Visit Aljoscha Augustin and his father at their Berlin menswear store Fein Und Ripp and, aside from the likelihood of being offered a glass of beer and meeting his brother, the chances are you will find items of clothing you haven’t seen before. This is because the shop specialises in a distinctive 1920s style, including unworn vintage pieces sourced from around Europe, which has led it to become something of a cult destination.
‘We don’t care much for fashion here. We appeal to the man with individual style, who wants clothing that has to be worn for several years before it looks as good as it can. Fashion will have long moved on by then,’ says Augustin.
Somewhat in contrast to Fein Und Ripp is Darklands: co-founded by Campbell McDougall, a Canadian of Scottish ancestry, as its name suggests, the store favours the brooding and the minimal. Its vast selection, from a wide range of labels, is housed in an equally vast white box-like space on the city’s periphery and is as much a gallery as a store.
‘The scene in Berlin is constantly changing,’ says McDougall. ‘Berlin is often a testing ground for new stores and concepts. Many of them end up not working and some of them are pop-up shops, so there is this constantly changing list of shops opening and closing, and among them is this core of good, solid shops, many of which have been around for some time.’
These longstanding ventures, and a host of other stores, are helping to seal Berlin’s reputation as being one of Europe’s leading hubs for independent menswear retailers. Notable examples include Burg & Schild which stocks rare denim and items of workwear, otherwise known as ‘heritage’ style; Chelsea Farmers Club, with its bold, dapper suiting and dress shirts; and Soto Store which champions the intelligent, dressed-down style of niche brands including Nanamica, Aspesi and Norse Projects. A larger selection of labels (for men and for women) can be found in Departmentstore Quartier 206 as well as in 14oz, which has three shops in the city. Among the own-brand stores is AD Deertz, a label established in 2000 which specialises in small runs of casual clothing for men.
Menswear stores are concentrated in the Mitte district (including in its Scheunenviertel area) Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and in the streets around the zoo. Some aren’t particularly easy to locate, being in ‘non-obvious spaces’, according to McDougall.
Stores that are off the beaten track need to offer customers something special in order to build a positive reputation. ‘It has become more important to concentrate on good products and good service, to create your own ideas and to become a unique store,’ says Shane Brandenburg, founder of Burg & Schild.
Berlin is a city of contrasts: it is attracting more visitors from other countries and is developing economically, but at the same time, rents in some areas are relatively affordable, there is a strong artistic vein and a healthy counter-culture exists. ‘A very independent spirit has developed along with many ‘scenes’,’ Brandenburg explains. ‘These looks can be very different and sometimes extreme, but they’re accepted, whereas in many other cities, anything outside of the norm wouldn’t normally be tolerated. Men can wear what they want in Berlin.’
McDougall adds that, in recent years, Berlin’s famed nightlife and club culture and has fuelled a menswear boom. ‘Most young people are putting together their look using clothing they find in markets and at designer sales along with pieces from designer friends and pieces that they alter at home,’ he says. ‘The vintage market is very strong here, as is streetwear.’
The independent stores are also thriving because Berlin isn’t dominated by chain stores, according to Wibke Deertz, the founder of AD Deertz. ‘Men here used to shop in the department stores and this led to a demand for more independent menswear stores, of the kind that women have had access to for years,’ she explains. ‘Independent fashion design is not an easy world to get into and menswear has its own challenges – it’s more about focusing on fabric and detail, rather than extreme changes of style. But Berlin is especially welcoming to it.’