Modern, sharp and elegant, with a touch of the extravagant, Austria’s fashion scene is as rich as its history. The country has a unique sense of style, and its native designers are among the best in the world. We take a look at some of the most exciting
Between 1890 and 1910 – a period known as the Wiener Moderne (Viennese Modern Age) – Austria’s capital city was in the grip of an intellectual revolution that would influence the world.
'Austria might be perceived as a small country, but we are totally underestimated' - Juergen Christian Hoerl
During this time, artists such as Gustav Klimt broke away from academic tradition to spearhead the Vienna Secession art movement. In literature, writers including Hermann Bahr and Arthur Schnitzler rose to prominence and became known as the coffeehouse literati, claiming the city’s kaffeehäuser as their own for both socialising and working. The impact that this period had on philosophy, literature, music, art, design and architecture was evident all over world, and is still relevant today.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that the country’s fashion scene reflects this exciting heritage. From Rudi Gernreich’s ground-breaking styles to Helmut Lang’s pure, minimalist aesthetic, Austrian designers have refused to be pigeonholed.
Juergen Christian Hoerl, who founded his eponymous label in 1999, is one of Austria’s best-known designers. He is quick to point out that ‘Austria might be perceived as a small country, but we are totally underestimated.’ Hoerl’s designs are a far cry from the twee outfits often associated with Austria (as seen, for example, in The Sound of Music film). His intricate masterpieces have graced the catwalks and red carpets of international events, and remain a firm favourite among guests at the Wiener Staatsoper ball each year. Every garment is handmade at the Juergen Christian Hoerl atelier in Vienna.
‘The runway collections that I create are my DNA,’ explains Hoerl. ‘It’s how I see fashion and what I would like fashion to be. This is, of course, different when we tailor something to the needs of a client. Then, the priority is to understand the client’s vision and individuality. Tailoring is something very personal and intimate.’
This autumn, Juergen Christian Hoerl will open a new store in Vienna’s first district, complementing the private shopping service offered at its headquarters. Customers can also find the brand in Vienna’s Art Up boutique and Gusner in Graz.
It seems important for Austria’s designers – both established and emerging – to distance themselves from any semblance of kitsch stereotypes and one thing you won’t find in their collections is a dirndl. ‘Internationally, Austrian fashion is mainly seen in a very traditional context,’ says Ida Steixner, co-founder of fashion brand Meshit. ‘There are a lot of Austrian designers creating avant-garde and contemporary fashion, who are using traditional details in a modern way.’
Lena Krampf, Steixner’s business partner, agrees. ‘Traditional Austrian garments play a role from time to time in our collections as inspiration, but then we mix them with other interesting themes and only work with the details. Our collections are often inspired by different social movements – subcultures and youth culture or the working class – often with a strong relation to Austrian scenes,’ she says.
Since founding Meshit in 2010, the pair have garnered a reputation for androgynous, urban-inspired clothing with a hint of insouciant luxury. The label has won a number of accolades, including Designer of the Year at the Vienna Awards for Fashion and Lifestyle in 2013. The first Meshit store opened in Vienna in May 2014 and it’s clear that the brand’s provenance remains vital to the designers.
‘It’s getting more and more important for companies to produce under fair conditions and to produce locally because customers are becoming more aware of this topic,’ says Steixner. ‘We produce our knitwear in Vienna and people really like the fact that it's made in Austria.’
Femme Maison – named after a series of paintings by artist Louise Bourgeois – is another brand that understands the importance of building up the cachet of Austrian-made products. Founded by husband-and-wife team Franziska Fürpass-Kermani and Sia Kermani, the luxury womenswear label is defined by understatement. Using materials such as linen, lace, faux fur, Austrian wool, cotton and silk prints that have been designed in-house, Femme Maison creates clothes inspired by sculptural forms and nature – much like Bourgeois’s work.
It’s interesting to note that Hoerl studied in Linz, London and Milan before settling in Vienna. What made the designer decide to set up shop here, after exploring what the rest of Europe had to offer?
‘Good design does not have to come from Paris or Milan,’ he says. ‘In the past few years, a lot of new labels have been successfully active in Austria. I think the last time we had so many designers here was during the turn of the century, in the period of modernism in Vienna. It was a very creative, vibrant and formative moment in Vienna’s history – and it’s happening again.’