While Paris, Milan and London remain the acknowledged fashion capitals of Europe, Vienna is emerging as a dark horse on the style map. Designers and entrepreneurs are finding that this atmospheric city, renowned for its museums and coffee houses and as the birthplace of the influential Wiener Werkstätte artistic movement, is a civilised and inspiring place to work, with none of the distracting cut-and-thrust of a metropolis.
‘The best aspects of Vienna are not only the historic and visitor attractions, but a new modern and dynamic culture that has emerged within the conservative surroundings,’ says Petar Petrov, one of a handful of Vienna-based designers who are making waves on the international scene.
Petrov, who was born in the Ukraine and raised in Bulgaria, studied fashion at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien (University of Applied Arts Vienna), or Die Angewandte for short. There he benefitted from its high-profile roster of tutors, including Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of Viktor & Rolf and Raf Simons, now the creative director of Dior in Paris. The principles of Viennese modernism, with its quality materials and purist silhouettes, have had a profound influence on Petrov’s work, brought into sharp focus since he launched his own label in 2005.
‘A concept of luxury that can be summarised in a few words does not exist for me. Of course, luxury fabrics, colours and materials create the products’ value, but I try to design according to my personal idea of a modern woman who is both dynamic and elegant. I love women who play with feminine elements but also have a masculine side, and many of my designs are inspired by men’s wardrobes. What my clients share is independence, individuality and a taste for the unexpected.’
In his autumn/winter 2015/16 collection, Petrov works out that delicate balance in panelled leather skirts, city coats in powder blue, silk blouse-dresses and sumptuous furs. Over the years, a host of professional woman has discovered Petrov’s designs, including leading tastemakers such as Louise Neri, the director of the Gagosian Gallery in New York.
Die Angewandte is a fertile breeding ground for both fashion and art – Helmut Lang is among its alumni. Up-and-coming Viennese designer Roshi Porkar is also a graduate. ‘It is one of the oldest art schools in Europe and the training is very strong,’ she says. ‘Vienna does not have a collective style identity, but the artistic nourishment is rich.’ After graduating, Porkar went on to work for stylist Karl Templar in New York and for Alber Elbaz at Lanvin; her fascination with three-dimensional effects and beautiful fabrics also saw her win the prestigious Chloé Award at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2014.
‘I put a lot of thought into what I do. I talk to friends and really try and design what they would like and what I would like to see rather than follow market trends,’ she explains. Fabulous silk fringe trousers, camouflage-print organza kimonos and lacquered evening trenches are all included in her current collection. ‘I like the fact that Vienna is not too young or too hip. You mix in different circles. There’s an Austrian saying that anything that happens in the world arrives here 10 years later. But that sense of slowness is appealing,’ says Porkar.
Vienna in Vogue
Arthur Arbesser, who was raised in Vienna and trained at Central Saint Martins in London, is another Austrian creative on the rise. The designer, who launched his label in Milan in 2013 after seven years at Armani, is known for insouciant tailoring and is a former winner of the Vogue Italia/Altaroma Who Is On Next prize. His collections and presentations draw heavily on Austrian culture by using loden fabric, Werkstätte influences and salon settings.
The cross-fertilisation of artists, designers and makers – which includes graphic artists, ceramicists, jewellers and photographers – means Vienna is a stimulating, but not hectic, hub. On a pragmatic level, the low studio and shop rents make the city an attractive proposition for entrepreneurs. The extremes of tradition and innovation are also reflected in the retail mix.
While the Goldenes Quartier, part of the city’s Unesco World Heritage-listed historic centre, offers a beautiful setting for big-name flagships such the likes of Louis Vuitton and Gucci, the city’s western ‘seventh district’, Neubau, has become a magnet for young designer-makers. The friendly, community-driven area even has its own website, which promotes local businesses. These take in everything from Beate von Harten’s handcrafted rugs and tapestries to Brillen Manufaktur’s custom-made eyewear and multi-brand store Arnold’s.
‘It is not the best place for networking, but that has some positive sides,’ Petrov says. ‘It’s really very comfortable here.’ And right now, quality of life is a precious luxury in itself.