Now in its 19th season, Berlin Fashion Week has firmly established itself on the international fashion scene. The autumn/winter 2016/17 edition showcased the latest work from 47 designers and attracted high-impact celebrities to the audience, including models Gigi Hadid and Karolina Kurkova.
Although Berlin Fashion Week is becoming an established event – and there were commercially minded collections here – like the city itself it embraces the off-beat and the underground, and maintains a sense of the renegade at its core.
Marina Hoermanseder is one designer who introduced a hint of subversion to fashion week, with womenswear that perfectly balanced wearable elegance with what she calls a ‘touch of fetish’.
After training at the design school Esmod Berlin, Austrian-born Hoermanseder chose the city as her base, in part because of its strong creative community. ‘The melting pot of many creative heads was a major help. Being able to show my first collection during Berlin Fashion Week was the starting point of my career ... I don’t know if another city would have offered me this chance,’ she says.
Since launching her label in 2013, Hoermanseder has been feted by the fashion crowd for her leather-strap skirts, moulded corsets and buckle detailing which exude grown-up femininity. ‘An eccentric avant-garde lady might wear the strap skirt, the business woman a silk blouse ... and the girl next door our Team MH jumper,’ the designer explains.
For autumn/winter 2016/17, she looked to Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. ‘Her strength, courage and independence were very inspiring to me,’ Hoermanseder explains. ‘The collection is about understated femininity and about women who overcome their own limits.’
Her label’s signature details are leather straps and rose-gold buckles, while the label also features ‘orthopaedic elements of the 18th century’. According to Hoermanseder these are an ‘indispensable part of the collection’. The deft combination of powder pink, palest blue, soft apricot and warm chocolate shades, with harder-edged lacquered and sculpted leather alongside a new range of accessories certainly has an international appeal and the designer has set her sights on the US, with a New York show being planned.
The androgynous look has been seen on the catwalks of many fashion weeks around the world, but the gender-fluid aesthetic featured at Berlin long before unisex clothing was adopted by global clothing companies. One designer who has taken the theme and run with it is name-to-watch Sarah Effenberger. The Berlin University of the Arts graduate was selected by Vogue Germany editor Christiane Arp to present her unisex collection Fomme at the Vogue Salon show. The designer explains that instead of ‘trying to achieve a neutral, androgynous shape that negates the different body shapes of men and women’ she designs for men ‘in a very fragile and feminine way’. Her sensual, decorative menswear can also be made to measure for women.
Effenberger’s collection features oversized tartan coats with pussy-bow ties and curved lapels, blazers sculpted to emphasise the waist and hips, chiffon blouses and flowing wide-leg trousers, all in muted tones of greys, burgundy, black and icy blue. When talking about the starting point for her designs, she explains that ‘as a female consumer, I find myself often wanting to buy menswear, but most of the time I don’t fit inside these men’s clothes’. The result is a fresh take on gender-mixed dressing.
This season felt deliberately low-key, with some designers choosing to keep things more intimate, opting for presentations or installations over conventional catwalk shows. One designer who created an in-the-know buzz was Laos-born, Berlin-raised Hien Le, who presented his collection off the main runways at the Berliner Mode Salon.
Le launched his collection in 2010, having cut his teeth in Antwerp with Veronique Branquinho. His autumn/winter 2016/17 collection has a unisex vibe, with men’s and women’s clothing made up of crisp, block-coloured pieces that he describes as a ‘reduction to the essentials: sleek and clean with a love for refined details’. Le’s collection focuses on discreet, curved cuts and detailing such as subtle panelling and long-length sleeves along with bolder striped and tartan separates and a clean palette of crisp navy, white and tomato red. The collection was inspired by the Congolese sapeurs, elegant men who make flamboyant dandyism part of their everyday uniforms, with impeccable brightly coloured tailoring.
Quality, provenance and sustainability are integral to Le, whose collection is made in Germany. ‘My customer is ageless, someone who appreciates what she or he is wearing, who likes good quality and feels comfortable in it.’ This is also a reflection of Berlin Fashion Week, which eschews fanfare in favour of detail and design.