Berlin’s best boutiques offer tempting purchases – and much more. Discover Voo Store, Bless and The Store Berlin, three concept stores that take the city’s shopping experience to a whole new level
From its riotous nightlife to its free-spirited art scene, Berlin has a reputation for bending the rules. The same goes for its fashion scene. Its high-end shops are abandoning formality and upending the notion that chic must be cold, structured and severe. Instead comfort and quirkiness reign, transforming retail spaces into leisure spaces, where people are invited to browse and linger.
‘We wanted to create a vibe where people feel free to explore design and everything else we show and offer, but no one should feel obliged to buy something,’ says Herbert Hofmann, creative director of Voo Store. ‘There’s no pressure and no shiny fashion-boutique flair.’
Located in gritty Kreuzberg, a hub of counterculture and art, Voo occupies the ground floor of a former locksmith. Amid 300 square metres of unfinished concrete walls and a vast courtyard space, visitors can admire rotating installations from wood designers and landscape artists, or pass the time by listening to the store’s music playlist and browsing its many books. They can do all of this in Voo’s popular Companion Coffee space, which serves some of the city’s most sought-after coffee.
Relaxed does not mean lazy, however. Voo’s creative team scour the globe for treasures, bringing together an impressive range of chic T-shirts, daring bikinis and inspiring evening dresses from brands ranging from Nike and Adidas to Raf Simons and Marni.
‘Our minds and hearts are very close to nature in general and even more these days,’ says Hofmann, who cites an understated V-neck wool sweater from Prada’s autumn/winter 2017/18 collection as particularly representative of this aesthetic. ‘We do focus on craftsmanship and naturally sourced materials and products as much as possible. Our direction leans towards materials like linen, wool and styles that will stay with you for a long time.’
The laid-back atmosphere continues at Bless, a highly respected German label that occupies a third-floor apartment in a residential building on the border between the upmarket Mitte and artistic Prenzlauer Berg districts. Visitors don’t just feel as though they’re strolling through someone’s bohemian home: they actually are.
Photographer Bert Houbrechts lives in the space and welcomes visitors with a cup of tea and an invitation to have a seat and a chat. A hairstylist from Japan is even available to cut hair on Saturdays. ‘We want to reach out to people who are looking for a place where they can see our things, but without being a shop – where customers sometimes browse without any concentration,’ says creative director Ines Kaag. She relocated Bless from a more traditional location a few years ago, as, she says, ‘We felt that moving to a private atmosphere could help provoke the kind of encounter we enjoy.’
The label rose to prominence in 1997, when Martin Margiela sent models down the runway in Bless wigs made of fur. That was an appropriate start for the quirky brand, which blurs the boundaries of style with its designs, offering creations across the fields of fashion, beauty, interiors and art. Since then it has continued to inspire with largely androgynous clothing that includes cashmere hooded coats in camel; eye-catching scarves that mix colours like day-glow orange and rose pink; and knitted jumpers in alluring colourways of burnt orange, sky blue and brown.
Unlike traditional fashion houses, which frequently seek to reinvent themselves season to season, Bless prefers to grow organically. ‘We don’t really do collections in a classical way,’ Kaag says, noting that the apartment is filled with items from past and current seasons. ‘We’ve tried to establish new classic pieces that repeat in different fabrics each season and we would add whatever comes along with it.’ Fashion mavens aren’t the only ones to take note of the brands bold and ever-evolving designs. Before being hung inside the apartment’s open closets and racks, some of its glorious scarves, print T-shirts and knitted sweaters were exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Centre Pompidou.
The idea of feeling at home in a boutique is also pertinent at The Store Berlin. Located inside the Soho House private members’ club, The Store is open to everyone, from the well-heeled guests staying in the club’s hotel to trend-conscious locals looking for a place to pass the time. Designed to resemble a private home, the hybrid retail space invites visitors to take their time inside the 2,800-square-metre wonderland, which seamlessly melds food, fashion, art installations, co-working space and photography exhibitions.
The highly edited apparel section includes garments from The Row, Issey Miyake and Proenza Schouler, among others, and there are countless nooks where hipsters can sip lattes while flipping through glossy coffee table books and magazines. Virtually everything is for sale – from the music playing to the candles burning, to the sofas where visitors relax after their shopping sprees. It puts a stylish and decidedly comfortable spin on try before you buy.
While the ease of online shopping is threatening the bricks-and-mortar store, there are some experiences that cannot be replicated in front of a screen. It looks as though Berlin’s best boutiques, with their friendly, client-centred, original approaches, have found the way to keep us returning time and time again.