If Karl-Heinz Müller, founder of Berlin’s innovative Bread & Butter fashion fair and owner of cutting-edge fashion emporium 14oz, were ever in want of inspiration, he need only gaze down through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Bread & Butter’s impressively cool corner office in the city’s Mitte district. For below, the creators and style arbiters who have helped to turn Berlin into one of the world’s fashion capitals flock to shop and soak up the atmosphere. ‘It’s funny, when we first moved here there was nothing but a few shops and cafés. Now, all this …,’ he says, gesturing to the scene beneath him.
It’s testament to Müller’s sense of the cultural zeitgeist that he spearheaded the movement to put Berlin on the international fashion map. Quite simply, he broke new ground in setting up Berlin as a centre of retail and fashion. ‘Berlin has become one of the most important shopping destinations in the world, which has been heartening to watch happen,’ he says.
Müller is a key player in the story of Germany’s fashion evolution. As founder of one of the biggest industry events on the calendar, he’s brought together urban and emerging labels, along with the most luxurious and innovative of denim brands, and offered them a global stage on which to present their pieces. He began as a humble sales rep at Levi’s, before going on to found the avant-garde menswear boutique 14oz Cologne (named after the perfect weight of denim), where he introduced denim labels Evisu and Maharishi to the German public.
Bread & Butter was founded, Müller says, after a night of revelry. A long-time insider in the sports and urbanwear world, Müller was involved with the launch of Adidas Original sneakers in 2001, then under the creative directorship of designer Michael Michalsky. The launch event in Cologne brought together a host of German style professionals. ‘We talked about how lacking we felt the Cologne Fashion Fair was, and how we wanted to find a way for us all to work together one day. I woke up the next day and had decided what to do.’
Bread & Butter came into existence, with a name that reflected its founders’ desire to focus on the essentials, the nuts and bolts of dressing well. Bringing together brands such as Canada Goose, Eastpak, J Lindeberg, Lagerfeld and Seil Marschall, the festival has gone on to act as a showcase for technical innovation in denim, alongside the most luxurious and high-end urban fashion.
On the move
Moving to Berlin from Cologne was a huge gamble, Müller says. ‘We moved to the city at a time when very little was happening here, but we had a feeling … We felt that it was the city of the future. Industry professionals warned us that we would be bankrupt if we took a gamble on Berlin, but we knew that the city was full of ambitious young people and that a vibrant arts scene was evolving here. We opened the offices here, and little by little built up the festival.’ Today, he says with pride, Bread & Butter Berlin brings 800,000 visitors to the city twice a year and Berlin makes €100m from the event.
‘Moving the festival to Berlin has been the proudest moment in my career,’ he says. ‘So many said it wouldn’t work and that there was nothing in this city. Now here we are,’ he says, gesturing around the all-white meeting room stacked with coffee-table books and magazines.
How does he balance his work with Bread & Butter with the demands of 14oz? ‘The store helps to build up Bread & Butter and Bread & Butter helps to build up the store,’ he says of his two endeavours. ‘The people who come to the store are really passionate. They are style leaders, or they’re early adopters. Either way, they’re interested in the story of a brand, in the making that goes into a shoe, in the history of it.’
Berlin continues to inspire Müller, as it does the many creative types who have made their home here. ‘Paris has prêt-à-porter, Milan has black tie, London has an underground scene and innovation, and Berlin excels at the unconventional,’ he says of the ingredients that entice international visitors to the city. ‘We have acted as a hub for streetwear and urban fashion. Berlin is a mixture of cultures, and fashion, art and nightlife all bleed into one another. The city’s history is unique and history is a huge part of the city, but at the same time it’s a forward-thinking place.’