Hugo Boss aside, German fashion has been a bit off the international radar since Jil Sander sold her namesake label and Wolfgang Joop left Joop! to start up a new label, Wunderkind. According to Gordon Giers, design director of denim brand Closed: “The Germans don’t like fashion at all – they like function.”
Recently, however, that has begun to change. Thanks to the combination of a buzzy Berlin fashion week and a new generation of fashion-forward consumers, a growing number of local heroes is emerging in the country: brands beloved of those between Berlin and Munich, yet still a mystery to those outside. What are these masked marques?
Schumacher, the brand Dorothee Schumacher established more than 20 years ago, was a popular presence at Berlin fashion week.
Schumacher has been rediscovered by younger German customers who have adopted it as a go-to-label for a semi-glamorous look, as well as businesswomen looking for “smart casual” day wear (without imitating chancellor Angela Merkel, who wears Bettina Schönbach – a designer the average reader of German Vogue probably doesn’t have on her fashion agenda).
Helen Bittner, senior buyer at the Berlin department store KaDeWe, says: “Schumacher is in great demand with our customers. Their collections always show a great love for detail and their choice and mix of materials is very innovative.”
Indeed, the younger design crowd is mostly based in Berlin and includes Lala Berlin and Kaviar Gauche, both popular with celebrities such as actress Heike Makatsch. Tehran-born Leyla Piedayesh, designer of Lala Berlin, started in 2004 with self-knitted wrist warmers before moving on to produce cool cashmere scarves (worn by Reese Witherspoon, among others), silk dresses and floating kaftans. Her work is characterised by Tina Husemann, a public relations consultant, as “Berliner Schnauze – Berlin nonchalance, mixed with feminine elegance and style.” In her view, the result is “a unique urban Berlin-chic”.
Then there’s Kaviar Gauche, designed by Johanna Kühl and Alexandra Fischer-Roehler, and known for its Lamella bag, 24-hour-dresses, as well as evening gowns that made several appearances on the red carpet at the Berlin Film Festival. Kaviar Gauche wedding gowns are so popular that many Berlin brides find it difficult to find a dress that hasn’t already been worn by one of their guests.
Hamburg-based jeans brand Closed has an even longer history than Schumacher, having been founded more than 30 years ago. Likewise, it recently landed back on the fashion map when actress Sarah Jessica Parker was seen wearing its pedal pushers, a high-waisted style with tapered legs that the designers had actually wanted removed from the collection (they wisely changed their minds).
The core of the brand is still denim and chinos, and every German fashion editor owns at least one pair. “The chinos have just the right fit – slimmer than most of the styles for men that tend to be too baggy,” says Heiko Mundt, a banker from Hamburg. The brand’s no-frills-fashion look also includes slim leather jackets, vintage-appeal sweaters and overalls.
For grown-ups, however, the go-to brand is still Rena Lange, which counts Bettina Wulff, the German president’s wife, among its loyal followers.
The Munich-based label is one of the few classic ladylike brands left, with an almost couture-like approach. Signature pieces are black-and-white combinations, tweed suits and blouses that can be worn by all women of all ages. “The quality and manufacturing have always convinced me,” says Renate Högermann, managing director of an investment bank. “It’s [been] my favourite fashion label for decades now.”