German Fashion Topics

Elegant, Individual, Eccentric, Creative – Men’s Fashion from Germany

Hartwich Spring/Summer 2008, © Doris Hartwich

Firma Summer Collection 2008, © Firma/Foto: Ali Kepenek

For a long time its international image was one of respectability and excellent quality - the mainstay being the compact and ever so durable man's suit . Today German men's fashion has become much more versatile and innovative..
Among the leading creative designers we find people like Doris Hartwich, Dirk Schönberger, Kostas Murkudis, Michael Michalsky and Frank Leder. Premium labels like Boss, Joop!, Karl Lagerfeld, René Lezard and Strenesse Gabriele Strehle, alongside shirtmakers like Ign.

Joseph, van Laack and Seidensticker are doing good business all over the world. Europe's second largest manufacturer of men's fashions, Ahlers AG, has its headquarters in Herford. With all its various collections like Otto Kern, Baldessarini, Pierre Cardin, Pioneer, Gin Tonic it generated an annual turnover of 260 million euros for the year 2007.
Classic and individual
The Baldessarini label by Werner Baldassarini was launched by the former head of design and managing director of Hugo Boss in 2006 and has now managed to become one of the world's leading names in men's fashion. Although the father of the label retired from designing in 2008, the clothes still bear the hallmarks of his style. Baldessarini suits are not only tailored from the finest woollen materials, but also from silk and shirt fabric. The spectrum ranges from jackets made of brocade or Irish linen, outdoor jackets lined with goatskin, unusual kinds of leather like python or eel, right up to hand-sewn sneakers.

The designer, Doris Hartwich, creates what she calls "men's fashion for classic individualists" and has been doing so quite successfully for over twenty years now. She manages to unite classic forms - like the greatcoat, for example - with creative details like a side-seam sewn into the front of the garment. Doris Hartwich set up her men's fashion label in 1987. The designer documents her fashion in the most extraordinary, most elaborately produced collection books which in the meantime have become collector's items in themselves. Doris Hartwich also designed the corporate look for the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail).
Michael Michalsky, Spring/Summer Collection 08, © Michalsky Holding GmbH/Foto: Stefan Knauer

qed fall/winter 08/09 collection cinesthetic, © q.e.d.

Ign. Joseph, the current neck-tie collection, © Ing. Joseph

qed spring/summer 08 collection nevermore, © q.e.d.

Innovative and eccentric
"Innovative with creative sophistication" is the best way to describe the style of design whizzkid, Michael Michalsky. The first collection of this young designer, who used to be creative director at adidas, was a huge hit in 2007.
"Disrespectful" is the word he uses to describe the way he flouts convention and the fossilised rules of tailoring by, for example, the use of the shirred shawl lapel, the off-set, tone-on-tone lapel or pronounced edge-stitching. This is not just reserved for his sporty, casual designs, but also for his elegant business look.
Eccentric - conservatively classic verging on the dandy - is the image Bent Angelo Jenson is projecting with his label, Herr von Eden. Jensen started back in 1996 in Hamburg by revamping second-hand suits and hiring them out from his first shop that he called "Offene Garderobe" (Open Wardrobe). In 1999 he designed his own suit for the first time, this in the meantime has turned into about 2000 suits a year that are then sold in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich.

Frank Leder also has his own style that is characterised by a dignified reserve and a confrontation with German history and culture. PostweilerHauber by Raphael Hauber goes for spontaneous, more youthful solutions like knotted shirts.
Black and white
German men's fashion has many faces, the only area on which they all seem to agree is the choice of colours - most of the designers go for black contrasted with white shirts or T-shirts. Kostas Murkudis and QED are the best examples of this. QED (from the Latin "quod erat demonstrandum" - that which was to be demonstrated) is the work of Julia Böge, Simona Gabrieli and Jasmin Moallim. They get their inspiration from poems (in 2008 their Nevermore collection was prompted by Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven), as well as from the pioneers of cinematography (cinesthetic 2008/09)
Joop, Spring/Summer Collection 2008, © Joop

Joop, Spring/Summer Collection 2008, © Joop

Doris Hartwich, Fall/Winter 2007/2008, St. Pauli, © Doris Hartwich

Bugatti, Collektion 2008, © Bugatti

Bugatti, Collektion 2008, © Bugatti

A Seidensticker shirt, © Textilkontor Walter Seidensticker

Labels with tradition
On an international level the main name people associate with German men's fashion is Hugo Boss. Since 2006 however the label has been divided up into sub-labels like BOSS Black for elegant businesswear and dress suits, BOSS Selection for premium design, BOSS Orange for leisurewear and BOSS Green for custom-made sportswear for golf, skiing, sailing, as well as HUGO for young men who prefer a more individual style. At the moment the house of JOOP! is experiencing a remarkable revival with the help of the German designer, Dirk Schönberger, who has been head of men's creative design there since autumn 2007. Schönberger has opted for a more avant-garde approach to fashion design that is aimed at appealing on a global level. Among the "global players" on the German men's fashion scene we find names like Lagerfeld men and K Karl Lagerfeld, René Lezard and Toni Gard. The OSKA label intrigues us with its markedly casual, ecologically sustainable collections; windsor men on the other hand is well known for its classically conservative men's fashion.

There are also a few newcomers like Carl Tillessen and Daniela Biesenbach in Berlin whose label is called Firma. The name speaks for itself for "we come from Germany, we produce here. It is part of the way we understand fashion," says Carl Tillesen. Their classic line with its modern feel that has already made it at on international level is considered to be the stylistic successor of Jil Sander and Helmut Lang.
White - the most popular of them all
Germany's most exclusive shirts are made by Ignatious Joseph from Düsseldorf. Born in Sri Lanka, always dressed immaculately, he is often called "the man with the red shoes". When it comes to male elegance, shirts are the absolute ultimate garment for him. His label, Ign. Joseph, focuses on high collars whose front edges create an extremely horizontal look, almost blending into the line of the shoulders. Shirts made by van Laack however enjoy much more widespread recognition. The label stands for fashionably elegant shirts in subdued tones or stripes with white collars and white cuffs. The company's special logo is a three-holed button. It was founded by Heinrich van Laack in Berlin in 1881 and afterwards went through quite an eventful history, but it always remained a German textile company with its headquarters in Mönchengladbach. No less famous are the shirts made by Seidensticker.

What first saw the light of day in a small room measuring only 16 square metres in Bielefeld-Brackwede back in 1919, has today become a label known all over the world. Now in the hands of the third generation of Seidenstickers, the company, with its Seidensticker and Schwarze Rose labels, is the world's third largest manufacturer of shirts. It is not only at Seidensticker, but also at other well known companies like Einhorn and Eterna, that the ever-popular, classic, white shirt is still so much in demand.

Dr. Ingrid Loschek (1950–2010)
was Professor of Fashion History and Fashion Theory at Pforzheim, University of Design, and the author of numerous books on fashion.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
April 2008

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Recommended reading:

Bolton, Andrew: Men in Skirts, London 2003

Chenoune, Farid: A History of Men's Fashion, Paris 1993.

Hollander, Ann: Anzug und Eros (Sex and Suits). Eine Geschichte der modernen Kleidung (A History of Modern Clothing) Berlin 1995.

Loschek, Ingrid: Reclams Mode- und Kostümlexikon (Fashion and Costume Lexicon), Stuttgart 52005.

Piras, Claudia und Roetzel, Bernhard: 365 Tipps der gute Stil. Herren (365 Tips on Good Style for Men), Cologne 2002.

Roetzel, Bernhard. Der Gentleman. Handbuch der Klassischen Männermode (The Gentleman - A Manual of Classic Men's Fashion), Cologne 2004
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