Berlin Fashion Week Finally Finds Its Groove

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BERLIN — Four packed days of shows and events later and it was clear that Berlin Fashion Week has finally found its feet.

In the past, the event has dabbled with a focus on sustainability and technology, it has teamed with various apparel trade fairs and changed dates several times in the hopes of fitting in with the international fashion week calendar. Local media have criticized it for only being about the “Promis” — German slang for prominent celebrities — that lounged about uselessly in the front row. Designers had bailed on it, choosing to show elsewhere or not all, because they thought it irrelevant and suffering from an identity crisis.

But now, it seems, Berlin Fashion Week has found its own groove. Its organizers have decided Berlin should do its own thing and concentrate on what the German capital does best: creativity, culture, clubbing and the fostering of independent, artistic spirit.

“It was something that I never liked before, that constant comparison, with people asking ‘why are we not like that [city] or this [fashion week]?’” explained Scott Lipinski, chief executive officer of Fashion Council Germany, which has been pushing for ongoing changes at Berlin Fashion Week.

“But when Mercedes Benz left the previous role they had with Berlin Fashion Week, we decided it was a chance to push the reset button,” he told WWD, “where we could rethink, stop trying to compare ourselves and really listen and look: What is Berlin? What’s the DNA of Berlin fashion?”

Mercedes Benz began gradually pulling out of Berlin’s fashion week from 2017 onwards and withdrew as a main sponsor in 2022. Then late last year, apparel trade fair Premium also ended its run in Berlin (a streetwear event, Seek, continues). The more commercial trade fair had always been seen as bringing buyers to the city at the same time as the runway shows although it’s hard to say if that plan ever truly worked.

Several indecisive seasons later and things are very different. “For a long time, Berlin Fashion Week was not focused on creative representation, it was focused on event management,” said Jale Richert and Michele Beil, designers of local label Richert Beil, who celebrated their brand’s 10th anniversary this year. “But the concept has now changed and we feel we’re seeing a kind of new beginning. You can already tell the crowds are getting bigger and there’s a new feeling of cohesion to the event.”

Where other similar events might count how many international buyers or important media were in the front row, that no longer seems to bother the designers who call Berlin home. The creatives that WWD spoke with were all unapologetic about the non-commercial nature of their fashion week.

“We used to show in New York before the pandemic. But Berlin is where we live, where we came from, it’s where our family is — all the models, the artists, the music,” an exuberant Nan Li, one of the cofounders of Namilia, told WWD after his label’s runway show for an audience of several thousand. “So we’re so proud to show in Berlin, to reflect the vibe of the city and also, because our fashion is also political, to talk about the things we deal with every day.”

Namilia offers a fierce conflagration of baroque Y2K-style outfits for attention-seekers to go clubbing in. That includes ball gowns in a camouflage print, leather gear with glittering slogans like “faggot” and “blowjob queen,” accompanied by giant cans of pepper spray in their own spiky leather holders. The label, which was founded in 2015, sells mostly in North America and has found favor with the likes of Rihanna, Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, Kylie Jenner and Cardi B. Late last year, Namilia collaborated with Jenner’s brand Khy, which brought it more attention.

A look from Namilia’s A/W24 collection in Berlin.

Boris Marberg

Namilia’s was a buzzy extravaganza of a show, held over two floors in the foyer of one of the city’s central museums. More than 40 models walked to a specially composed techno soundtrack over the top of homophobic, transphobic and misogynist taunts. Guests’ outfits were just as radical and inspiring as what was on the runway and the atmosphere was raucously social. Gathering from the amount of videos attendees were shooting, it must also have been a social media marketing triumph.

“Actually we sell about 80 percent direct-to-consumer,” Li explained when asked about the commercial difference between showing in Berlin and New York. “Almost everything goes through Instagram,” he noted, adding that Namilia had brought in 2 million euros in revenue in 2023.

International buyers were not needed there last week. And other Berlin-based designers offered further, varied motivations for preferring the city’s less commercial flavor.

French designer Odely Teboul has shown at Berlin Fashion Week regularly. For her label, Lou de Betoly, she makes everything by hand from found or recycled fabrics and she told WWD she actually started on this week’s collection last April. Teboul, who previously worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, has seen her carefully crafted clothes worn by the likes of Dua Lipa and Beyoncé.

On the runway this week, Lou de Betoly’s easier-to-wear looks included mohair knits with rose and mauve petals or dripping with a tangled pearly trim. More complex outfits consisted of lace, crochet, glittering mesh, beading and weaving, all transformed by hand into a fitted, filigree statement gown. A minidress in different shades of tan made out of delicately layered stockings stood out.

Berlin’s less commercial vibe just suits her working methods, Teboul told WWD. “When I do wholesale, the buyers have to understand the way I work, that it can’t be reproduced and that with upcycling, every item is always a little different. I feel we are all a little bit overwhelmed with things [to buy] and that now is a good time to take a risk and do things a bit differently,” she explained.

Jose Reber

Jose Reber is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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