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Scene in Berlin

July 1, 2011

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin kicks off on July 6. The event is consistently attracting fashionistas, celebrities - and plenty of attention. But what's really worth a look is the work of home-grown talent.

Scene in Berlin
Image: DW

The setting of this year's Berlin Fashion Week is sublime: near the Brandenburg Gate. But what generates buzz will be the promise of a glimpse of the beautiful people.

In recent years, A-list actors like Sienna Miller and Adrienne Brody graced the front row at fashion shows, stunners Lara Stone and Diane Kruger showed up at a Calvin Klein party, and top model Lily Cole tread the catwalk for label Anja Gockel London.

This summer's hotly awaited guests include Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, who has dressed Lady Gaga and Björk, Metzingen-based global brand Boss Orange, Munich's Escada Sport and Schumacher, and a host of just-announced Japanese designers.

There will be cocktail parties, dinners, and events galore almost around the clock.

Investing in fashion's future

Fashion designers Odely Teboul (left) and Annelie Augustin of Augustin Teboul
Teboul and Augustin left Paris for BerlinImage: Augustin Teboul

But the real excitement lies in discovering new talent.

Berlin boasts nine fashion schools - a record in Europe - and approximately 800 young designers live and work here. The economics of the city make strong sales outside of Berlin a necessity, but the capital is still second to none as a location that offers not just affordable ateliers, but a creative hub.

Berlin's Senate has even started recognizing the value of investing in human start-ups. For the second time, they're putting their money where the Mode is and are sponsoring a competition succinctly titled "Start Your Fashion Business."

After charming a jury that includes top-level fashion journalists and designer Jette Joop, the winners will take home a combined 50,000 euros ($72,400) capital, along with something even more valuable: coaching and PR support.

From Paris to Berlin

The French-German team behind label Augustin Teboul, vying for the "Start Your Fashion Business" prize, are what we call Wahl-Berliner. They chose to move here after a chance meeting brought the two, both 2006 graduates of Esmod Paris, together in a creative partnership. Odely Teboul, a relaxed jocular brunette, brings the French craftsmanship, panache, and a touch of chaos (she's the one missing a shoe in the accompanying photo). Orderly, blonde Annelie Augustin tempers her German love of architecture and simplicity with an embrace of the ornate.

They keep "one foot in Paris" for the connections, but Odely Teboul says, "Berlin is a very inspiring city for me. It's like what everyone says about New York in the 70s. You feel the energy from all the artists that are here."

A design from Issever Bahri featuring their signature crocheted leather
Crocheted leather designs are Issever Bahri's signatureImage: Issever Bahri

In January, the team staged a fashion installation featuring red-bewigged models strutting to a recorded version of Little Red Riding Hood rewritten as a sultry fairy tale for adults - I can't wait to see what they do this time!

A family affair

Another double-named duo in the contest brings a real Berlin story to the mix. Derya Issever and Cimen Bachri met while studying fashion in Berlin and their mutual backgrounds as the children and grandchildren of immigrants brought them together.

Issever Bahri, the label they founded, combines the German design approach with an accent on construction and precise pattern-cutting with handcrafted techniques from their heritage lands, Greece and Turkey.

And they keep it all the family, too. Cimen Bachri found a set of handwork samples her mother did as a young girl. One piece inspired one of the team's signature looks: form-fitting garments made from crocheted thin strips of leather. They even recruited Bachri's mother to help out with the crochet hook to produce garments for their collection.

Their designs have resonated stronger with buyers away from home, but Darya Issever says that forced them to make a push. "If Berlin had immediately said, 'Yeah!' and all the shops bought us, we never would have spread our wings to other countries," she reflected.

A third competitor is making his own way. Laotian-born, Berlin-raised Hien Le is almost preternaturally calm. This soft-spoken and kind young man trained as a tailor. Then after finishing his fashion studies at Berlin's University of Applied Sciences, he went to work for a hip PR agency in the city, where he implemented other people's designs. Now, he has the chance to show off his own styles.

Fashion from designer Hien Le
Hien Le sticks with timeless colorsImage: Hien Le

Hien Le's summer collection is dedicated to his grandfather, who was a men's tailor, and takes its inspiration from family photos from the Seventies. Garments are in fine silk and Swiss cotton, and include soft shirts and pants and an interpretation of a Laotian traditional dress with side splits.

Everything is made in Germany and there's no basic black here - gentle beige, pale yellow and navy are key, and timeless.

The best is yet to come

Whoever wins, they've had the chance to show their ideas to the world, and make their dreams reality. So they're already off to a good start. And some big eyes may be watching.

One of the most important names in fashion will also be in town this summer: Through his own brand, fashion stores, book stores, fragrance line, and work for Louis Vuitton, American designer Marc Jacobs has become one of the most successful and influential people in the industry.

Perhaps it is fitting that he's not coming to Berlin to show off his latest resort line, or accessories collection. Instead, he will be hosting another competition - Peek & Cloppenburg's Designer for Tomorrow.

Yet another sign that in Berlin, the best in fashion is yet to come.

Author: Susan Stone

Editor: Kate Bowen