Fashion is part of Düsseldorf’s DNA. In 1949, the city hosted the world’s first fashion fair for retailers, coordinated by trade show organiser Igedo, and has continued to showcase both cutting-edge home-grown talent and dynamic international designers. Düsseldorf plays host to five major fashion fairs each year and is home to over 800 fashion showrooms and 3,000 fashion brands. L’Oréal Germany and TK Maxx both have headquarters here and the city offers numerous flagship stores as well as the renowned luxury Königsallee fashion boulevard, which boasts leading international and German brands. ‘Personal appearance is very important in Düsseldorf. There is an elegance that runs through all fashion here,’ says Alexander Radermacher, Igedo’s fashion director.
Fashion and lifestyle hub
Königsallee – referred to by locals as the Kö – is the major shopping street in Düsseldorf. Located at the heart of the city, it is a centre for fashion lovers and boasts almost every international design name you could think of, as well as plenty of local talent too. ‘The Kö is coveted as never before,’ says Thomas Rath, designer, entrepreneur and design ambassador for VDMD, the German association of fashion and textile designers. ‘Prestige, flair and charm – everything is just right. It is a fashion and lifestyle hub.’
Rath decided to enter the fashion industry at an early age, and worked as a designer for brands including Jil Sander and Mulberry before launching his own brand, Semi-Couture, in 2010. ‘My style is couture on a celestial level. Fashion means presenting one’s self with confidence and making a statement through one’s appearance,’ he says. His intensely feminine autumn/winter 2016-17 collection conjures up elements of the Orient Express luxury train. ‘No black, no grey,’ the designer explains. ‘The nuances harmonise in a timelessly beautiful romance – fango [brown], dark blue and the loveliest wool, plus white in combination with winter coral, light beige and watered-down orange.’
Rath’s striking aesthetic is glamorous, timeless and elegant, and his classic pieces feature sophisticated modern elements and details. ‘We create collages of grand, extravagant themes, with a generous helping of emotion,’ he says. ‘We live for classics with a twist and love the special finesse of fashion, the art of designing great cuts and working with best-quality materials.’ Rath’s office overlooks the river Rhine and the gardens of the Oberkassel district, and he uses the city throughout his designs – even taking inspiration from his morning run alongside the canal, which offers views of the shop windows along Königsallee. ‘We live in a wonderful and magical place and I feel very much attached to it. A charming mix of urbanity and Rhenish serenity, the city provides ideal opportunities for us as entrepreneurs.’
Designer Tina Miyake has also capitalised on the city’s dynamic culture. She started her eponymous label in 2004 and blends fashion knitwear with vintage kimonos. ‘My style is minimal, with strong colours and detailing’, she says. Miyake is inspired by Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester – members of the renowned Antwerp Six group of designers, who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1980 and 1981 and took the fashion world by storm. She says her work process is organic and fluid. ‘It’s like trial and error. I think every designer must invent their own style – I am very inspired by material and the way it flows. It’s like I’m a sculptor.’
Shape and structure are very important to Miyake – an interesting combination when working with soft wool and rigid silk. This season, her long silk dresses with apron-like belts are real statement pieces, while her asymmetric merino dress is a transitional essential.
Another designer thriving in Düsseldorf’s fashion culture is Stella Achenbach, who interned with Marchesa in New York before launching Stella Achenbach Identity Goods, her own handbag and accessories label. Achenbach favours clean silhouettes combined with elaborate details and is inspired by ‘nature, people, art and everyday life.’ She has also been heavily influenced by the work of designers Hussein Chalayan and the late Alexander McQueen, as showcased in her limited-edition Island Edition range which features leather etui ornamental cases in three different colours with exchangeable pockets. This style can also be seen in her new docking bag collection, which plays with the combination of man-made and machine-made techniques.
The business of fashion
While Rath is poetic about Düsseldorf’s charm, Achenbach is pragmatic about its reputation as a fashion capital. ‘It is all about the numbers. Advertising happens in Berlin, but the sales go down in Düsseldorf,’ she says. This business-like approach to the city’s reputation is evident in enterprises such as Fashion Net Düsseldorf, a city-wide network of fashion industry experts, designers, exhibition operators, universities and retailers. The collective works to maintain the city’s status as a premier destination for exhibitors, buyers, customers, opinion leaders, creatives, investors and entrepreneurs.
Districts of style
Fashion Net Düsseldorf says that there is no single identifying style in Düsseldorf. Each area of the city has its own unique qualities, from the famously chic Königsallee to districts such as Altstadt, Carlsplatz and Flingern, which are hip and artistic, and boutiques ranging from Beyond Studios to K Fashion Clothing. Diversity is key to design and to the city, explains Radermacher: ‘Fashion here is creative, immersive and interactive.’
Rath agrees that Düsseldorf has style. ‘The people of Düsseldorf are utterly trendy, love brands and have a very good sense for quality and that certain something,’ he observes. ‘It’s here where fashion is shown, experienced and lived.’