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Germans with Style

Courtney TenzJuly 22, 2008

Berlin may be making a name for itself as a trendy, cosmopolitan city with its own fashion week, but there is German fashion beyond the capital. And it's not all dirndls and lederhosen either.

Women walking along runway platform as a row of audience members claps
Models walk the Michalsky runway at Berlin Fashion Week.Image: AP

With only a few designers exporting German style internationally, it's sometimes difficult to see what's going on in the country's contemporary fashion scene.

The organizers of the Mercedes Benz Berlin Fashion Week had hoped to change that when they started their showcase three years ago. The only internationally-ranked fashion event in Germany, this year's four-day affair attracted such B-list Hollywood stars as Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City and Mischa Barton, previously of OC fame.

Model walking in white dress
An entry in the Karstadt New Generation Award.Image: AP

The events, which ended on Sunday, included runway shows by the German Joop! Jeans and UK vamp diva Vivienne Westwood alongside showcases by lesser-known locals like Leipzig-based Lac Et Mel and Lala Berlin.

The highlight of the week, however, came on Saturday night when a group of young designers displayed their wares while competing for the Karstadt New Generation Award.

If that competition is any indication, German fashion is something of a mixed bag. While winner Marcel Ostertag highlighted femininity with flowers and bows on a neutral palette, competitors Blutgeschwister went for form-fitting '60s-style mini-dresses in bold, neon patterns.

That look, which the designers of Blutgeschwister say expresses "a commitment to liberty and individualism, to hedonism and cosmopolitanism," seems to be in line with others that appeared during Berlin Fashion Week. The Anglo/German label Basso & Brooke likewise played up their haute couture with brilliant colors, mismatched patterns, and over-the-top accessories.

Everday Fashion

Still, haute couture is no reflection of what passes for style in the streets of Germany.

In the looks captured on the blog "Stil in Berlin" (Style in Berlin), Germans seem to prefer the unique to the timeless. Photos taken in the capital's fashionable Mitte district recently included a jumpsuit checkerboarded in pastels and star-emblazoned sweatpants.

"There's an incomparable degree of creativity and dynamism here," Olaf Gottgens, vice-president in charge for brand communication at Mercedes-Benz Cars told DPA news agency. "It's like no other city in Germany."

But designer Caroline Nippert, founder and head of the Cologne-based Cava-Cava label, cautioned against using Berlin as a gauge of what's going in Germany.

"Berlin has a completely different style than the rest of the country," Nippert said. "It's more experimental. Sometimes, I'd say, the fashion there is unique to a fault."

Fashion a la Deutsch

Man in sunglasses standing between two women
German-born designer Karl Lagerfeld prefers Paris for his shows.Image: AP

If Berlin, with its nine design schools and a high concentration of professional and amateur designers doesn't define German fashion, what does?

"To understand German fashion," Nippert said, "you have to understand the country well. Once you learn the language, the history, you'll see we're not flowery here. We like things clear-cut, precise. We're closer to the Scandinavians in that respect than, say, the French."

Still, France seems to be the place that established designers prefer to show. Despite appearing at this year's Berlin Fashion Week, Hamburg-born Karl Lagerfeld sat on the sidelines, relegating his own runway to Paris.

"Karl Lagerfeld is more French than German," Nippert said. "I'd say Hugo Boss represents Germany better, with their clean, straight lines. Of course there is a difference depending on where you go in the country -- the south tends to be a bit more conservative. But overall, Boss is a good representative look."

"The best way to make a woman happy"

Like fashion in other parts of the world, the German design industry has begun taking environmental issues seriously and incorporating more ethical elements into the production of their clothing.

Marcel Ostertag, who won the Karstadt New Generation Award, said that his clothes are made entirely in Germany, from the patterns to the finished pieces.

The Leipzig-based Lac Et Mel produces the world's first carbon neutral clothing. And in September, designers will be meeting for the first Oekorausch conference in Cologne to discuss ways to lessen the harmful impact of the clothing industry.

German fashion -- whether conservative or outrageous -- is not, it seems, so different from that in the rest of the world.

"Fashion," Nippert said, "has always been the best way to make a woman happy."