Some new faces on Berlin’s fashion radar.
This story first appeared in the January 14, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Jennifer Brachmann’s background in architecture laid the foundations for Brachmann, a fashion label that reinterprets classic men’s wear pieces.
“I realized when I was studying architecture that designing a building is more about logistics than creativity,” Brachmann explained. “What drew me to fashion is that you can have a concept in the morning and figure out if it works by the evening.”
The architectural influence stayed with her throughout her fashion studies, when she grasped that her Bauhaus inspirations were more suited to men’s wear. A student trip to Paris cemented this decision: “I saw how good the men looked there and I thought, ‘Yes! This is great.’ ”
It’s little wonder, then, that her first men’s collection was titled “The French Lover.”
Brachmann and her partner Olaf Kranz met in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt while she was finishing her degree, and they have been running the label together since 2012. While waiting to move into a Charlottenburg space this month, they’ve been commuting between Halle and Berlin.
“We call it our ‘Run, Lola, Run’ business,” Kranz said, referring to the 1998 German thriller in which the main character continuously sprints throughout the city.
They hit the ground running with their young business: They bankrolled their first Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin show in January 2014 entirely via crowdsourcing when they found out they had only two months to organize it. “We didn’t have time to get a budget, but we didn’t want to let the opportunity pass,” Kranz said. “We had to program our own Web site to promote it, and it worked quite well.”
The subsequent move to Berlin in summer 2014 was motivated by the chance to network in the capital’s growing fashion culture.
The label’s tagline of “post-classical men’s wear” refers to Brachmann’s desire to constantly redefine and modernize classics while still emphasizing their timeless qualities. The designer experiments with dimension and cut: adding a bib front to a standard white cotton shirt, changing the collar of a trench coat or juxtaposing contemporary with tradition by putting tails on a wool blazer. Next season will see new layering treatments, like a crisscross of fabric strips on the lapel of a blue cutaway shirt.
“There are endless opportunities, either by mixing forms to create hybrids or adding accents to classic pieces,” said Brachmann, who aims to develop a strong signature for a label that is not motivated by trends.
The collection is produced in Germany in the Eastern Ore Mountains, where a once-booming textile industry has deflated over the years to leave only a few firms that produce high-quality, high-tech clothes and fabrics. Prices start at 79 to 115 euros ($94 to $136) for bow ties, 200 to 290 euros ($237 to $343) for shirts, and range from 320 to 550 euros ($379 to $650) for pants and up to 1,395 euros ($1,650) for coats.
“Because of how we have marketed the brand, our footprint is only in the German-speaking realm: Germany, Austria and Switzerland,” Kranz explained, “but we think our appeal is actually quite Anglo-Saxon. We have had a good initial reception in Canada, Great Britain and the U.S.”
To reach a new international audience, they won’t show at Mercedes-Benz Berlin Fashion Week this season, but rather take part in the Berlin Showroom at the upcoming fashion week in Paris. During Berlin fashion week, they will host a presentation at their new Charlottenburg studio, alongside fellow Halle label, Luxaa.
— Jessica Saltz
BROWNIE AND BLONDIE
True to his name, Fabrice Couturier landed at Christian Dior directly upon graduating from the Chambre Syndicale’s fashion school in Paris in 1993. A stint with Popy Moreni followed, then the launch of his own signature collection which, 10 years later, attracted the attention of a prosperous Turkish group looking to introduce a designer brand.
Under the name BGN, “they took my last collection as their first,” Couturier explained, with the designer staying on as the brand’s art director for another three years. Next came freelance engagements for ready-to-wear companies like Gerard Darel, and then, for another, he developed a double-face fabric: a polyamide/Lycra blend piqué on one side with all-cotton jersey on the other, which prompted Couturier’s next fashion and life move in 2011: the start of his unisex collection Brownie and Blondie, in Berlin.
“I had wanted to leave Paris, and on visiting Bread & Butter in Berlin, I thought this was a city I could live in. Plus, with its mix of sport and attitude, Berlin also fit in more with what I had in mind,” said Couturier, now 43.
What he envisioned was a blend of high function and high fashion, expressed in precision cuts that follow the body, regardless of gender or size, in technically advanced fabrics he’s created with the French mill Sofileta.
Exuding a street smart sensibility that’s big on comfort, longevity and a soft touch despite the fabrics’ technical orientations, every Brownie and Blondie item involves a “small idea of couture,” he said. Thus, there are intricately ruched pockets with accent piping on the back of a sporty blouson, techie textiles cut on the bias or teamed with taffeta, zippers that follow an unexpected curve or neon piping, plus three-toned wool linings that give otherwise low-key coats a vibrant inner life.
Sized from double XS to quadruple XL, the collection has been gender independent from the start, though where it’s sold influences the male-to-female ratio. At wholesale accounts — including Partner in Crime and Lexception.com in France, The Optimistic Store and Bob 10.5.10 in Germany, and Steven Alan and Cools.com — Brownie and Blondie is male-driven. Couturier presents the collection in Paris during the men’s shows and also has plans to participate at MAN in New York next July. However, at the designer’s own pop-up actions in cities like Paris, Geneva or his hometown of Mâcon, where he sold 200 pieces in four days, the split is roughly 50-50.
The firm generated sales of about 100,000 euros, or $133,000 at average exchange, last year.
As of Berlin Fashion Week in January, Brownie and Blondie will also have its own multipurpose retail and showroom space in Berlin’s trendy Hackescher Markt area.
“I realized there were shops that want to carry Brownie and Blondie, but they don’t quite know how. It’s not really for sport, it’s not really for city; it’s a hybrid,” he said. “This is not a conceptual collection, but clothes for daily life.”
Produced in Poland, Brownie and Blondie pants retail from 200 to 500 euros, ($235 to $590), jackets are 300 to 600 euros, ($355 to $710), and coats range from 500 to 1000 euros ($590 to $1,185). There’s also a playful Brownie and Blondie sock collection, a collaboration with the 90-year-old French firm Perrin.
— Melissa Drier
It’s hard to know how to categorize Cruba, because the brand is so at odds with what one expects from Berlin — contemporary women’s wear for professional, independent women who seek wearable yet interesting garments, made responsibly from high-quality fabrics.
The brand’s German designer, Mira von der Osten, reflects a New York state of mind channeled through a Berlin business, informed by a global childhood.
Launched five years ago as both a label and a shop, Cruba has become a go-to for art collectors, architects, musicians and others in the creative fields, partly due to the store’s location on gallery-rich Auguststrasse. Last year, sales were about $165,000.
Though she was born in Bonn, Germany, von der Osten’s family was mostly on the move via her father’s job in developing world aid. Stops in Turkey and New York followed, as well as Peru, where the weekly visit of a seamstress to the house kick-started her interested in sewing. Her parents fed the flame by giving her a semester at Mount Vernon, New York’s Traphagen School of Design, with its draping-heavy approach.
She later studied at Parsons The New School of Design in New York and London, graduating in 1996. Her time there gave her insight and access. She received design critique from Donna Karan, for whom she later worked, and a chance to intern with Issey Miyake.
After leaving school, von der Osten spent time at Tommy Hilfiger and was one of the first on board at Zero + Maria Cornejo. When it was time for von der Osten to strike out on her own, Cornejo advised the designer to open her label and shop together, for strategic reasons. It is this strategy that has propelled Cruba forward as a successful brand and yet kept it off the runways of MBFWB, as she has chosen to stay closer to customers and buyers. The brand will offer a showroom presentation in its shop this season, as well as hold private appointments.
For fall, von der Osten says the view is microscopic, eyeing glamour and nature, and how it is defined and interpreted in women’s private spheres.
“We feel like there’s such a longing for glamour today — maybe because of [society’s] bluntness, or maybe because we are confronted with images that are Photoshopped and perfect, and we look in the mirror and know we’re not,” she said.
Interpreted into the Cruba world, the result is unusual materials with sparkle, silhouettes with flowing movement, especially in wool, and a play of light on fabric. There are brilliant tones and abstract digitally printed silks; tweeds with glitter; raised soft chenille; wools; silk organza; and cashmere, with colors ranging from grays and silvers to strong urban blues, mossy green and pale rose, as well as black and white. Asymmetric lines are a repeated theme, along with one-seamed garments that have a flowing effect. Fabric drapes and folds backward and forward upon itself with a waterfall feel, and coats are lush and solid.
Cruba uses only European fabrics, mostly from Italy, France and Spain, and it’s also important to von der Osten that production takes place within 200 miles of Berlin, be it Szczecin, Poland, or Mühlhausen in central Germany.
Prices run from 149 euros ($176) for a blouse, 189 to 350 euros ($224 to $414) for skirts, 250 to 500 euros ($295 to $590) for dresses and up to 800 to 1,200 euros ($947 to $1,420) for coats.
Cruba is slouching towards minimalism, though von der Osten feels the term is overused and has lost much of its meaning. For Cruba, that means stripping extraneous elements in favor of easy elegance. “We don’t have trends anymore; they’re weekly, daily,” noted von der Osten. “It is shapes that have a lasting effect — silhouettes.”
— Susan Stone
Frisur may only be showing its fourth collection this January, but the design duo behind the brand can trace their fashion entrepreneurship back to their schoolyard days. Stephan Sunder-Plassmannn and Thies Meyer started printing and selling graphic print T-shirts back when they were teenagers in the small northern town of Kappeln, close to the Danish border.
“We would sell the shirts at school,” Meyer explained. “We had friends who were skateboarders who then told people in another school and soon we spread across the town.”
The pair continued to work on small fashion projects together as they grew up and decided to start a label when they were both studying — Sunder-Plassmann, graphic design and Meyer, fashion design — at Berlin’s University of the Arts. Frisur began as a side project but became their full-time job when they both graduated in 2014.
The Frisur brand combines clean lines with strong, graphic prints. Blouson jackets, button-up cotton shirts, jersey sweatshirts and slim-cut pants dominated the first three men’s and women’s collections. The designers work on ideas together, but Meyer is in charge of garments and silhouettes while Sunder-Plassmann handles the bold graphics, which have included pink flamingos, a white fountain and the words Economy Class emblazoned on a black sweater.
Frisur is not a label that takes itself too seriously — its name is also playful. As Sunder-Plassmann noted, it means “haircut” in German. “We just liked the sound of it, but we want people to try and guess if it means anything.”
Some designs may be tongue-in-cheek, but the pair place great importance on sustainability and the fair production of their clothes and accessories, all of which are made in Europe with most fabrics from Italy and Portugal. Multidisciplinary collaborations with artists and film makers are key to the brand’s identity and the duo talk excitedly about upcoming projects with creative contemporaries, some of whom they have invited to move into their cavernous new Kreuzberg studio.
The designers acknowledge that their style has also subconsciously been influenced by Scandinavian fashion: “It was never anything we planned, but obviously we traveled to Denmark a lot,” laughed Sunder-Plassmann. “Ultimately, we like to create stuff that we would like to wear ourselves.”
Prices for women’s wear start at 29 euros ($34) for a merino beanie hat, 59 euros ($69) for skirts, 89 euros ($105) for a jacquard dress and 200 euros ($235) for wool coats. Several items in each collection are unisex. The men’s pieces range from 130 euros ($153) for jersey sweat pants, 230 euros ($271) for black leather Derby brogues and 300 euros ($353) for a tailored blazer.
The fall line is entitled Arctic, and after their Paradise and The Journey themes, follows their trend of travel-related collections.
“Stormy, icy blues and arctic white” will be the main colors, according to Meyer. Flannel shirts and melange knits will appear in both men’s and women’s collections. Oversize wool-mix coats will be topped off with fake husky fur on the collars, and the Arctic Moods sweater is covered with graphic prints.
For the first time this season, Frisur will enter the trade show arena, with a stand at Seek during Berlin Fashion Week.
— Jessica Saltz
“I was about to quit my studies to design in clothing technology in Hamburg when I discovered the knitting machine. Suddenly, something in my life started to work,” recounted Antje Pugnat. She stuck it out, and after graduating, she followed up at the Royal College of Art in London with a Masters in Fashion Women’s Wear focusing on machine knitting. It was there that she also discovered hand knitting — in the subway — out of time pressure to finish her pieces.
The combination of the machines and her hands completed her craft. “The machines gave me a sense for the material, the structures and the colors, and like a painter, I could create images. The needles extended my artistic practice to a three-dimensional, sculptural aspect,” she said from the loft studio that she shares with her artist-husband overlooking Berlin’s newest gallery district, Potsdamer Strasse.
Her knitwear-centered collection could as well have emanated from the period of this vast fin-du-siècle industrial studio building. The ruffled silk blouses, light mohair knit dresses and opulent cashmere jackets are reminiscent of historical costumes from the 18th and 19th century. Her feminine, coquettish signature goes against ever-changing trends, and also stands out in the minimalist landscape of most emerging Berliner designers.
But it took a long time for Pugnat to arrive. “It took time to create my own aesthetics and to build up a reliable network, and since I was new in Berlin, I had to start from nowhere,” she said. With a toddler in her arms and another on the way, she began hand-knitting at the playground. Slowly, she built an infrastructure of yarn and silk suppliers from Italy and France, a machine knitter in Munich and hand knitters in Berlin. Over more than a year’s time, she created her own hand-knitting language, developed an exclusive Pugnat light mohair-and-viscose machine-knitted fabric for dresses, and now she washes her own silk.
The investment in time and effort paid off. Her first hand-knitted garment, a sculptural jacket with sprawling shoulders and arms, caught Wolfgang Joop’s attention. The collaboration with his label Wunderkind in 2010, featuring two of her pieces, kicked off Pugnat’s own knitwear line.
Her debut collection with retro-romantic hand and machine knits and ready-to-wear pieces for fall 2011 launched at the Gesamtverband Textil + Mode’s (German Textile + Fashion Confederation) show in July 2011 and earned her a third-place mention in the innovation segment. The cashmere jacket and coat that caught Joop’s attention are recurring items in the collection.
“It’s more important for me to work on my craftsmanship and create something special that sustains than to follow trends,” she noted. “It’s a slow but steady progress.”
While Berlin is not quite a natural market for opulent, picturesque fashion, her collection is well received in Austria, Switzerland and Japan. For the seasons ahead, she is now also eying France, Italy and the U.S.
Her collection for fall comprises 35 pieces of characteristically romantic silk blouses and heavy cashmere and wool jackets, plus knit and leather accessories in shades of crème, night gold, moss green and black.
Prices start at 100 euros ($117) for accessories, 480 euros ($565) for silk blouses and go up to 1,900 euros ($2,238) for hand-knit 100 percent cashmere jackets.
Pugnat will show at the Heads & Hearts Showroom during Fashion Week Berlin and will be part of the Berlin Showroom during Paris Fashion Week in March.
— Quynh Tran