It almost goes without saying that German fashion is known for its functionality and minimalism. From the faultless tailoring of Hugo Boss to the sober sophistication of Jil Sander, German designers are known and loved for rejecting the frivolous and over fussy in favour of streamlined simplicity. Bucking this trend, a tribe of international designers descended upon the catwalks of Berlin Fashion Week, bringing with them punchy prints, oversized silhouettes and a fresh approach to texture. With these bold new designers commanding the attention of Germany’s fashion commentators, one thing’s for certain: the event will never be the same again.
The best platform in Europe
Central to this shift in Berlin Fashion Week’s aesthetic has been Africa Fashion Day Berlin, a celebration of African design hosted amid the main show schedule. Founded by Beatrace Angut Oola in 2012, AFDB was inspired by a trip to Uganda. ‘I was there from 2009 to 2010 and was totally impressed by the film, music and design scenes,’ she explains. ‘As I work as a stylist, I have always attended Berlin Fashion Week and had noticed that African fashion is not represented at all. I think it is important to add African fashion to the German industry and give it its own space.’
For spring/summer 2015, AFDB showcased the talents of the Nigerian print master Samson Soboye, 1981 by skilled Ghanaian designer Nana K Brenu, and the masterful knitwear creations of Maxhosa by Laduma. After single-handedly creating and building the event, it’s easy to understand why Oola refers to herself as a ‘pioneer’. After just two years, AFDB has carved out a niche for itself and shows no signs of losing momentum: ‘We are giving designers the best platform in Europe to get access to the fashion industry,’ says Oola.
Making an impression
Samson Soboye has certainly benefited from the platform provided by AFDB. His career in fashion design came after stints working as a stylist, an interior designer and a period working at Vogue UK. Soboye’s spring/summer 2015 collection stood out from the crowd thanks to the designer’s use of powerful patterns, leather and a strong accessory selection – from printed headscarves and baseball caps to leather visors. ‘Designing my own collection was a way to express a different part of my creativity,’ Soboye explains. ‘I love to mix colours and clash prints to create an alternative style of dressing that is eye-catching and bold. I feel happiest in my own designs and I like the reaction I get when people see me in my clothes.’
Certain elements of Soboye’s work reflect current trends but rather than interpret these movements in the muted tones favoured by traditional German fashion stalwarts, the designer prefers to add his own twist. ‘I like sports luxe and had a few items that embrace that trend, but obviously the prints are so strong that they make much more of a statement and have a great impact on the catwalk,’ he says. ‘It’s good to stand out and make a lasting impression.’
Another designer who has impressed at Berlin Fashion Week is Roshi Porkar. Her spring/summer 2015 collection featured oversized silhouettes designed to echo the shape of the princesses of Bactria statuettes, which were created around 4,000 years ago in a region which is now part of Afghanistan. Tactile oyster-toned dresses with exaggerated hips and ladylike faux fur-panelled coatdresses were collection highlights, and with Haider Ackermann and Tilda Swinton in attendance at the catwalk show, Porkar’s star is clearly in ascendance.
Of all the international designers who showed at Berlin Fashion Week this season, Hien Le’s collection best reflects the classic style of the German capital. A number of minimalist pieces featured, with clean lines and strong structures, yet the stand out pieces featured a head-turning goldfish print in blue, yellow and red. ‘It’s a good sign that Berlin Fashion Week is getting more and more international and that international designers are showing in Berlin and using it as a platform,’ Le says. ‘Berlin has amazing designers, such as Vladimir Karaleev, Perret Schaad and Sissi Götze to name just a few.’
As Berlin Fashion Week’s major players continue to be cited as inspiration for a new generation of designers from all over the world, the event’s global perspective continues to captivate. Africa Fashion Day Berlin has provided a catalyst for striking, colourful collections to start storming the catwalks and shake up the German fashion industry. As Oola puts it, ‘This is the start of something big for the next generation.’