Young, original German designers are writing a fresh chapter for the country’s fashion industry. We profile some of the key names to look out for
A wave of young designers is confidently creating a fresh reputation for German fashion. The country is not short of platforms where new talent can flourish – Berlin Fashion Week, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, not only hosts the shows of established names such as German skiwear specialist Bogner, but also places a strong focus on emerging talent. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin is the setting for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Talents initiative, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2019. There’s also Fashion Council Germany, created in 2015 with the aim of promoting German talent, and Berliner Salon, which takes place during fashion week.
Initiatives such as these have been instrumental in endorsing brands, providing support and consolidating the industry. Inna Stein and Caroline Rohner, founders of Berlin-based Steinrohner label, included in Fashion Council Germany, highlight the benefits of being involved. ‘We are now very much included in the fashion community. We know the people. It’s like a family.’ Although a very recent phenomenon, with many brands launching in the past five years, the new German fashion scene is growing fast and strongly.
There’s a definite buzz around William Fan – ask around at Berlin Fashion Week, and you’ll soon realise his show is one of the most anticipated on the schedule. For spring/summer 2019, it was held in the garden of Berlin’s Kronprinzenpalais, a dreamy setting where models circled a floor of draped white fabric and stepping stones. Like all of Fan’s work, the Zen Garden collection draws on two cultures. ‘I am proud to be a child of parents with a migration background,’ explains the young designer. ‘I grew up with values from both German and Chinese traditions that my parents brought me up with. I thus feel privileged to know different cultures and to build a foundation of both values for myself.’
This is evident in his collections, where he creates his own distinctive set of codes that have come to define the brand. Fan recently opened his own store in Berlin. ‘It is a privilege for me and my team to be able to share a physical world that can be experienced by others,’ he says. Fan understands the importance of providing an experience that’s not merely transaction-based – and says this benefits him as much as his customers. ‘I have a good time with the people who visit the store from all around the world; the backgrounds and stories of these people are inspiring to me. The store is a place to spend time together with a cup of tea and have good conversations.’ With an interior design inspired by his clothing, Chinese tea on offer, and a social media ban to encourage immersion in the William Fan universe, the store nurtures enriching encounters and exchanges.
Sustainability and craftsmanship, key principles for many young brands across the world today, are important to this new generation of German designers. Founded in 2015, the Philomena Zanetti label is very much about sustainable fashion and describes itself as a brand ‘at the interface between ethics and aesthetics’, producing elegant designs that are locally manufactured, with an ecological and social agenda.
Mykke Hofmann, founded by Sedina Halilovic and Jelena Hofmann, is another brand that operates in a measured way, as the duo explains. ‘To us, slow fashion is mainly about a longevity approach in design and consumer lifecycle.’ With this in mind, Halilovic and Hofmann set out to create designs with a timeless quality, intended to last more than one season, using first-rate fabrics. They are also mindful of the people working for the brand. This is one factor that led them to consider their production methods carefully, and they recently acquired a factory in Serbia. ‘We are busy growing our production facility in Serbia,’ they say. ‘We employ about 30 workers at the moment. It’s a very exciting and challenging part of the business.’ This all-encompassing vision, spanning everything from production to the end product, is a key to success
One of the German fashion industry’s peculiarities is that, unlike those of many other countries, it is not centred around the capital. Brands can flourish in other cities. Mykke Hofmann is a prime example; the brand was founded in Munich and is still based there. ‘The benefits of Munich are simple: we have our families here and we are able to build a business here. Without the support of our parents and sisters it would be hard to work and travel like we do, with small kids,’ say Halilovic and Hofmann – also citing the practicalities of good flight connections to Belgrade and proximity to Milan. Being based in Berlin, they add, isn’t necessary for ‘a brand with an international approach’ – underlining the fact that Mykke Hofmann, like a number of fellow German labels, has its sights firmly set on conquering international markets.
Germany has become a hotbed for a whole set of exciting brands: the likes of William Fan, Mykke Hofmann and Philomena Zanetti should very much be on your radar. This group of peers, of similar ages, defined by their contemporary vision and a shared global outlook, together form a powerful contingent that is leading the way into a new chapter for German fashion.