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Culture

Keeping Up With The Pradas

The week of all-night parties and forests of clothing racks known as Berlin Fashion Week has come to an end. The capital is a fashionista destination, but will it ever reach the iconic status of a New York or a Paris?

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Berlin has the talent to be a fashion player, but needs encouragement

So how big can Berlin's fashion scene get? As profitable as Tokyo's? As glamorous as New York's? As legendary as Paris'?

Anita Bachelin smiles and then gives a half answer.


"It could be better, but in a different way," she says.


She thumbs the dial on her Blackberry in the VIP lounge of the fashion trade show she and partner Norbert Tillman created in Berlin from scratch in 2003. In two years, it has become the city's biggest, joining with major-brand trade show Bread & Butter and three smaller trade fairs to firmly establish Berlin as Germany's fashion capital.

SoHo of Europe

The hype that has surrounded the city's young design scene in recent years is the reason tens of thousands of buyers representing clients from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, international journalists and hundreds of labels have descended on Berlin in the past five days.

"Berlin is not just fashion, it's creativity," says Bachelin, fishing a ringing Nokia out of her snakeskin purse. "New Yorkers say it’s the SoHo of Europe."

Mode in Berlin: Messebild von der Premium

Premium has gone from 60 exhibitors in 2003, to more than 600 this year

But as the hype that has surrounded Berlin's burgeoning fashion scene inevitably fades, industry figures like Bachelin and Tillmann are fighting to ensure the city loses none of the traction it has gained in recent years.

Cheap rents and low costs of living have nurtured a booming creative scene in post-Wall Berlin that ranges from art to music, from film to fashion. Berlin designers sell in Tokyo department stores, Paris showrooms and are featured in magazine spreads. This year, Vogue doyenne Anna Wintour sent one of her assistants to check out the Premium show, says Bachelin.

Some way to go

The growth of the city's two big fairs has been so impressive -- Premium featured more than 600 exhibitors and Bread & Butter around 500 -- that Berlin city officials, who last year began sponsoring an additional trade show, have unified the shows under the title, Berlin Fashion Week. But if the name is supposed to invoke the glamour of Milan, London and New York, the reality is different.

"German fashion is not there yet," said Dylan Ross, buyer for Question Air, which supplies stores in London. "But its potential as a platform is enormous."

Modemesse Berlin Besucher Barbara Becker und Klaus Wowereit

Mayor Wowereit, here with Boris Becker's ex-wife, at a fashion event Sunday

Unlike London -- where the government hitched the city's creative scene to its "Cool Britannia" campaign -- Berlin government officials have been slow to recognize the image gain and economic potential in the clothing business. Though it provides small atelier subsidies and other grants, the city has only invested 1.3 million euros in the industry between 1993 and 2005, according to a economics ministry report. Neither Premium nor Bread & Butter gets any financial support.

"They do give us an ear," says Bachelin. "But we're (the ones) promoting Berlin."

A unified effort

Things are beginning to change. City officials like the city's economics senator and Mayor Klaus Wowereit are now trade show regulars, with Wowereit giving a speech of thanks (in English) at an Adidas Originals runway show on Sunday night. The Berlin trade show association started the "B in Berlin" trade show in January 2005, and joined with Premium and new show "Fifth Floor" to form the "Berlin Fashion Week" event.

Bread & Butter 2006

A Bread & Butter catwalk show from the weekend

But state support alone won't help.

Markus Klosseck, designer and president of the label aemkei moved his company to Berlin from New York two years ago. Though benefiting from the city's cheap rents and its central European location, he thinks there needs to be more investment in retail and more cooperation between the various trade shows before Berlin can be mentioned in the same breath as New York, London or Tokyo.

"What they're doing now is not helping the buyer," he said. "There's too many trade shows, too many events and the (buyers) are confused."

Expansion plans

Bachelin says to be patient.

“It’s still coming," she said. "We’re talking about 3.5 years! New York had ten years and Paris had 100 years to establish itself."

For the time being, all Bachelin and her colleagues can continue to do is spread Berlin's good reputation. Bread & Butter last year launched a Barcelona event that attracted 48,000 people during its first weekend. In the coming weeks, Premium will take seven Berlin designers to Milan and Tokyo to feature in trade shows there.


"Times are changing," says Bachelin.

Maybe Berlin's fashion status will as well.

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