Berlin Fashion Week Losing Glitz and Finding Edge

Berlin wanted its Fashion Week to be as glamorous as Paris, Milan and New York. But it has now decided to stick with what it does best: acting as an incubator for new ideas and labels.
One of Berlin's few loyal designers to participate in the official runway show: German luxury label Laurèl.

Every time Berlin Fashion Week comes around again, people wonder whether the whole event shouldn’t be cancelled or better, just disappear.

It will never be as glamorous as the catwalk parades held in true fashion capitals such as Milan, New York or Paris, write the critics. Someone will always point out that even Germany's big labels, such as Hugo Boss and Escada, don't take part in Berlin Fashion Week. So there is no hope of attracting international labels like Burberry or Ralph Lauren.

But the real question is: Does Berlin need to become like New York and Paris to be respected in the world of fashion?

Berlin should stop trying to be something it is not. Esther Perbandt, Berlin-based designer

“Berlin should stop trying to be something it is not,” said Esther Perbandt, a designer from Berlin, whose show is running at this season’s Fashion Week, which kicked off on Monday.

And this is exactly what a wave of new designers are trying to do in Berlin: to create their own buzz. Many have found a way to use Berlin’s hip image to generate business instead of worrying about the fact that it is not like most other fashion capitals.

Previously unknown labels find a platform here to showcase their designs to a larger audience for the first time and to take advantage of the media buzz around Berlin’s Fashion Week.

There are seven new labels participating at the shows this month, including Whitetail, an Estonian label run by Margit Peura.

“I think Germans and my idea of fashion go well together,” Ms. Peura said, adding that her primary focus is Berlin and Germany.

Whitetail is not the only smaller label that is trying to get attention and gain a foothold in the German market via Berlin’s Fashion Show this season. Nian from Turkey, Paper London from the United Kingdom or Pearly Wong from Malaysia are also in Berlin this week.

One of the most important events that accompanied the runway shows had been the Bread & Butter  trade and fashion show, that helped the  the city build a progressive, hip reputation.

Unfortunately for Berlin, Bread & Butter filed for insolvency in December, after an increasing number of exhibitors had turned their backs on the event because, although it was seen as an innovative product, it failed to attract international buyers.

This new, hard headed approach to fashion may ultimately work in Berlin's favor.

Bread & Butter was known for its parties in expensive spaces, but newcomers, including the Panorama trade show, focus more on on the financials.

“The time for partying is over,” said Jörg Wichmann, chairman and founder of Panorama “The business factor is gaining importance.”

Panorama said that 80 companies that did have stands at the Bread & Butter show have now moved to to Panorama and it has over 100 exhibitors are on its waiting list. Panorama is becoming the go-to marketplace for a broad fashion spectrum, including leisurewear.

In Berlin, this change towards a more economically-savvy approach can be felt everywhere. The city has never been known as business minded: it took pride in the “poor but sexy,” description given to it by former mayor, Klaus Wowereit.

But it seems a new generation of fashion and design lovers in Berlin are now learning to monetize their work.

“The show in Berlin offers a presence that I could not reach with any paid ad campaigns or marketing,” said Anna Lauterbach, head of marketing at Laurèl, a German luxury label for women’s clothing.

Berlin Fashion Week’s major sponsor, Mercedes Benz, is also upbeat. The car brand also sponsors fashion weeks in New York, Miami, Australia, and Istanbul and said it still has faith in Berlin.

“Of course, it is a shame that significant fairs such as Bread & Butter have closed down,” said Jens Thiemer, head of Mercedes Benz marketing and communications. But “sponsoring activities at Mercedes-Benz have a long-term vision, independent of such events,” he said.



Franziska Scheven is Handelsblatt Global Edition editor in Berlin, covering companies and lifestyle. Georg Weishaupt is a reporter for Handelsblatt in Berlin. Lisa Kober from Tagesspiegel contributed reporting. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected].