Berlin rivals Paris, Milan on the runway | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 02.07.2009
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Berlin rivals Paris, Milan on the runway

The Berlin Fashion Week has kicked off with pastel tones, short hemlines and lots of skin. The German capital is giving Milan, Paris, and London a run for their money as a global fashion mecca.

A model on the catwalk at the Berlin Fashion Week

The Berlin Fashion Week 2009 promises to break all previous records

The four-day event has grown from small beginnings to place Berlin firmly on the Fashion-map. Now in its fifth year, the event promises to break all previous records: 120,000 visitors are expected to attend 40 shows showcasing the new trends from 550 brands.

"Who could have thought that the fifth Fashion Week could be so successful?" remarked Maia Guarnaccia, vice-president of the event's organizer, IMG Fashion Europe.

Expected for the first time are Escada, Wolfgang Joop's label Wunderkind, Gant, Custo Barcelona, Black Coffee, René Lezard, and Kai Kuehne. The new arrivals should come as no surprise as Berlin has always held a certain appeal for fashion designers, fostering both home-grown talent and attracting gifted foreign designers to its cultured metropolis.

What had been lacking, however, was a suitable platform on which to display this talent. The Berlin Fashion Week changed all that but Berlin's fashion tradition dates back further than the inaugural event held in 2007.

A model presents a garment from the label Gant

Is Berlin able to rival the traditional fashion capitals of Europe?

Fashion under the burden of politics

It was during the troubled years of the 1920s that Berlin rose to become one of the Europe's fashion centers. By adapting the exclusive, custom-fitted French and German designs into affordable, ready-to-wear garments, the Berlin garment industry experienced an unprecedented boom. Although Paris chic still reigned supreme, Berlin schick had made a lasting name for itself.

The continuing rise of Berlin's lively metropolitan culture was interrupted by Hitler's seizure of power and was set back a generation by the outbreak of the Second World War. The National Socialists were strongly opposed to the avant-garde fashion scene, which they regarded as corrosive and damaging to the society that they sought to create.

In opposition to the strict regimentation of youth culture at the time, the Swing Kids, a group of jazz and swing admirers, sought escape in their music and distinctive apparel. Until the risk of arrest for "degeneracy" became too great, the Swing Kids were a common sight upon the streets of Berlin.

The young men donned long, checkered jackets, tightly knotted ties, bowler hats, umbrellas, and crepe-soled shoes. The girls sported pleated skirts, thin tights or blue knee-high socks, and beige shoes - topped off with pink lipstick.

Out of the ashes of war rose Berlin's star once more in the 1950s. Designers such as Heinz Oestergaard und Uli Richter became world renowned, heralding the revival of the city's once flourishing fashion scene.

Berlin's University of Art

Schools such as Berlin's University of Art have been a driving force behind the city's fashion revival

This resurgence was, however, short-lived as the construction of the Berlin Wall deprived the city's western half of tailors from the east. As a result, many firms escaped the capital and set up shop in either Munich or Dusseldorf.

Fashion grads stick around

Despite repeated attempts to revive the fashion scene in the early 1980s, it wasn't until the fall of the Wall that the turnaround really picked up momentum. Manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike and Levi‘s took up residence in the newly reunited city and a sense of optimism filled the air.

Within a short period of time, Berlin had succeeded in attracting eminent designers like Vivienne Westwood, who taught between 1993 and 2005 at the city's University of Arts. The school, together with the other fashion academies in the city, such as the ESMOD, have over the years attracted countless young designers who have stayed after having completed their degrees.

As a result, the German capital is now littered with small, one-room outlets run by fashion graduates in their 20s. One of them is Zerlina von dem Busche, who came up with the label Sisi Wasabi, featuring a unique fusion of modern street clothing and traditional German costume. Twenty-nine-year-old von dem Busche can boast outlets spanning the both the European continent and as far afield as Canada, the United States, and Japan.

Location, location, location

Berlin's mid-town Mitte district has traditionally determined the course of political events throughout Germany, being home to the German parliament and government. But the district has in recent years been regarded as the trend-setter in the cultural sphere as well.

The Hackesche Hoefe in Berlin's Mitte district

Today, Berlin's fashion scene is centered around the Hackische Hoefe in the Mitte district

In the side streets between Oranienburger Tor, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and Hackescher Markt one stumbles across an array of exciting art galleries, quality restaurants, and unique fashion outlets. The windows of these independent stores display not only the work of Berlin designers but also that of national and international labels.

While tourists stroll by in awe, fashion-conscious visitors are aware that the area offers a shopping opportunity comparable to no other. This area has become so well known that it has helped boost Berlin's reputation as a fashion center to rival the more established European names: Milan, Paris, and London.

Conspicuous absences

But Berlin still has a way to go. While the Berlin Fashion Week has been able to attract the biggest brands - and this year, for the first time, the most respected fashion editor Suzy Menkes from the International Herald Tribute - what is most sorely missed are the big names such as Germany's most prolific designer, Karl Lagerfeld, and the in-demand designer Jil Sander.

Whereas the stars of the shows elsewhere are the designers, the Berlin Fashion Week is more a show of brands. Nevertheless, the introduction of the event has left a lasting impression on the Berlin fashion scene and if the pattern continues, then the next Fashion Week promises to be an even greater success than this year's record-breaking event.

Click on the gallery below for more photos from Fashion Week.

Models display pieces from the collection of the Austrian designer Lena Hoschek

Despite the unparalled sucess of Fashion Week 2009, the event has not been immune from criticism

Author: Andrew Shale

Editor: Kate Bowen

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