How Berlin can boost its image as fashion hotspot | Lifestyle | DW | 30.06.2016
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How Berlin can boost its image as fashion hotspot

A Fashion Week project supported by major labels like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein is featuring young designers and their reinterpretation of denim. Here's why sustainability and creativity are crucial for Berlin.

Right up to the last minute, the young designer Karen Jessen could be found in her studio in Berlin's district of Neukölln, improving her creations for her show during Fashion Week.

Weaving delicate fabric threads into a thin braid, she adds it to something strongly resembling a skirt - though it used to be a pair of jeans.

Fashion Week Berlin, Designer Karen Jessen, Copyright: Gero Schliess / DW

Karen Jessen adds finishing touches to her designs before the show

She has invested some 150 hours in remodeling those jeans into a completely new garment: "My concept is to upgrade streetwear to haute couture and turn everyday clothes into something special," Jessen explains.

Through upcycling, she is redefining denim. "Jeans are normally hard and compact. I've dissolved the fabric," she explains, while stroking the soft denim threads.

"Sustainability & Style" is the name of a German-American fashion project supported by major US labels such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi's and the Dutch label G-Star Raw. They have selected Karen Jessen, along with three other young German designers, Kathleen König, Nobi Talai and Vladimir Karaleev, to creatively reinterpret jeans.

Fashion at the US embassy

The US embassy in Berlin is where the new creations of these German designers were shown. "We want to promote cultural exchange between young German designers and global brands," Kimberley Marteau Emerson, the US ambassador's wife, told DW.

Whether the German designers' propositions will really be adopted by Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Levis or G-Star Raw remains to be seen. "We've planted the seeds and can only hope that something will sprout," she added. In any case, representatives of those labels are all present at the show.

Green fashion from Berlin

The event takes place during the Berlin Fashion Week, which has long established its "green fashion" focus, aiming to distinguishing itself from larger, similar events in Paris, Milan and New York.

The show at the US embassy is crowded with fashion experts and stars like the actress Nina Hoss. It's the first time that major international fashion brands commit themselves to a sustainability project in their industry.

Protest against the fashion industry

For Karen Jessen, this is a unique opportunity. Through overconsumption of resources, poor working conditions in factories, and increasingly high-paced production, "The fashion industry is currently totally unhealthy," she says.

Fashion Week Berlin, Designer Karen Jessen, Copyright: Gero Schliess / DW

For Karen Jessen, every detail counts

Jessen sees the countless hours she's invested in her handmade skirts and dresses as a "punch in the face" from the fashion industry. She believes that "garments are losing their soul and identity" through the current high production pace. "My vision is to bring that back," she adds.

Are big labels like Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger the best partners for such an endeavor? After all, they represent everything the young Berlin designer condemns. Still, Jessen sees "every step towards sustainability as a good one."

Fashion is culture

Such events contribute to establishing Berlin as a unique hotspot for fashion, Christiane Arp, editor in chief of the magazine "Vogue," told DW.

Arp is the driving force behind actions such as this one. She feels that fashion needs to become part of culture in Germany, just like in France and Italy.

"You can believe me, I've been in many showrooms around the world - and I've never seen this type of design before," she says in enthusiastic praise of the denim creations of the four German designers.

Berlin lost some ground in fashion over the last few years. It's no use to try to imitate London, Paris or New York, Arp says. These cities have established their place on the international fashion agenda: "We need to boost Berlin with something else. Young design talents are the way to go. Without them, our field will soon disappear. That's the essence."

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