Berlin Fashion Week Round-Up

Dazed Digital picks the best shows from Berlin Fashion Week's sparkly affair.

Fashion Incoming
Marcel Ostertag
Like other emerging fashion hubs, Berlin wants to side-step being provincial while still asserting its unique personality.  This leads to a complicated identity crisis.  Germany is one of Europe's major markets with genuine home-grown talent. Yet Berlin is far better known for its art, music and club cultures than its fashion scene. Outsiders pooh-pooh the scene as pokey, and locals let their own exaggerated expectations dull their enthusiasm for supporting Berlin's most promising emerging designers and robust local labels. As critic Godfrey Deeny suggests in "Achtung," Berlin Fashion Week's handsome glossy "year-book," "this is a low ego city." But in the past, Berlin Fashion Weeks have suffered from bouts of self-aggrandizement. This season Berliners rightfully kept things more in context, remembered to stop aping London, Paris and New York, and instead demonstrated a seductive self-confidence in growing Fashion Week at its own healthy and hardy pace.

Berlin's increased self-awareness was bad news for home-grown goddess Eva Padberg, whose local supermodel status made her a fitting spokes-model for last year's Mercedes-Benz´s Berlin Fashion Week, but whose intimidating sex appeal yet warm friendly character are unfortunately little known away from home. Which is why Berlin Fashion week has wisely switched from Berlin's Valkyrie to next-door Julia Stegner, the Munich-born model whose coltish charm makes her the smart-money successor to Claudia Schaffer's crown as Germany's reigning representative on the world's catwalks and glossy pages. "Even though I'm German I've only been to Berlin a few times and never before to Berlin fashion week," Stegner confessed before Fashion Week began.  "But I'm really excited to go and see Berlin's fashion. Judging from the few times I've been to Berlin, I felt this young and fresh energy in this artsy and progressive city that many call the New York of Europe." A signature sign of progressive Berlin is the showcased shot for Berlin Fashion Week's ad campaign taken by Ellen von Unworth.  Showing Stegner standing proud as a Christine-like Benz sits ominously on the train of her regal gown, it radiates over-the-top opulence.  But Steger's fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed low-key but high-wattage beauty (in stark contrast with the drag queen slap worn by Padberg in previous years) dominates the image, signaling that Berlin is now rightly self-confident that its star is rising as Europe's new cool capital.

Underneath the banner showing Stegner's image, the best Babelplatz shows were as sexy, accessible and dynamic as the season's patron goddess. And counterbalancing the low-watt ego issue, and Stegner’s low-key charm, was a trend for bright, shiny details – which emerged as a reigning motif throughout many of the most high-profile shows.

Here are the six of the most striking on-site shows, in no particular order, that collectively demonstrated that Berlin should be very proud of itself this season.

Selecting "Welcome to the Jungle" as the soundtrack for the ninth runway show of homebrew intellectual cool by C.Neeon was an ill-advised decision - unless designers Doreen Schulz and Clara Leskovar intended to underscore the obvious links between their vibrantly hued, layered constructions and origami birds of paradise. Those shapes and their wealth of colour were typical of the signature style that the two young mothers have been cooking up in an abandoned kindergarten they use as a studio in Berlin's scrappy, hard and genuinely raw Lichtenberg district since 2004. For a change this season, however, they restricted their normally manic palette to red, olive, tan, white and black. And though the motif was floral, the textiles' colours and their assertive designs evoked comparisons with Russian Constructivism, while the overall effect of the soft draped sheets of silk and cotton was evoked carefully crafted Japanese paper wrapped around the male and female models. C. Neeon has already won attention from TopShop and garnered the top prize at Hyeres, site of Europe's emerging designer awards show. With the lively international look they have mastered, C. Neeon seems set to be welcomed into Europe's more established fashion cities.

As shiny but otherwise lackluster R&B club-worthy garments streamed down the runway for Berlin's Lac et Mel collection, they were met with an incongruous air of anticipation by those who had read the show's press release. The liner notes announced that the show would climax with a "well-know dress beset with over 2,000 diamonds by the German jeweller XEN." One giddy journalist joked that the 100,000 Euro dress was "the best answer to the financial crisis - just get it all done at once." But after the show ended with a row of little silk party-dresses in a rainbow of bright colors instead, the disappointed writer concluded that maybe some thief had decided to solve his or her own financial distress.  Nevertheless, the dress's no-show stole the show.

Though the much anticipated alleged 100,000 Euro diamond dress never surfaced on the Lac et Mel runway, diamonds shimmered and shone all over Berlin Fashion week. Whether it was a contrarian response to recessionary moderation or just the desire for a little festive sparkle during Berlin's bleak winter season, diamond-like details were ubiquitous. Marilyn Monroe's voice purred "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" as the kick-off song for the soundtrack to Suzana Perić's show of pleasantly pretty party dresses and little rhinestone-decorated Lord Fauntleroy suits.

Shimmery, but salty instead of sweet, were the jeans, jackets and dresses at Michalsky patterned after stained-glass windows but designed to light up dark nightclubs, that channeled Damien Hirst's capsule collection of Swarovski-studded denim. Though staged away from the Babelplatz catwalk in an active yet movingly
dilapidated church on Zionskirchplatz, the show out-shone all the others in the area sponsored by Mercedez Benz – who provided VIP guests with ironically understated tan cashmere scarves adorned by a Swarovski Crystal Benz logo.

Instead of diamonds, Marcel Ostertag went for the gold, presenting jackets and leggings made from layers of twinkling gold plates. Along with these blindly bright luxury items were classically high-class sex symbol Herve Leger-inspired dresses made from leather and silk panels in contrasting colours. But the look that garnered the well-heeled audiences' applause was a kimono-like fur jacket poaching Gareth Pugh's irreverent dark spirit, pared with high gloss leggings.

Yet despite all the flash and sparkle, the really priceless pieces were the leather-like black tank-tops at Sisi Wasabi with a line of diamond-shaped fabric panels running down the spine, and the diamond-cut fabric details which adorned designer Zerlina von dem Bussche's sensually desirable classic collection of burnish orange, smokey teal and pale gold silk dresses, suits and shirts. Sisi Wasabi habitually recalls the self-possessed, comfortable, eccentric elegance of English fashion icons Lady Amanda Harlech and Daphne Guinness, yet still expresses a distinctly German flavor. "Organic elegance" is how Bussche sums up the goal of her alchemistic mixture of shapes, colors, fabrics, textures, associations, inspirations and influences. And this season, while the other designers' wares glittered, Sisi Wasabi's subtle elegance was a down-to-the-bone, pure and true treasure.

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