German fashion has long been characterised in the popular imagination by the purism pioneered by labels such as Jil Sander. Minimalism, drapery, asymmetry and block colours have come to define the country’s fashion looks despite the fact that every German city has its own sense of style. Functional fashion is the stereotype, the only concession being sport-luxe labels that offer a more relaxed look. However, in recent years Germany’s home-grown talents have been moving away from this categorisation and embracing a more playful aesthetic, taking inspiration from other cultures as well as urban street style.
Antonia Goy is one of the best-known labels emerging from Berlin. Designers Antonia Goy and Björn Kubeja produce pieces that reference classic German minimalism while adding an unexpected twist through the choice of materials and structure. The pair eschews bold block colours in favour of vibrant prints, and for spring/summer 2015 the collection’s colour scheme and prints take cues from abstract paintings and out-of-focus photographs, while pleats and two-tone leather add texture.
Berlin provides inspiration. ‘Berlin is great; it’s easy, young and cool. It’s new. It doesn’t care about traditions and restrictions. Berlin tries to find its own way in a modern age,’ says Goy. ‘And that is, of course, very inspiring for us.’ The designers describe their home town’s typical style as ‘casual: jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt’, and it’s this spirit of ‘anything goes’ that is being reflected in the fashion scene. ‘[In Berlin] it’s not about a certain brand, it’s more about being one’s self.’
Doreen Schulz and Clara Leskovar of Cneeon prefer to see their work as the antithesis of their surroundings. ‘We like to wear colourful clothes. Berlin is really a grey city for many months a year. So it’s nice to create something that is a counterpoint,’ explains Schulz. The label is known for its prints, and this season one of the collection’s highlights is a standout T-shirt dress which features an ultraviolet reactive screen print that changes colour from mint green to blue. ‘We like the idea of sitting on an underground train in Berlin wearing an almost uniform coloured dress and then stepping outside and the colour changing to a bright blue,’ says Leskovar.
Cneeon’s characterful printed pieces have wide appeal. ‘It is sometimes a little surprising to see how different our customers are. We see elegant women, younger girls and older ladies wearing our pieces, especially the colourful scarves,’ says Schulz.
Âme Soeur’s kaleidoscopic prints and architectural shapes have a similarly wide reach, having been embraced by trendsetters of every imaginable type. The label is the creation of another duo, the Taschén sisters Madina and Sabina who are known for their love of vibrant print and their innovative ‘one-cut piece’ concept, for which items are constructed from one piece of fabric. ‘A typical Âme Soeur wearer is not defined by age, but rather by a deep understanding and knowledge of fashion. She is not afraid of standing out and setting a fashion statement,’ says Madina.
For spring/summer 2015, Âme Soeur’s collection takes inspiration from the world of comic-book heroes and villains, which makes a striking contrast to the humour-free aesthetic often associated with German fashion. ‘The good thing about Berlin is that it has so many styles,’ explains Madina. ‘But I guess the most typical is the “I couldn’t care less” style. You can put anything on without people staring and judging.’
The city’s distinctive character has a subliminal impact on the pair’s designs. ‘Berlin is our favourite city to live in. We love its tolerance, wildness, diversity and beauty,’ says Madina. ‘I guess when you are happy and enjoy living in a city as much as we love living in Berlin you are automatically inspired by many small things in your surroundings.’
The fashion scene represented by these labels is one that is anything but minimalist. Principles regarded as typically German, such as structured form, are providing a base for experimentation. Colour, print and playful motifs are commonplace among Germany’s new fashion generation. And it’s proving to be a winning formula: Âme Soeur is planning to extend its range to include an accessories line, and Antonia Goy is about to launch an online store as well as undertaking a number of industry collaborations.
From superhero-inspired collections with kaleidoscopic prints to innovative colour-changing pieces that act as an antidote to grey days, Germany’s up-and-coming designer labels are embracing an exuberant colour palette and adding a touch of fun to fashion. It’s an approach that has widespread appeal and one that reflects the diverse character of the country’s cities. As this aesthetic continues to attract international attention, Germany’s style signature looks set to become a lot less serious.