Berlin Fashion Week S/S 10

The organisation of Berlin Fashion Week has tried to find a schedule that reflects the identity of the city.

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In past seasons, Mercedes Benz Berlin Fashion week was criticized for pretension. Aspiring to become a direct competitor to Paris, New York or London is an ambitious goal for any fledging fashion week. But Germany is one of Europe's top markets, and although it is hardly known as a high - or even high-street - fashion hub, Germany's strength as a market and Berlin's current reputation as Europe's capital of creativity and cool, mean that Berlin is poised to be a real contributor to the fashion world.

This season, Berlin came into its own by presenting shows and events that reflected the reality of the Berlin's identity, rather than the grandeur of its high fashion daydreams. The most striking example of this self-confidence was the choice of international guest. In fashion week's first year, Vivienne Westwood arrived to much fanfare and showed her mass-market Anglomania line. It was a cheerful collection but no more than table scraps from the Grand Dame of London, and had little relevance for Berlin.

This year however, the visiting star is Kai Kühne, the Bremerhaven-born designer who became known as the feral member of the foursome As Four and now usually shows his eponymous collection during New York fashion week. The German designer presented the fall/winter collection he had already showed in New York but the stylist Avena Gallagher added a particularly Berlin sensibility to the techno-inspired black and white collection, combining sharp, sleek, masterfully made form-fitting dresses and suits with eerie white or black contacts to create a nightlife look striking in its precise construction. The combination of the two aspects was ideal for Berlin. In the Mercedes Benz's fashion week daily "Der Zeit," Kühne kidded that while making a profound homecoming, "my clothes are very punctual, always on time. Or a little too early." However, strict lines on night-owl attire illustrate only some facets of Berlin's character. Other shows admirably represented other aspects of the city's essence. For all its gritty urbanity,

Berlin is also a verdant and Green-conscious city where everyone owns a bike and organic markets are found on nearly every block. So eco-fashion was rightfully a notable theme during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. And so the classically elegant Hotel Adlon hosted The Green Showroom all week. There, Miguel Adrover's capsule collection for the German green label Hessnatur, Frankfurt-based artisan organic chocolate house Goldshelm Schokolade, Estonian-based designer Reet Aus's line of ingenious recycled denim and soviet-era wedding dresses and more than a dozen other examples of eco-friendly fashion occupied a series of stately guest rooms.

On the catwalks, the most ethically innovative contribution was the debut runway show of Mongrels in Common, a long-standing local showroom favourite among critics, where designers Livia Ximénez Carrillo und Christine Pluess used Nanai-brand environmentally friendly and chromium-free salmon skin to replace leather and exotic skins like ray, ostrich and alligator for accessories, details on dresses and slinky trousers. The results fortified Berlin's already healthy attitude about the earth and added a delectable visual treat to Fashion Week.

Sadly, however, one designer's attempt at an ethically motivated collection demonstrated why Berlin is still in the early adolescent stage of development as a viable subject for international attention. "Oh my God, it’s Zoolander’s 'Derelict Collection,'" observed one critic in horror as Patrick Mohr sent out the homeless sellers of the Strassenfeger magazine (Berlin's The Big Issue) alongside professional models for his collection at the Babelplatz main tent. At its best, this show could have been the fashion equivalent of Spanish Santiago Sierra's highly controversial performance art investigation into global exploitation of vulnerable peoples' labour. Unfortunately, Mohr lacked the creative and intellectual power to push such a provocative message.

Hili Pearlman interviewed Mohr for the Berlin-based Sleek magazine's daily fashion report, where he alluded to a period of destitution in his own past and told her, "I see myself as [a ragpicker]. Life is made up of the different experiences and impressions, good and bad, that we collect throughout their lives. Faith and destiny can be cruel, and we carry them around with us like bits and pieces we find on the street."

Despite these poetic sentiments, the show failed to represent reality, and didn't symbolically engage the significance of homelessness. Instead, it led some people to walk out, while many others considered making the same statement in reaction to what they saw.

The catwalk itself was covered in black trashbags, with awkward assemblage sculptures and ragged random objects scattered on the surface. Navigating around these incoherent obstacles were models and homeless participants who had their faces caked in mouldy green mud. On their foreheads were inverted triangles, which Mohr intended to reference his signature use of geometry, but appeared to some as if he were literally branding the people on his catwalk and to others to evoke a cryptic but nonetheless unsettling reference to non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. A man muttered to himself with his eyes half shut while completing the length of the catwalk. And a slight, bird-like older blond woman held her head with poignant pride.

Many local German writers were outraged at what they perceived as a cruel provocation. I found the show profoundly upsetting, foolish and embarrassing for Berlin. However, I do believe Mohr's intentions were sincere and noble and that IMG was correct not to censor him. Hopefully Mohr, who told Perlson, " It makes me happy to see them wear my clothes, take part in a world usually inaccessible to them," will offer the homeless models access to something actually useful and dignified next season, or take a different tack in making his point about social justice.

Putting Mohr's massive misstep aside, Berlin's fashion week not only presented examples of Berliners' concerns and character.  It successfully showcased the exceptional talent of local lights such as Sabrina Dehoff, Sisi Wasabi, Kaviar Gauche and Leyla Piedayesh of Lala Berlin. Although these designers' shows did not explicitly play on the unique elements of their home city, they do exemplify why Berlin, when it is being true to itself, is truly a city with a strong fashion future.
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