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Culture

Düsseldorf's Fashion Star Still Glows

Once Germany's undisputed hub of international fashion, Düsseldorf faces stiff competition from new fashion capital Berlin as it draws fairs and labels. But experts aren't writing off the Rhine metropolis just yet.

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No sign of fading glamor here

Until some years ago, Düsseldorf was the place to head to for any seriously aspiring German fashion designer.

With its slew of renowned international fashion trade fairs, catwalks populated by models clad in famous designs, swanky showrooms and high-end boutiques jostling for space on the elegant Königsallee boulevard, the city on the Rhine was the last word in fashion in Germany.

Fashion fairs less popular

But there are unmistakable signs that Düsseldorf's reputation as a fashion heavyweight comparable with cities like Milan and Paris is fading.

Naomi Campbell auf der Königsallee

Supermodel Naomi Campbell on the catwalk at Düsseldorf's Königsallee

Over the last couple of days the city may have seen a flurry of glamour with supermodel Naomi Campbell sashaying down the catwalk during celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the Königsallee and the twice-yearly "CPD woman-man" fashion trade fair, billed to be the world's largest.

But even the international fashion trade fairs, the backbone of the city's approximately 1,500 fashion-related businesses, are suffering from falling visitor and exhibitor numbers.

CPD Modemesse in Düsseldorf

Model Verena shows off a sleeveless summer dress at the CPD show in Düsseldorf

The CPD, Düsseldorf's most significant fair with a turnover last year of around €30 million ($36.7 million), registered around 48,000 visitors this year, a drop of 8 percent from last year. The decrease marks a continuation of a steady decline over the past years.

"What's missing in Düsseldorf is an overall concept of trade fair, city and economy," Alexander Gerards, owner of the fashion company Heidemann told daily Rheinische Post recently. "The trade fair is purely an information platform today. When the offer no longer suffices for domestic as well as foreign visitors and exhibitors, then the whole thing doesn't make sense any more."

Experts also trace Düsseldorf's fashion problems to the general sluggish consumer spending, rising insolvencies and falling profit margins plaguing the overall German fashion industry.

A "dying reputation"

A further problem ailing the crucial fashion trade fair industry in Düsseldorf is the drain of famous labels like Hugo Boss and Gerry Weber, who prefer to set up shop in the numerous showrooms dotting the city rather than pay hefty prices to set up a stand at the CPD.

Last year the CPD fair was marked by wrangling between organizers and internationally-renowned German designer Gerry Weber, who for the first time refused to participate in the fair saying it was "too inflexible" and suffered from a "dying reputation."

Düsseldorfer Königsallee wird 200 Jahre

Düsseldorf's famous shopping boulevard, the Königsallee

The move set off further alarms over the future of Düsseldorf's image as fashion hub and the economic significance of the city's fashion industry, which is estimated to rake in around €7.6 billion alone yearly for the state of North-Rhine Westphalia.

Competition from Berlin

But it's not just the falling popularity of its trade fairs that is eroding Düsseldorf's chic image. Few deny that the buzz in fashion circles in recent years revolves around Berlin.

The reunited, resurgent German capital, according to insiders, is pulsating with a raw creative energy that has sparked an exciting, young fashion scene.

"You can do pretty much whatever you want, you can dare yourself here," 24-year-old Andrea Hartwig, who started the Harbo and L' wig clothes label two years ago, told DW-WORLD. "Every week a new bar or restaurant or label is founded here and it's contagious."

Bread & Butter Modeshow in Berlin

A model at the Bread & Butter fashion trade fair in Berlin

Berlin's growing reputation as Germany's new fashion capital has been further cemented with the recent arrival of two of the hottest fashion events in Germany, the Premium and Bread & Butter "street couture" fashion trade shows.

The latter, which moved to Berlin from Cologne last year, has seen its turnover soar to around €8.5 million this year from a mere €250,000 when it first premiered in Cologne.

Experts also point to Berlin's strategic location in a newly-expanded EU as a further factor in favor of the city's fashion industry. "Ever since EU enlargement, the eastern European market is open to us," Karl-Heinz Müller, Bread & Butter creator said. "Ever since the borders are open, Berlin lies at the center of Europe."

Düsseldorf more established

Despite the odds, few believe Berlin can seriously edge out Düsseldorf, which has a much more established image as a high fashion metropolis dating back to the economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s.

Experts point out that Berlin's current appeal to young and hip fashion fans may be all the rage but the capital can hardly compete with Düsseldorf in terms of money and commercial clout. Figures suggest that Berlin accounts for a mere ten percent of orders in the fashion industry compared to almost 90 percent in Düsseldorf.

"The fashion trade fair site on the Rhine is better situated because of its proximity alone to important markets like Amsterdam as well as its infrastructure," Karl Schleicher, CEO of Italian fashion label Cinque told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"All the right ingredients there"

While industry insiders concede that Düsseldorf lacks the history and myth that Berlin is steeped in, it makes up for it with its internationalism. The recently-concluded CPD boasted 1,800 exhibitors from 54 countries despite its diminished image.

Gerald Böse, head of Igedo, which runs the CPD fair in Düsseldorf has already indicated that he plans to take steps to reverse the falling popularity of Düsseldorf's most important fair.

"We've been a closed shop until now. We must open ourselves up," he said countering criticism that the fair was too inflexible. "After all, the city has all the right ingredients to make it a fashion nerve center to reckon with."

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