BERLIN — Scaled back and almost dominated by midmarket brands, the runway action at Berlin Fashion Week, which ended here Friday, didn’t pack all that much of a punch. The return of Hugo Boss to the German capital with a large-scale Hugo Rave added some big-time flair to the proceedings, but a growing number of Germany’s edgier and more interesting talents have chosen to sit out Berlin this season.
Patchy as it was, the overall picture in Berlin can be said to reflect the German market’s bipolar reality. It is an industry primarily populated by commercial brands searching but also frequently resisting a more contemporary identity. Nonetheless, and in more intimate shows and presentations than usual this season, heavy-hitters like Marc Cain and Laurèl seemed to be heading in a more sophisticated and cleaned-up direction for spring 2019.
With buyers at a minimum at the runway shows or smaller presentations — an official format for which has been missing the last two seasons — cash-strapped, emerging designers have been focusing on building their businesses elsewhere. For some, Instagram has proven helpful in reaching potential retail customers, while others are concentrating on showroom participation in Tokyo, Paris, New York or elsewhere later in the season.
The week did feature a handful of notable exceptions, as featured below, plus there were a number of fun pop-ups and capsules, like Disney and Der Berliner Salon’s Mickey Mouse turns 90 T-shirt project featuring William Fan, Rianna + Nina, Odeeh and Strenesse. Or savvy streetwear brand Last Heir’s literally hot, out-of-the-box presentation at Galerie Martin Mertens and 032c’s Street Market Opening at The Store in Soho House.
Moreover, when it comes to representing the German design talent pool, the group exhibition of Der Berliner Salon and the Vogue Salon with their snapshot-sized selections from some 50 designers continue to lay the groundwork for a better appreciation of the nation’s fashion potential. If less than half of those labels could find their way to staging more substantial presentations of their collections here, Berlin would have a chance of reaching the critical mass necessary to make the city a worthwhile stop for time-pressed retailers or agents.
In the meantime, the increasingly active Fashion Council Germany did bring buyers from Joyce, Matchesfashion.com, Net-a-porter, SRJVO and Itkkit to town this season. While specifics were not disclosed, a FCG spokesman said selections and future order dates were made. Petra Esparza McAlpine, head of the Munich niche brand agency of the same name which represents Harris Wharf, Raquel Allegra and PE.Nation, among others, was also scouting in Berlin at the invitation of FCG. “The vibes were really good,” she commented, adding “the atmosphere is really picking up.”
Here, a look at some of the standouts from the week:
Busier than ever with a brand new store, the final stages of the H&M/FCG Fellowship Program and a double Woolmark Prize nomination for men’s and women’s wear, Berlin designer William Fan is nonetheless having a quiet moment. In his ongoing multicultural and gender-fluid fashion narrative, Fan has taken his audience to a disco, bustling Chinese street market, the bus stop of his suburban German home town and most recently a Chinese restaurant accompanied by dim sum. This season, he entered a Zen garden, a circle of serenity where he worked with primarily light, natural colors, natural fabrics like linen, jute and bast, various fringes and doily effects, plus a cascading waterfall print. The signature overlong, slashed or bell sleeves move like pendants; coats are worn partially on and off like a scarf, and pants that ripple or billow are countered by flat cuts and tailoring — all adding up to a look of stylish nonchalance. “It’s still the idea of an ideal wardrobe, with things you really want to wear and can integrate with what you already have,” stated Fan. — MELISSA DRIER
Mercedes-Benz invited Hyères 2018 Grand Prize winner and LVMH Prize finalist Botter to officially open the MBFW Berlin runway action. In an energy-packed lineup, design duo Rushemy Botter and Lis Herrebrugh crossed cultures, genres, genders and their last two collections. Premiering in Berlin: looks from “Al Fombra” for spring, which continued to draw from the designers’ Caribbean roots. “We’re always inspired by how people there creatively use what little they have, how shapes, for example, become interesting because they’re not meant to be that way,” the duo said. That translated into a haphazard elegance driven by ingenuity, such as the oversized white shirt, sleeves slit as a Caribbean taxi driver might do to let in some sun as he drives. The shirt’s naïve floral print down the side was in reality an unevenly hand-stitched decoupage, the buttons mismatched, a men’s tie wrapped round the neck like a choker, the ultra-fluid black pants trailing a striped roof rack belt. Though envisioned as a men’s wear brand, Botter also looks good on women, as the Berlin show demonstrated. The designers say they have no intention of switching to women’s codes, but Botter’s retail clients are already letting women into the game by ordering smaller sizes. Coming up: a Petit Bateau collaboration and an exhibit at Premiere Vision in New York. — M.D.
“It’s a garden. It’s summer. It’s fun.” That was one leading German retailer’s good-humored summation of Odeeh’s summer capsule presentation in the garden of Kronprinzenpalais. Indeed, designer duo Otto Drögsler and Jorg Ehrlich seemed intent on giving their customers just those easy, friendly and yes, familiar pieces they’d need to enjoy a lounge on the lawn. Especially in Odeeh’s new take on the Telami Tripolina outdoor chair, outfitted with a special dark gray frame and interchangeable covers in the label’s offbeat signature prints. Peasant blouses; prairie skirts; wide, tiered dresses and tops; CPO jackets; and short, wide pants remained in the repertoire, and were mixed and matched in Odeeh’s typically freewheeling style. However, proportions were tweaked, and the use of technical fabrics in combination with straightforward or unusually textured cotton and silk provided a fresh update. — M.D.
Berlin men’s designer Ivan Mandzukic said he was getting “Back to Business” for spring, inspired by the hustle and bustle of the New York Stock Exchange. But any nods to digitalization, self-aggrandizement, or brokers’ badges were of a playfully ironic nature. Or perhaps, as was suggested by one male writer, the garments proclaiming what they are (jacket, blouson, shirt, etc.), the season (spring/summer 2019), to whom they belong (mine, yours, or via personalized name badge), not to mention hints as to what’s left, what’s right, are simply tools today’s overtaxed men need to successfully navigate their wardrobe. Mandzukic is also an avid athlete, and his designs reflect both those worlds. Athletic mesh in various weights or Velcro wrist bands break up crisp business looks; color blocking — generally seen only from the back — is sharply graphic; slim, wool houndstooth dress pants face down street-smart outerwear. All in all, Ivanman’s tailoring and style combinations provide a cool, clean and contemporary edge. — M.D.
Berlin designer Dawid Tomaszewski has always taken a somewhat eccentric approach to luxury, his collections or at least fashion shows an arena where up- and downtown worlds collide. And so for spring, there were metallic visors accessorizing jewel-toned silk brocade suits, citified wrap dresses or “shall we club, dear?” Lurex sheaths, while long gloves that morphed into puffed sleeves were clearly his favored spring add-on. Titled “Liquids,” the collection was inspired by a sojourn in Hawaii, the designer returning with a palette of color-drenched underwater tones, corals invading his signature Bauhaus-inspired grid pattern, and rock lobsters, crabs and herons to replace the fauna, such as koi, that have enlivened his cashmere pullovers and cardigans in the past. The knits played a multi-functional stylistic role, worn draped over the silk print gowns like a cross-body stole; straight over the head like a poncho, arms out of sleeves, or for that laissez-faire touch, one arm in, one arm out. — M.D.
I’VR Isabel Vollrath
Nostalgia for decades past on the runways has also hit Berlin. Set against the rough industrial halls of e-Werk, Isabel Vollrath’s latest collection was a window into a Venice of opulent gowns and gilded tableaus.
The first looks — an oversized linen suit, caftans and light dresses in an off-white, pale gray or sage palette — suggested Vollrath was toning down her theatrical signature to more street-worthy effect. The core of the collection, however, proved otherwise. Sculptural blouses and dresses with over-dimensional bows, puff sleeves, decadent plissés and sweeping crinolines set the tone. The richness of the vintage reds and blues with metallic and velvet flock prints of Venetian columns put a heavy layer on normally light organza, raw silk and cotton.
Vollrath’s I’VR collection is masterfully crafted and could be more widely compelling if edited, as demonstrated by a coat-based outfit seen in KaDeWe over the weekend in the Der Berliner Salon x Vote for Fashion event. Vollrath has already gained a niche among local art and theater lovers. One of them, Frieda Vogel, created the show’s boxy ostrich and crocodile leather bags, which will again be presented with the I’VR collection at Berlin’s Michael Schultz Gallery in August. — QUYNH TRAN
Lana Mueller loves dressing up, but unlike other German designers with a penchant for gowns, the Berlin-based Mueller prefers things light and, if sexy, in a more innocent than vulgar manner. Traveling to Ethiopia in May, she was inspired by “the beautiful landscape and the friendly people. It’ll be colorful,” she told WWD prior to the show. Colorful it was, although not in the primary red, yellow, green and blue of the Ethiopian flag, but rather tinted in pale wheat and corn shades, soft stone grays, clay and burnt earth tones, plus a juicy splash of watermelon. These were delicately mixed, as with a gown of silvery gray satin billowing over short and longer skirt layers of accordion-pleated ash chiffon, plus scarf-like strips of melon and corn fluttering at the waist. A crewel floral embroidery-based silk georgette print effectively moved Mueller into daywear territory, as did a halter neck jumpsuit styled with lightly flared mid-calf pants, and a soft, multilayer flounce at the waist. Straw bags, farmers’ hats, and flat or rope-soled wedge sandals added an unexpected country-girl appeal, while easy caftan cuts and long full sleeves on many styles should widen that appeal. — M.D.
The sustainable fashion scene has been building its presence in Berlin for some years now, primarily via the Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion fairs. However, the group runway show featuring exhibitors has lacked style impact in the past. Now part of the MBFW lineup, this season’s Greenshowroom Selected show made a stronger argument for the viability of green fashion in a style-interested consumer’s wardrobe. Taking an “editorial” approach, the organizers chose to mix labels in one outfit, mostly to good effect, but the run of show identifying what was what only became available online after the fact, to the dissatisfaction of the designers and trade visitors. Whether the public viewing audience cared is another story, and they definitely came away knowing green fashion is more than just T-shirts. On show: lots of easy day-to-day looks like Wunderwerk’s men’s cropped pants suit or Luxaa’s paper-look women’s parka over Skunk Funk’s white shift dress; boho fare like Tauko’s long black and pink full-skirted culottes with matching jacket, Lanius top and fluffy pink Baboosha slippers, or Ethiopian designer Mafi’s slouchy black and gray open-weave top and pants. There were bolder ensembles, too, such as Ecoalf’s burgundy windbreaker paired with a multicolored and tiered organza gypsy skirt and ribbon belt by Antonia Zander. — M.D.