Fashion is more global than it has ever been, yet national characteristics prevail. The Americans excel at luxe sportswear, no-one produces such beautiful leather as the Italians and Paris remains the destination for utterly chic and feminine style. And, while the idea of German precision is frequently discussed in relation to everything from cutting-edge technology to supercars, it can be applied equally to the country’s fashion labels.
Practical, immaculately designed and manufactured, always functional: German brands are starting to celebrate their innate pragmatism and their timing couldn’t be better. Fashion is experiencing a dramatic sea-change as luxury brands everywhere realise that what women really need in their closets are real clothes; timeless building blocks that look good and are easy to wear. Take, for example, Jason Wu’s debut collection for Hugo Boss.
Wu, who is best known for his utterly frivolous, incredibly luxurious cocktailwear, wasn’t perhaps the most obvious choice for a brand renowned for its pin-sharp masculine tailoring. Yet the marriage has only served to highlight the strengths of the German brand. Wu alluded to the brand’s studied perfectionism, jokingly referring to the unapologetically modern Hugo Boss HQ in Metzingen as ‘the campus’.
Yet that sense of German precision is clear in Wu’s clothes: the sleekest double-faced cashmere coats, circled at the waist with a neat black military belt; the neat trouser suits with immaculately tailored boyish jackets and gamine tailored trousers; and the plush knitted capes sitting high on Wu’s models’ shoulders before swooping down behind, which look warm yet eminently practical.
Wu isn’t the only designer rethinking how to fuse pragmatism with high fashion. Escada’s latest Escada Sport edition is packed with equally practical pieces. Fur jackets are cut close to the body and cinched with belts; parkas or gilets with fur hoods offer a cosy but lightweight way to wrap up in winter; glossy coats and jackets are insulated with lightweight quilting and padding. All are paired with flat, boyish shoes designed to be functional yet super chic.
At Strenesse it’s a similar story, with sporty, fur-trimmed lightweight parkas and jackets providing warmth over sleek day dresses and leggings. Snug jackets are offered with insulating fur across the body and knit on the sleeves. And, just as at Hugo Boss, the sleek, modern trouser suit reigns supreme, valued for its practicality but cut to look super-stylish, with slouchy trousers in palest dove grey, charcoal or soft rose beige.
Accessories get the practical treatment too. Strenesse tops its clean-cut looks with eminently wearable cross-body envelope bags. At Munich-based MCM, creative director Michael Michalsky’s sumptuous totes have been designed with women’s working lives at the forefront of the design process; separate compartments are incorporated for tech gadgets such as laptops and iPads, while rucksacks are designed with individual pockets in which to compartmentalise possessions.
But it’s perhaps in sportswear where German precision and tech know-how mix most potently. The country’s world-class performance sportswear brands, from Adidas and Bogner to Porsche Design and Schoffel, lead the way when it comes to combining fashion with extreme sportswear. Adidas was able to show off all its latest developments when it dressed the British team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The brand supplied ‘heat pants’, self-heating garments that ensure the optimum temperature for athletes during their warm-up sessions, and Powerweb suits made with a thermoplastic polyurethane that stores and returns elastic energy to reduce muscle fatigue. This may sound very sci-fi, but don’t be surprised if the very same technology starts to appear in your wardrobe in the not-too-distant future. And you can bet it will be German brands who offer it first.