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The coolest fashion designers in Austria

The Austrian capital is full of creative flair and bold style surprises, as Theresa Harold discovers at MQ Vienna Fashion Week. From avant-garde accessories to modern, stylish ready-to-wear, these designers prove that Austria’s fashion scene deserves a place on the world stage

Theresa Harold

Feature

by Theresa Harold

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While cities such as Paris and London have a long-standing fashion week tradition, Vienna’s version is a recent addition to the industry calendar. Nonetheless, it has already built a global reputation for its daring and avant-garde designs – perhaps unexpectedly so, given the city’s conservative reputation. Located in the Museumsquartier, a restored area of historic and contemporary buildings, MQ Vienna Fashion Week is a platform showcasing new work through exhibitions, events and fashion shows. With the eyes of the world’s press on them, emerging and established designers have a great opportunity to present their visions for the new season.

And I: the accessories label celebrities love
One such established talent is Andreas Eberharter of luxury accessories brand And I. Founded in 2001, the label has won numerous awards including Best Accessories Designer in 2010 and Best Designer Branding in 2012, both at the Vienna Fashion Awards. Eberharter trained as a goldsmith and sculptor, and his unique metal masks and eyepatches have become cult classics. Celebrity fans include Milla Jovovich and Beyoncé. Lady Gaga even used an And I eyepatch in her music video for Paparazzi.

Speaking about his inspiration, Eberharter admits that he is ‘totally sci-fi and tribal influenced’ yet he acknowledges the impact Austria has on his work. ‘I grew up in the mountains of Tyrol. My grandfather had a really nice farm on one of the highest alps in Zillertal. So for me, it is very important to reconnect with nature in order to clear the mind and get new ideas. Living in Vienna, I can get to a national park within 30 minutes by car.’

Callisti: the leather-loving womenswear label
Living in proximity to areas of great natural beauty may be a key factor for Eberharter, but other designers take inspiration from different sources. As Martina Müller Callisti, founder and designer of fashion brand Callisti, explains, ‘I get all my inspiration when I travel around the world: other cultures, people on the streets, other fashion designers … that’s what inspires me.’ With her use of form-fitting leather, strategic cut-outs, and harnesses as accessories, Callisti’s work is representative of Vienna’s new, audacious take on fashion. ‘In the last couple of years, there has been a small fashion scene slowly becoming more avant-garde. So I am hopeful that Vienna is steering away from the conservative and traditional.’

Much like And I, Callisti is only physically stocked in Vienna, though both designers have online stores. This means that although they have international clients, the majority of customers for And I and Callisti are Austrian. ‘My client ratio is about 70% Austrian and 30% international,’ says Callisti. ‘Since I have my store in the 1st district in Vienna, there are a lot of tourists too.’ Does this have a noticeable impact on design concepts? ‘I have some special clients in Vienna who have been buying my clothes for years,’ she says. ‘Since I know them pretty well by now, I like to design some items especially for them.’

TrueYou: Austrian style with an international perspective
Ilja J Lawal, chief executive and founder of TrueYou, is similarly pragmatic. ‘While we don’t necessarily design our products with the Viennese client in mind, we do try to keep our designs as wearable as possible,’ he explains. ‘Since we are indeed based in Vienna, we strive to please the broad audience rather than just reaching a small set of crazy individuals.’ Those who saw his show at fashion week might wonder how net T-shirts and dropped-crotch trousers can be considered wearable, yet away from the make-up and dramatic styling of the catwalk, the individual pieces strike just the right balance of edgy and easy-to-wear. Indeed, the majority of the collection is unisex – which really does address the broadest audience possible.

Schella Kann: the seasoned designer who plays with proportions
Schella Kann is another Austrian label with its atelier in Vienna. Established in 1985, it is something of an institution on the Viennese fashion circuit. Yet designer Anita Aigner is anything but complacent. ‘Vienna has changed a lot in the last 20 years,’ she remarks. ‘It’s not that conservative any more.’ Influenced by renowned Austrian fashion designer Helmut Lang, Aigner creates directional pieces for the modern woman. Her recent collections have played with volume and shape, subtly altering the body’s silhouette.

One of the most interesting aspects of Vienna’s shopping scene is that, unlike many other cities, its quirky and independent fashion stores are not relegated to the outer fringes. In fact, both Callisti and Schella Kann have flagship stores in the historic 1st district. By encouraging local designers to set up shop in the heart of the city, Vienna sends out a clear message that it takes pride in its home-grown talent.

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