The first surprise came at the entrance to the Malaikaraiss studio in Berlin. A delicate woman with bright red hair opened the door — it was the fashion designer herself, Malaika Raiss.
The head of the German label established herself at last summer’s Berlin Fashion Week and is now back for the January 2016 show, talking about “a new orientation” for her clothing and accessories.
Not so long ago it wasn’t clear if her designs should be taken seriously. There was no defining image. But that changed at the summer show in Berlin. Her line featured white coats, blouse jackets and long skirts with patterns of bright blue clouds — free and easy flowing materials, but with clear lines.
As she sat at her desk for a recent interview, the new orientation could apply to the designer as well. She seemed determined yet relaxed. She has always been serious and single-minded, she said, but was considered very young for the profession.
Her jewelry has such a sure sense of style that it has even made it into the trendy Colette boutique in Paris.
Now, almost six years after establishing her label, people are prepared to believe that she heads a company. For a little while now, she has been on her own, after her silent partner, a friend of her parents, left the business. Without him, she never would have dared to strike out on her own in 2010.
Ms. Raiss is now 30 and feels it. Almost too much so. “Sometimes I feel like I’m 100!” she said. “So much has happened these last years.”
All those experiences haven’t crushed her – they have taken her further.
That isn’t always so on the Berlin fashion scene. Things go downhill for most designers after the first few years, when the money is gone along with the first euphoria, and attention from outside dwindles.
She's an exception, but it’s not because conditions for Berlin designers have improved in recent years. “They're just as bad as always,” she said.
Ms. Raiss said she simply kept going, despite difficulties. Sometimes, when money was scarce, she took two jobs on the side. And now it’s like she broke through a magic wall.
“Suddenly many things are working out on their own,” she said. “We get calls from stores that we’ve wanted to make deliveries to for years.”
All this is evident in the latest of her collections, which for two seasons have been more rounded-out and coherent. Few pieces stand out as showpieces alone — like the shiny white jacket, tightly embroidered with colorful pearls. Many women just had to have the jacket, but there was not enough demand to take it into production.
Now her special pieces are no longer solitary occurrences, but rather run through the entire collection. A dominant feature for this week’s presentation was a camouflage pattern with large flowers, embroidered on coats, printed on silk blouses and knitted into Jacquard sweaters.
It is often said that you can’t sell out-of-the-ordinary fashions in Germany. Ms. Raiss wants to prove that wrong. But first she is focused on her home market and, of course, must offer the right style of clothing.
“We don’t do avantgarde fashion,” Ms. Raiss said. “We want people to wear everything we design.”
And so everyone sees what that is, she has regularly displayed her clothing at the spring and summer Berlin fashion weeks each year. “If they don't know you, they won’t buy you,” the designer explained.
Thanks to social media, the show can have immediate impact. Her online shop has by far the most sales in January and July, so this year is it has been filled with springtime items right on time for fashion week.
In recent months, sales were boosted by none other than Darth Vader. Since October, Malaikaraiss has been selling gold-plated pendants featuring Star Wars motifs and decorated with tiny diamonds. In contrast to most promotional items, her jewelry has such a sure sense of style that it has even made it into the trendy Colette boutique in Paris.
But how is it that a small Berlin fashion firm, with four-and-a-half employees including the boss, can sell jewelry with the Death Star?
Ms. Raiss said she had a “gut feeling.” Two years ago, she designed a few pendants with the Death Star as a joke. Her friends liked them so much that she called the Disney company, which holds the license for Star Wars merchandise.
“Everyone laughed at me: ‘Yeah, go ahead and call Disney,’ ” she recalled.
When Ms. Raiss called, she immediately had the right person on the phone.
Of course, the growing popularity of her brand didn’t hurt.
This article originally appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]