Over the next seven days, Germany’s two leading fashion centres will once again face off for attention. Düsseldorf’s established CPD trade fair will sashay into town on Sunday just as Berlin’s fashion week – starting Wednesday – is wrapping up.
It’s a stylistic rumble pitting poor hip young things against cash-rich couture ladies that normally exists within the world’s fashion capitals, but in Germany the divide has taken on a geographic dimension.
Considered a cheap and creative place to live, Berlin has enjoyed a fashion renaissance as of late, as new designers flock to the city. But fashion can’t survive without money and well-heeled Düsseldorf remains a stronghold in Germany for high-priced fashion. So which city is the country’s true capital of chic?
“Before the war, Berlin was brilliant for fashion,” explains Mara Michel, manager of the Association of German Fashion and Textile Designers. “But then it was truncated and fashion was dispersed to several cities, like Munich, Cologne and Düsseldorf.”
Berlin back in vogue
But Berlin has recouped some of its stylistic pull recently. In addition to attracting young designers with low rents for ateliers amid a backdrop of inspiring big-city diversity, the German capital also manages to generate significant media buzz with major fashion events like this week’s Premium trade show and the Mercedes-Benz sponsored Berlin Fashion Week.
“Berlin has to do the shows to maintain its footing in the fashion world,” says Michel. “People go to Berlin to see the highlights, to see the flash.”
But Albert Eickhoff, founder of Düsseldorf’s Eickhoff department store, which carries classy Dior, Lanvin and dozens of other priced-to-die designer collections, thinks Berlin’s fashion status is overblown.
“Yes, the media goes to the shows in Berlin. But the media doesn’t buy anything,” remarks the 71-year-old luxury fashion retailer. “Düsseldorf’s CPD is more important than Berlin Fashion Week, because the dealers with buying power go to the CPD.”
And even Michel agrees that Düsseldorf is where the fashion industry in Germany sees the money. “It doesn’t have the big shows, but it’s where profits are made,” she says. “It’s commercial.”
Design trumps labels
But while the city nestled along the Rhine wins the financial battle hands down, it’s Berlin that steals the style spotlight when it comes to design. One of the city’s most talked-about labels is c-neeon, the brainchild of design team Clara Leskovar and Doreen Schulz. Their clothes are colourful, edgy and unmistakably Berlin.
Schulz herself thinks c-neeon’s clothes, often characterised by cuts and prints happily at odds with each other, are perfectly suited to a city that places less emphasis on brands.
“There’s no uniform,” she says about style in the German capital. “And what people wear doesn’t all have to be from us, for example – maybe just one scarf or another piece.”
This mix-and-match, more humble approach to fashion is a far cry from the luxury logo looks that can be spotted walking down the Düsseldorf’s style mile the Köngisallee on a weekend afternoon. Burberry scarves and Louis Vuitton purses seem to be a dime a dozen and swarms of elderly couture ladies have given the city a somewhat dated fashion reputation. But compared to Berlin, even younger Düsseldorf residents appear to be particularly brand-conscious consumers.
However, Michel doesn’t chalk up the noticeable lack of buzz surrounding Düsseldorf labels to a particular design deficit in the city. Berlin might attract new young talent, but as Michel points out, its designers didn’t all necessarily learn their craft there.
“There are about 85 fashion schools in Germany,” she says. “Twenty are very good and one of the best is actually in Trier.”
She suggests instead of trying to outdo each other, Berlin and Düsseldorf need to team up for the good of German fashion. The quirky and distinct clothing confections on Berlin’s catwalks may make the front page of the style section, but it’s the money in Düsseldorf that will keep them there.
“The cities complete each other,” says Michel. “The only mistake would be for them to compete with one another.”