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Scene in Berlin

In Berlin, fashion is a shabby affair

This week sees the Berlin glitterati in a fever as yet again the German capital hosts Fashion Week. But as a city with more hipsters per square mile than most, Berlin has a rather DIY approach to high-end fashion.

Scene in Berlin

I don't consider myself to be a particularly fashionable person. I don't read all the glossy mags, I seldom visit flagship stores, and I certainly don't talk down my nose to someone wearing something deemed "so last year."

I'm quite happy to roll out of bed, pull on a tattered, crumpled T-shirt and a pair of yesterday's socks and go to work. I suppose, thinking about it, by Berlin standards I am quite fashionable in the sense that I wear what I want and don't care a hoot about what anyone thinks.

Of course the common misconception is that the fashion business is a glitzy, glamorous affair but, like all misconceptions, this is a load of old rubbish and in Berlin especially, with its low-budget do-it-yourself approach to everything, it is a particularly shabby affair.

The grime behind the glitz

I myself have done several photo shoots for glossy magazines and the thrill of being photographed evaporated almost the instant I was dressed like someone who had fallen out of the sky and landed in a jumble sale. That pretty much sums up a photo shoot; you arrive at silly o'clock in the morning, are dressed like an extra from the Star Wars cantina and have to stand and stand and stand all day long in the most ridiculous poses. And what do you get for your labors? Fifty euros if you're lucky and a crick in the neck.

A mate of mine has been modeling part time for years and has done high profile shoots for heavyweights like GQ, Men's Health, Vogue, etc. Combined income: around 340 euros. He told me a particularly grim photo shoot story: "We shot in an empty apartment in February. There was no heating, no coffee, nothing. We were being photographed in vests and underwear. Of course we were freezing. I remember the stylist putting make-up on my knees because they were turning blue. I think they paid us an extra 30 euros sufferance money!"

So where's the rosy warm glow of fame and fortune here, then? Not exactly the sort of thing you can imagine Naomi Campbell or Heidi Klum having to put up with really, is it?

Models present creations by designer Lena Hoschek at Berlin Fashion Week

Kraftwerk may well have sung about 'The Model' but is the industry really that glamorous?

Just for the thrill of it

Another friend of mine is a photographer and has a wealth of similar horror stories. His summary of working in the fashion business in Berlin is that it is badly paid - "like every job here" - and is of the opinion that "we're all more or less expected to do these jobs - photographers, stylists and models alike - for the thrill of it."

It seems the fashion business, like a lot of other jobs here in Germany's capital, has a large degree of play-acting attached to it. It's cheap to live here; you don't need a lot of money to survive, so why should you be paid a fair wage for doing a day's work? Surely, you should be grateful your face is going to be splashed on the pages of J'N'C magazine? Surely my landlords would be happier to get their rent this month, more like.

The fact remains that for all its punky, streetwise trendiness, Berlin just isn't a major player when it comes to high-end fashion. Even the annual fashion week is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and you don't need me to tell you that is a car company. When was the last time you were at a party and heard, "Oh, nice dress. Who is it?" and the reply came, "Well, actually it's a Mercedes-Benz."

Fashionably absent

New York, London, Milan; these are the places where the hot shots hang out, do their stuff and, more importantly, make their money. Berlin is just a halfway house; an exciting city with no real fashion industry - and, hence, no money - where all these bigwigs can assemble for a few days of getting drunk without actually having to prove anything. And of course all the youngsters with very tentative links to a very shaky industry can wow all their friends with tales of who they met at these dazzlingly glamorous parties.

As Fashion Week wraps up for another year, I myself won't shed a tear. It doesn't exactly have the wow factor among my circle of friends, Fashion Week being a bit akin to The Annual Christmas Dinner for the Cockles and Winkles Appreciation Society; it's only really interesting if you're in it. I didn't go to a single party, I didn't see a single runway show, I didn't meet a single up-and-coming new designer. And that, I suppose, is the really fashionable thing; being invited to all of this stuff, and not bothering to turn up.

Gavin Blackburn was invited to appear in a runway show at this year’s Fashion Week but had to say no; he was washing his hair.

Editor: Kate Bowen

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