Culture has always thrived in Berlin, and now fashion design is becoming as significant to the city as contemporary art and architecture. One of the catalysts for Berlin's emerging international reputation as a fashion capital is the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Since its first season in 2007, it has provided prospering local talents such as Lala Berlin and Kaviar Gauche with a platform to demonstrate their capabilities; and it has also encouraged more established German brands such as Hugo Boss and Escada to return home to show. International journalists and buyers have since been drawn to the city to keep track of its fashion protagonists, forcing affluent German cities such as Munich and Düsseldorf, traditionally more recognised for their high-end fashion, to give way. The ever-bohemian German capital, which proudly labels itself 'poor but sexy', is now a recognised hub of sartorial creativity and designer boutiques are springing up around town, most notably in the historic Prussian Mitte (centre) district.
Leyla Piedayesh is the woman behind Berlin brand Lala Berlin, which has enjoyed success both in Germany and abroad. Her shop in Berlin's fashionable Hackescher Markt is full of the designs that the brand has become known for: soft, oversized cashmere and mohair knitwear and feminine chiffon dresses. Her printed scarves have become a trademark and are slung across the shoulders of local Berliners - and also celebrities such as Claudia Schiffer and Mischa Barton. Like many Berlin designers, Piedayesh has never pushed for recognition; her label has grown organically and become a local favourite by word of mouth.
As Berlin's firmament of star fashion designers continues to expand, Michael Michalsky is burning brighter than most. The brazen glamour of his womenswear collection is inimitable and not for the faint-hearted. Michalsky's eponymous label is still young, but the man responsible for making Adidas cool again and rebranding Munich label MCM already has a loyal following. He is notorious for his tongue-in-cheek approach to fashion; his autumn/winter 2009 show was staged in a church and featured floor-length gowns studded with the patterns of stained glass windows. Michalsky's store in Berlin's bustling Monbijouplatz was designed by the man himself and epitomises the bold, eclectic style he is known for. His jeans range M-67 and Michalsky eyewear are also sold there.
Designers Alexandra Fischer-Röhler and Johanna Kühl met at the respected Berlin fashion school ESMOD. In 2003, they founded Kaviar Gauche, in a part of Berlin that was far from bourgeois; the name refers to Sartre's term for rebellious, gilded Parisian youth. Kaviar Gauche womenswear maintains a modern elegance, with a nod to often-minimalist Berlin style; many of the designs experiment with tailoring while keeping to a basic palette of black or white. Fischer-Röhler and Kühl's informal bridal couture range and prêt-a-porter collection have garnered praise and make them a young design duo worth watching.
Wolfgang Joop sold his label, and, with it, his name, in 1998. Many feared that this marked the end for one of German fashion's iconic figures. But Wolfgang, like a phoenix from the ashes, came back in 2003 with Wunderkind: young, fresh and infused with his eclectic taste. His colourful kaftans and boldly printed dresses are perhaps for a youthful international crowd which spends the summer lounging on yachts, but he also tackles serious tailoring and his eveningwear is frequently innovative. The best pieces from each collection are taken from his Gendarmenmarkt store and sold at Wunderkind Vintage.
Leyla Piedayesh cites government support for the arts as the reason designers and artists are drawn to live, work and show in Berlin. While the main buyers of high-end fashion may still be visitors to the city, the local talent producing it is most definitely staying put.
Lala Berlin , Mulackstrasse 7, 10119 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 6579 5466
Michalsky , Monbijouplatz 4, 10178 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 2804 0888, also available from Quartier 206, Friedrichstadt-Passagen, Friedrichstrasse 71, 10117 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 2094 6800
Wunderkind , Gendarmenpalais, Markgrafenstrasse 42, 10117 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 2804 0585, Wunderkind Vintage, Tucholskystrasse 36, 10117 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 2804 1817
Kaviar Gauche , available from Konk, Kleine Hamburger Strasse 15, 10117 Berlin-Mitte, +49 (0)30 2809 7839