Klaus Schäcke admits that Frankfurt is ‘not much of a fashion city – lots of people go to the big designer stores’, he says, with a hint of disappointment. Even so, plenty of others go to his store, too: Kleidoskop, an oasis of new design talent in Frankfurt-Mitte. Admittedly it’s not for everyone. When Schäcke and his partner Dragana Papric opened their first store 20 years ago – a smaller space, still open and now dedicated to end-of-line pieces – it only sold clothing in either black or white. This approach lasted five years before, as Schäcke puts it, ‘We discovered some colour – although I would say we still sell more black than anything. We’ve always liked clothes that emphasise silhouette and cut, rather than pattern and colour.’
The main store, now five years old, is no less ascetic in its style. It is fitted out in minimalistic white, black and grey, a suitably rigorous approach that the two have favoured since the start and which, in fact, they have in their own home as well. ‘Back then people tended to think it was strange and cold,’ says Schäcke. ‘But now, of course, you see that simple style in shops everywhere – it creates a focus on the actual products.’
And at Kleidoskop, this is where one wants the focus to be. While the store stocks a few of the better known high-end intellectual designer brands – MM6 by Maison Margiela and Costume National, for example – it has gained a reputation for its independent ethos, hunting down less well-established designers to showcase in the store. It curates and develops, rather than just buys.
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Schäcke cites 8PM and Esgivien, both young brands from Italy, for example, with other ones to watch such as Cigno Nero and Vic Matié. He and Papric prefer to buy European-made clothes – for the quality – and would like to buy more from young German designers, ‘but they tend to have a very strong style and aren’t so easy to sell’, he laughs. ‘It’s hard to explain why some clothes are interesting if you can’t see it yourself.’ At the moment, bestsellers include thin leather jackets, trousers and shirts – if it sounds like a more masculine style, Schäcke insists that ‘we have plenty of pretty dresses, too.’
‘We spend a lot of our time trying to find something different,’ he adds. ‘That means a lot of time dealing with agencies – they come to us with new lines they think we might like – scouring the internet, at trade shows, seeing what people are wearing. But the results mean that the store is different, too. We think it’s important, especially in today’s retail environment, to focus on those smaller brands, the unusual. That’s what a discerning customer is after now: something they can’t get everywhere else. We’re drawn to the shape, the materials, the way it hangs.’
That is why Kleidoskop sells only womenswear. While Schäcke says he would like to sell menswear one day – and it might be included in a third store they are hoping to open in two or three years – he says it’s important to be able to try before you buy, and he’s not a sample size. ‘It’s funny, but it is really important to see and feel how a garment looks when it’s actually on, the way it hangs. And no menswear samples fit me,’ he says. ‘But Dragana is more a size small, so it’s easy for her to try everything on.’
Taking such an independent stance makes things harder in many ways. Both Schäcke and Papric have backgrounds in advertising, which they left when her agency closed and, frankly, they both just felt like doing something new. One might think that their expertise in branding and marketing would have come in useful. But Schäcke says that approaches to marketing have moved on as rapidly as fashion retail has. Part of their skill as buyers and retailers is just keeping up to speed.
‘I think we started out in the business right at the end of what was a golden era for fashion retail,’ Schäcke jokes. ‘Lots of people in the industry talk about how fantastic business was back then. But now it’s much more dynamic. We have to keep pace with new developments in promotion, on the internet and in the fact that there are far fewer small independent retailers now, too, with the big chains coming up. It’s a very different business.’ Thankfully, the best independents, such Kleidoskop, adapt and are able to go the distance – even if black is still their favourite colour.