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Scene in Berlin

Michael ScaturroJanuary 21, 2013

Once a get-together for alternative fashionistas, Berlin Fashion Week is putting on the glamour. DW's Michael Scaturro says it's lost much of its creative charm.

The model Lexy Hell presents a creation at the "Kauffeld Jahn Couture" show during the fashion week in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Earlier this week, while schlepping groceries one evening from the supermarket in my neighborhood, a silvery-brown Mercedes SUV zipped by before pausing in front of a newly finished apartment building to drop off what upon closer inspection proved to be Fashion Week VIPs. 

These Mercedes SUV VIP vehicles are a relatively noticeable feature of Berlin's now decade-old fashion week, which six years ago won the German car maker as a sponsor and engaged global fashion show organizer IMG as its manager.

Smartly dressed from head to toe in black, the man and woman who got out of the car looked like they'd jumped out of a Hugo Boss catalogue. Their silhouettes disappeared into an apartment building, and the door fell into the lock behind them.

High society

The next day, I found myself inside a tent with dozens of practically identical couples - men in black suits with white shirts and no tie accompanied by women in cocktail dresses. Just what these stylish people and their former model friends do during fashion week has never been clear to me, but I can say that their presence inside the large white tent - which for the last two years has stood behind Brandenburg Gate in the heart of the city - is a somewhat new phenomenon. 

Scene in Berlin

That's because prior to 2007, Berlin Fashion Week did not resemble the business it is now aiming to become; quite the contrary, it reveled in its global reputation for being a boozy, hastily arranged week of shows followed by wild, all-night parties. The in-crowd people arrived by bicycle - or taxi if it was especially cold.

The first Berlin Fashion Week show that I attended in 2006 took place in a courtyard in the downtown Mitte district on the kind of humid and cloudy summer day that screams rain. A piano player sat at the end of the courtyard and silenced the crowd with a sudden shriek of high notes that signaled the start of the show. 

Delicate girls in diaphanous white gowns then entered the courtyard from the street; they walked slowly, like ghosts, their heels catching in the cobblestones. Then they paused, posed, and retraced their steps towards the street. As the show neared its end, the rain began to fall - on the piano, on the models, on all of us.  

Then and now

Later that night, I attended a fashion show and after-party for some young designers who had managed to rent out the Bulgarian Embassy. After the show, the embassy's wood-paneled, 1970s-style reception space morphed into a dance party that overflowed into several adjoining rooms. Then, as now, the Berliners and their visitors chained smoked their way through glass after glass of champagne and beer.

I sought out the non-smoking room to get a bit of air, but only one person there was not smoking and at some point while sticking our heads out the window for air we struck up a conversation. He was a waiter, he said, but also had experience sewing his own clothes.  I was an editor. Berlin's nightlife being what it was, we eventually ran into to each other again.  

Fast forward a few years to this week, where earlier today I found myself waiting inside the Mercedes tent for a fashion show that the waiter turned marketing executive had helped organize. 

Visitors look at the Label Escada Sport during the Premium trade fair in Berlin
Fashion Week is not just a fashion show, but also a major trade fairImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The line into the show stretched into the middle of the tent. Inside there was a champagne bar, a currywurst stand, a café. A few German companies hade rented booths to advertise their wares. The largest booth was run by a water company, which has literally created a wall of water bottles guarded by two female models, who look blankly into the crowd while passersby take water (still or carbonated) from the shelves. The artistic nonchalance of previous years had given way to stoic glamour.

As the line for the show beings moving, I texted a friend who was late in joining me.

"Coming in now," he replied. "Just finishing a cigarette outside."