German couture Is there such a thing as German fashion – and if so, where is it heading?

German fashion is synonymous with Jil Sander – this is what the international fashion world long believed about German couture.

Augustin/Teboul, Showinstallation Autumn/Winter 2014/2015 Augustin/Teboul, Showinstallation Autumn/Winter 2014/2015 | © Augustin/Teboul The other big name in German design, Hamburg native Karl Lagerfeld, is so closely associated to Chanel that his Hanseatic background is merely just that: a background. Wolfgang Joop, from Potsdam, is a designer with many talents but not an artist who sets the fashion trend of a season on runways worldwide, unlike his peers in Paris and Milan – or like the Jil Sander label also managed to do in its heyday.

German purism – a thing of the past

No other style embodied German fashion more forcefully than the purism of Jil Sander. Yet many designers are now leaving just that purism behind. They are becoming more playful, like the highly praised Berlin label Achtland, and are allowing other cultures to influence their work whether they are immigrants themselves or have studied abroad – or both, like the German-French designer duo AUGUSTIN/TEBOUL who have worked in London and Paris and are also celebrated in the fashion world.

Fashion bloggers Kathrin Bierling and Barbara Markert from Modepilot see an important change taking place and attribute it precisely to immigration and internationalization. “German fashion has become more varied. Germany is an immigration destination and so foreign cultures are continuously flowing in. Let’s just take, for example, designers like the German-Croatian Damir Doma or the German-Polish Dawid Tomaszweski who are enriching German fashion today.”

Immigration and internationalization: a new chance

Michalsky Collection Summer 2014 Michalsky Collection Summer 2014 | © Michael Michalsky These very factors may well give German designers or designers working in Germany the chance to establish themselves internationally again. Berlin, which has succeeded in gaining ground over other cities and not just in terms of nightlife, is now playing an important role in young fashion design again – and can do this especially well with its culture of immigration from East and West.

Achtland, Collection Spring/Summer 2014 Achtland, Collection Spring/Summer 2014 | © Achtland Berlin’s growing significance is also recognized by leading authorities like Antonella Giannone, professor of fashion theory at the Academy of Art Berlin Weissensee, who chose the city as her new research site. She sees a new kind of urban fashion developing in the streets of the German capital. “Lately, the relationship between city and fashion is being defined anew here: Berlin has become a young, unconventional and experimental fashion hub that attracts creative people from all over the world.” Michael Michalsky, a designer well established in Berlin, puts it like this: “We are continuing a long and successful tradition. There was a time when German designers went abroad in search of success and recognition. That’s no longer the case, thank God. Berlin is back on the agenda of the international fashion capitals.”

That is certainly true – on the one hand, when you look at the successful fashion shows of the last few years and the media attention bestowed on them. On the other, big German labels like Hugo Boss and Escada have been absent from Berlin catwalks since 2013 and –perhaps a matter of greater concern for the capital’s young scene – the key players of the Berlin fashion hype like “Achtland” are currently leaving town and relocating to better-paying places like London.

The first of the new labels are already leaving

  • AUGUSTIN TEBOUL, Showinstallation Autmn/Winter 2014/2015 © Augustin/Teboul
    AUGUSTIN TEBOUL, Showinstallation Autmn/Winter 2014/2015
  • Dawid Tomaszewski, Collection Autumn/Winter 2014/15 © Dawid Tomaszewski
    Dawid Tomaszewski, Collection Autumn/Winter 2014/15
  • MICHALSKY Collection Summer 2014 © Michael Michalsky
    MICHALSKY Collection Summer 2014
  • ACHTLAND, Collection Spring/Summer 2014 © Achtland
    ACHTLAND, Collection Spring/Summer 2014
  • Vladimir Karaleev, Collection Autumn/Winter 2014/15 Photo: Stefan Kraul
    Vladimir Karaleev, Collection Autumn/Winter 2014/15
  • KAVIAR GAUCHE, Collection Summer 2014 © Kaviar Gauche
    KAVIAR GAUCHE, Collection Summer 2014
The exciting new German fashion faces a strange problem in affluent Germany: it doesn’t sell very well. When German clients spend money on haute couture or pricey garments, they prefer luxury fashion from Italy. Or they still buy Jil Sander whose dogma of quality continues to retain its appeal with German customers and retailers, and who has found in Düsseldorf designer Dorothee Schumacher a successor in terms of a more urban, affordable fashion style.

Apart from that, retailers are hesitant about new designers and thus deprive labels that are launched with great enthusiasm, like Augustin/Teboul, from securing the financial basis they need for their elaborate collections. The result in the case of Augustin/Teboul is that the two designers are now in Paris, testing the waters.

“The German retail trade and the fashion labels are warming up to each other only very slowly,” fashion journalist Jennifer Wiebking points out. Labels like Vladimir Karaleev or Achtland have more customers abroad than in Germany.

Kaviar Gauche, Collection Summer 2014 Kaviar Gauche, Collection Summer 2014 | © Kaviar Gauche Berlin and German fashion are again in vogue internationally and are, like the Berlin label Kaviar Gauche, perceived to have their own distinctive style, according to fashion photographer Kira Bunse: “Of course there is a German fashion – but only a few German labels have managed to rank among the international fashion elite. The question is how many new German fashion labels and which among them will be able to establish themselves in the international fashion world in the future?”

For German fashion and its great variety of young labels, in part absolutely capable of competing internationally, there still seems to be a long away ahead to make it to the top of the fashion business.