “Fashion week is very important for Berlin, KaDeWe and Germany,” he suggested. “Germany is Europe’s leading economy and a major market, and it’s important for Germany to become more and more of a fashion destination. This format, with all the fairs mixed with shows and events, and KaDeWe in the middle of it all, is great.”

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