Germany’s bridal business is different. Reflecting the stereotypical German consumer, with their need for quality, practicality and modesty, wedding attire tends to be a lot more understated than it is in the U.S.
“Gowns here are far less ostentatious, less status-driven,” observed one American who’s been living in Germany for more than a decade and who has attended weddings on both sides of the Atlantic.
“A wedding is less of an event here. It almost feels like a birthday party sometimes,” added the ex-pat, frowning.
But there is one German bridal brand working hard to change that low key approach. And it has made Kaviar Gauche, which will show digitally on Friday in New York, one of the country’s most successful bridalwear labels.
The Berlin-based brand started off as a womenswear label in 2004. Designers Johanna Kuehl and Alexandra Fischer-Roehler, who met at fashion school in the German capital, first made headlines for what they now describe as a “guerrilla fashion show” in Paris. Kaviar Gauche’s models paraded without permission through the hippest Parisian boutique at the time, Colette.
But since 2008, and what one insider described as something of an existential and financial crisis, the brand has slowly but steadily evolved into a wedding and occasions specialist.
Today those looks make up the majority of the label’s output and its evolution over almost two decades — from the original, elegant womenswear to brides-to-be — is part of the secret of its success, Fischer-Roehler and Kuehl suggested in an email interview with WWD.
Most of the country’s A-listers have worn Kaviar Gauche one time or another and many of the dresses the designers were making for the red carpet were also being requested as wedding dresses, or simply just bought in white.
“And the customers wouldn’t give it up,” the designers said. They believe this is because “we are not a wedding dress manufacturer in the traditional sense. We approach things in a different way…we are a fashion brand that focuses on wedding dresses, one that has said goodbye to crass [seasonal] cycles and classic pret-a-porter.”
The pair pointed to their “bow-erall” as something that epitomizes their style. The piece, a kind of one-piece ivory overall with an oversize bow, comes as a rather daring shorts suit, perfect for the leggier bride, as well as floaty silken trousers for those who aren’t feeling quite so bold.
Combine this wedding onesie with the detachable, floor length “over the sky” skirt — basically a slit-to-the-ankle overskirt — and, the designers enthuse, you get “a modern, unique look — but it’s still very feminine and elegant.”
This Kaviar Gauche design also fits well with next season’s trend for a more sleek and sartorial style down the aisle.
The German designers believe a kind of appealing contrast runs through all of their collections. “Opulence and simplicity,” they stressed. “We love the contrast between filigree fabrics and lots of volume.”
The same fascination with juxtaposition applies to the brand’s name too. It comes from the French phrase, “gauche caviar,” which roughly aligns with the description a “Champagne socialist” or “limousine liberal.” That refers to a left-wing or progressive individual who has a taste for the good life, nice clothes, Champagne and caviar — despite their socialist politics.
The designers themselves explained that, far from being an insult, the name Kaviar Gauche is a point of pride. It’s about an “understated glamour — like going to buy caviar on a bike,” they argue.
Price is another selling point. The most recent off-the-rack collection, available from their online shop, runs from 190 euros for a crystal choker to 8,000 euros for a cloud of a dress made with layers of tulle, with items like a 390 euro silk top or 990 euro floral-embroidered trousers in between. Everything is produced in Germany and the brand’s showrooms also adapt looks according to the individual bride’s requests. For example, a longer sleeve or hem, or a skirt with more volume, based on a preexisting silhouette. Couture gowns obviously cost more.
“Because we often marry made-to-measure and couture items, the price range can be quite wide,” the designers noted. “So the target group is very wide too.”
That’s likely a positive for the German wedding sector. Today, surveys suggest German couples spend, on average, around 15,000 euros on their wedding festivities. That’s only around half of what American couples tend to shell out.
But that too is changing — German couples’ average spend has almost doubled since 2010. And even though that spend still lags behind many other countries, including Spain, Italy, France and the U.K., the German wedding sector is now worth around 6 billion euros annually.
“We have seen a big shift in the behavior of our German brides,” Kaviar Gauche’s designers confirmed. “They are having bigger celebrations laid out via multiple events and a lot of our brides now request more than one look for their wedding.”
Then again, the designers pointed out, they never intended to produce only for Germans. “We never felt like we were a Berlin brand,” they noted.
Kaviar Gauche showed womenswear in Paris for several years and only recently moved to New York Bridal Week, showing there for the first time last year. The brand’s bridal fashions are available from dedicated showrooms in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Munich, with a smaller selection for sale online, as well as from Loho Bride in Los Angeles, California, and Maria Luisa Mariage, the boutique bridal specialist inside Parisian department store Printemps.
“We now work with brides from all over the world,” Fischer-Roehler and Kuehl told WWD. And the differences between different markets seem to get smaller all the time because of social media and the online world, they reported. “We are seeing similar bestsellers at our Los Angeles stockists, as those in our stores in Germany,” the pair concluded.