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Lifestyle

Why Berlin Fashion Week is running away from the runway

Fashion designers want to sell their clothes, and buyers want to see, touch - and buy them. Is the age-old catwalk on its ninth life? Berlin Fashion Week is testing the success of small parties and salon shows instead.

At the Berliner Mode Salon, a sub-event at

Berlin Fashion Week

, established and young German designers are putting their best face, and designs, forward.

The presentation runs over several floors in the city's elegant Kronprinzenpalais, and this year even mega-brand Escada, absent from the Berlin runways for the past few seasons, has shown up to give its stamp of approval, with a colorful stand on the building's ground floor.

"If they're helping to pay for young designers, they're welcome here," says one Berlin fashion creative.

Upstairs, handbag entrepreneur Lili Radu is displaying her newest range of purses - some with inset leather stripes, others made from exotic stingray.

"It's mostly press here," she comments, taking in the buzzing crowd. She explains that she's already done good business the day before at her booth. Regular customers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria put in orders, and some new interest was generated.

Young, under-financed brands have to decide where they put their money - into a catwalk show that could bring positive reviews, or a trade show display that could attract retail buyers who make actual orders. Radu, who is entering the big American department store Bloomingdales this spring, has the resources to be both places at once - a luxury for many designers.

Runway is not the only way

Though his runway show last season in the Kronprinzenpalais was one of the most loved, Hien Le is staying still this time around. He graciously receives visitors from his quiet corner at the Berliner Mode Salon, explaining his newest softly tailored designs, which include a quiet camouflage pattern in watery blue.

Lena Hoschek fashion show at Berlin Fashion Week 2016, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/B.von Jutrczenka

Runway shows were still on the agenda - like this one by Lena Hoschek

He says summer is a better time for a fashion show; more people come, the city is livelier. This winter, he'll invest in bringing his designs to a trade show in Paris.

"I always thought having a fashion show is a good thing, especially because this is Berlin Fashion Week, and we should show Berlin. That was a good way to show what we do. But now, I don't feel forced to do it," he explains.

There are more possibilities now, he says. You can do a presentation; you can show a fashion film. The runway is no longer the only option.

Future of fashion weeks?

That's a sentiment dear to the heart of Bobby Kolade. This season he not only left the runway, he walked off the calendar of Berlin Fashion Week altogether to do his own thing.

On Monday, a day before the official events kicked off, Kolade took a two-part approach to pleasing and appeasing style insiders who have become ever more enamored with his global-minded, sporty-glam designs.

During the day, he had one-on-one meetings with top fashion editors, reporters and stylists at Happy Shop Global Alliance, a Berlin concept store that sells his clothes. That night, the store was turned into a party venue, where a fashion film of the collection was screened as a backdrop to DJs and electronic acts. There was no dearth of cocktails.

This dual approach of quiet time for the people who need to see the clothes, paired with a party for everybody else, seems to have been a success, says SJ Ballantyne, Happy Shop's conceptual manager.

Parties offer immediate feedback

"Shows are so expensive to put on, and you don't really get the satisfaction of what people really think until it comes out in the press," he explains, noting that the event also attracted international attention from publications including the Italian "Vogue." "I think this way, it's so much better for Bobby to have all this feedback immediately."

Kolade was also pleased with the experiment, which gave the most important people a hands-on look at his work, in contrast to the usual squinting at the runway as models race by.

Berlin Fashion Week Sommer 2015, Bobby Kolade's show, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

Bobby Kolade held a runway show last season, but changed his approach this time

"You don't have people see how well made the garments are - I had chief editors looking inside the garments, touching them," he enthuses, declaring the catwalk no longer relevant for young designers.

See it, touch it, buy it

In a way, Bobby Kolade's new model could be a vision for a reconfiguration of the whole fashion and retail cycle, which has sped up to accommodate digitally savvy shoppers who want to buy what they see as soon as they see it.

"I think its quite interesting to skip the whole runway and show in a space where you're going to be selling," he said.

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