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Berlin Fashion Week: Things are happening, but what’s next?

By Weixin Zha


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A breath of fresh air in Berlin, the labels Namilia, Litkovska and Sia Arnika. Photos: © Finnegan Godenschweger

There is movement in the Berlin Fashion Week. Not only did local labels impress with a diverse programme, but so did guests from Ukraine. However, what happens next in the German capital is yet to be seen.

Young blood

In past seasons, Berlin Fashion Week has often been declared dead, but now something seems to be happening. Many of the local and international visitors could agree on this. A particular highlight of many was the show of the Berlin label Namilia, which also has many loyal fans outside of Germany due to its body-inclusive and provocative fashion.

At Berlin Fashion Week, the label showed a collection that was loud, uncompromising and liberating in form and statement – all qualities that many have always associated with the hip clubs of the German capital, but just not with the Fashion Week.

Some brands that are just as trendy internationally, such as Gmbh or Ottolinger, have so far not shown in Berlin, but at Paris Fashion Week. On the one hand, buyers from international luxury boutiques go to the French capital to place their orders, while on the other, there may still be a certain reluctance to associate themselves with Berlin Fashion Week as a brand.

Namilia shows for the first time at Berlin Fashion Week. Image: © Finnegan Godenschweger

"We have been a Berlin brand for seven years and previously showed in New York," said Nan Li, one of the two fashion designers behind Namilia after the show on Wednesday. But now there is also a lot of clientele and a strong community in Berlin.

"I'm also aware that Berlin Fashion Week is not comparable to New York, Paris or London, but for us it doesn't matter because we're not that into the fashion rhythm," he said, explaining the decision to show in Berlin in January. "Our casting, our people are in Berlin, for us this is our event. We just felt like showing in our home town."

At home

Namilia is not the only Berlin brand that is close to the zeitgeist and showed at Berlin Fashion Week. The young label SF1OG brought its collection inspired by everyday artefacts to the Red City Hall; LML Studio staged inclusion and fashion in the Marienkirche. Other exciting talents such as Olivia Ballard, Acceptance Letter Studio or David Chuene were also on display with their own shows or at the Berlin Salon.

The Berlin Salon shows works by Karen Jenssen, SF1OG and David Chuene. Photos: Julia von der Heide

What is striking about these up-and-coming brands is often their international education and orientation. The creative minds behind Namilia, Nan Li and Emilia Pohl, met while studying at the University of the Arts in Berlin before completing their Masters in Fashion at London's Royal College of Art and moving back to Berlin to start their label in 2015. At the time, it was easier and cheaper to start a brand in the German capital, Li told us.

Lucas Meyer-Leclère, the founder of the label LML Studio, designed fabrics for Chanel and Jimmy Choo before moving to Berlin in 2017. New York-born Olivia Ballard founded her eponymous label in Berlin in 2020. These labels could be at home almost anywhere, but still chose Berlin as their base.

The art and music scenes continue to make Berlin, Li said. "I think it's one of the strongest youth culture scenes in the world and absolutely perfect for our brand."

Established and new at Berlin Fashion Week HW23: Rianna + Nina, Acceptance Letter Studio, Olivia Ballard. Photo from left to right: © Lina Grün, Lina Grün, Finnegan Godenschweger

Post-Mercedes Benz

Despite its cultural appeal, Berlin has had a hard time getting its most exciting fashion labels onto the catwalk in recent years. Sometimes it is not enough to have talented fashion designers; the structures to promote and present them must also be right. In recent years, Berlin Fashion Week has long been overshadowed by the image of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which once symbolised the heyday of fashion in the capital.

But where the white Mercedes Benz tent on Bebelsplatz stood for a spirit of optimism at the end of the noughties, there has been a lot of fashion fatigue recently. The mix of labels was not right, too many commercial clothes, but not enough fashion standards, some complained.

Now Mercedes Benz has largely withdrawn from Berlin as a sponsor. Only with selected brands, such as Marc Cain last week, does the car company want to cooperate in future. Some players in Berlin, like the Fashion Council Germany, see this as an opportunity to reposition the fashion week. Last week offered a foretaste of what is possible.

Sia Arnika worked for Ottolinger and Yeezy before founding her eponymous label. Photo: FW23 Collketion © Finnegan Godenschweger

From November, there were three categories for which Berlin brands and other fashion players could apply for prize money from the city of Berlin. For larger formats like the Berlin Salon there was between 5,000 and 150,000 euros, for store and studio events up to 5,000 euros, and for fashion shows and presentations up to 25,000 euros. The fashion shows could take place in the Kantgaragen, but the labels were also free to choose the most suitable location for themselves.

Designer Sia Arnika invited attendees to the AW23 show of her eponymous label in the archive halls in Berlin-Marzahn. The metal mesh walls and shelves provided a successful backdrop that suitably complemented her designs, which focused on textures and silhouettes.

Support for Ukraine

The Hamburg-based label Fassbender was also among the winners for a fashion show. The previous year the brand had also won a prize to show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, but with a smaller budget.

"With this budget there are now completely different possibilities and my wish was always to make it something private and cosy rather than a classic catwalk," said Christina Fassbender, founder of the eponymous label, after her show at the Kantgaragen on Wednesday. She used the prize money to combine her catwalk with a lunch, inviting guests to linger during the hectic fashion week. Artist Fulya Celik, with whom she collaborated with for her AW23 collection, painted and finished a dress in silver during the show.

Diversity at Berlin Fashion Week HW23: Lou de Bétoly, Fassbender and Odeeh show their designs. Photos from left to right: © Lina Grün, Finnegan Godenschweger, Lina Grün

Established brands also used the prize money to hold shows. Designer Lou de Bétoly perfected the camp aesthetic when she showed her subversive crochet creations. The AW23 collection of the brand Odeeh played with geometric patterns in the flair of the sixties. Last but not least, the collections of Ukrainian labels, such as Dzhus and Litkovska, which were invited as guests and whose show costs were borne by the Berlin Senate, also enriched the event.

Questions remain

Last week, Berlin Fashion Week showed what it can muster artistically and creatively. But some old questions surrounding the event remained unanswered.

The dates of Berlin Fashion Week from 16 to 20 January overlapped with the men's fashion weeks in Milan and Paris – unfavourable for a fashion week that wants to attract international visitors. The fact that the dates are no longer in March and September as they were last year is due to the return of the Premium and Seek fashion fairs to Berlin. For these two fairs it is important to show collections between Pitti Uomo in Florence and before the fairs in Paris and Copenhagen.

However, after the intermezzo in Frankfurt, their orientation has drifted even further towards the mainstream. The buyers that the fairs bring to the city hardly seem to have an intersection with the potential buyers that are interesting for the trendy Berlin labels. How could the synergies be increased here?

Ukrainian designer Irina Dzhus creates multifunctional fashion that centres on the idea of transformation. Photo: © Finnegan Godenschweger

Apart from the womenswear brand Marc Cain, there were no major commercial brands showing their collection at a fashion show in Berlin. The Metzingen-based fashion group Hugo Boss last presented with an event in July 2019, thus eliminating another component that brings commercially interesting visitors to the city.

This raises the question, as it has in the past, of why labels should put on an elaborate and expensively produced show in Berlin. And what about the commercial future of the labels? Perhaps the model that brands like Namilia follow is an answer. The label does not go through fashion boutiques, but sells its clothes to customers itself. It has a following of over 200,000 on Instagram, so it is not dependent on buyers or a show date in the traditional fashion calendar. The location is less important, it's more about using the event to reach your fans locally and on social media.

Despite this, Namilia founder Nan Li thinks it's good that things are getting more diverse in Berlin's fashion landscape. "It's getting stronger and stronger and more and more, I hope more and more cool labels show here that fashion week is also doing more."

Namilia shows its FW23 collection in Berlin. Image: © Finnegan Godenschweger

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

Berlin Fashion Week