Berlin Fashion Week: with or against the tide?

In January 2018, Berlin Fashion Week celebrated its 15th anniversary. At the beginning in 2003, nobody would have thought it possible that what started with Bread & Butter Berlin and Premium in then so-called dead fashion diaspora would establish itself as a fashion location. Yesterday's prophecies of doom got belied; Berlin is set. For now.

Despite the supposed success and the efforts by stakeholders of all stripes, the facts cannot be denied: One has to realise - without criticism, mind you - that Berlin is not what it wants to be. It took a while before I could get - and wanted to get - an idea of the last few days in Berlin, which is, of course, tinted by personal impressions and experiences. It took interactions with various industry players, a bit of distance and especially impartiality.

Berlin is mainstream. And that's great.

15 years have left their mark - on trade and thus on Berlin and its events. It is a fact: Berlin is mainstream. And that's a good thing! The different fairs reflect the German retail landscape, the median, the mainstream - is that bad? No, because it is what the local trade stands for and German retailers seek - much fashion centre, premium as an entry segment, a little bit of streetwear, a bit of heritage, a bit of fashion design. From department store via jeans shop to boutique, everything is represented. High-end? Negligible but most of the retailers do not venture here. The luxury segment meets at skilled - and traditionally established - fashion locations like Paris and Milan, as well as London and New York.

Paris… that exasperating topic! And because of the way the fashion calendar is, for many a reason to give Berlin a miss. A reason that was created by Berlin, taking a toll on visitor numbers, especially when the city's often praised sense of inspiration was the reason for the visit. But does one still find inspiration here? Walking through the streets and stores of the German capital, one has to ask: Where is that which once defined Berlin? The urban underground atmosphere ... gone! The image is hardly different from other German cities: Berlin, too, is growing up. Of course, Berlin is still worth a trip. The international fashion scene likes to frolic at Berghain but usually outside of the fashion calendar.

A German-speaking event

One can hear Italian here and there but – as various exhibitors confirm – 90 percent of all visitors come from a German-speaking country. Finding a hotel room on short notice? No problem. When looking for a room on 14th January, worried that I may find none, I could take my pick. On Tuesday evening, my cab driver – one of hundreds waiting for customers in front of Panorama's exhibition halls - complained about waiting for hours and suffering great losses. A similar scenario even at the most popular in-restaurants.

Berlin Fashion Week: with or against the tide?

Is that all bad? Is is objectionable? Do we need Berlin? In July 2005, with only 20,000 visitors, Bread & Butter Berlin was called a failure. Today, these visitor numbers are sufficient because times have changed. Shrinking visitor numbers – as part of retail developments – are self-explanatory. One does not need to hide the fact that Berlin Fashion Week is turning into a German or German-speaking event; after all, Germany is still the most important market in Europe.

Sense of community and personal touch have disappeared

So, is all well? No, one thing is missing: a sense of community. And that was what Karl-Heinz Müller achieved at the time: Bread & Butter was known as an international class reunion, a firm appointment that one looked forward to – for comparing notes with colleagues, competitors and like-minded people from all over the world and yes, to go out and celebrate together as well. As much as Berlin was motivation then; today it is more of an obligation. That is quite a pity, but different times, different fashions.

Fact is, everything is in flux and this is not the end of the line yet. The new owners of Premium Exhibitions GmbH will influence the change significantly and every industry insider who can put two and two together should realise – apart from official press statements – that the face of Premium will be a different one in the foreseeable future. Simply, it won't have one any more. And thus, the last personal touch of the Berlin fashion circus will disappear; it will not be about curating any more but about selling. But: Every trend has its counter trend and what nobody wanted in the naughties is back in vogue now: fairs instead of events; profit instead of fun; prosecco instead of champagne and bockwurst instead of gourmet chefs. Those events will remain that attract enough visitors. Why not the Fashion Tech? This is where Germany as the leading nation in terms of technology and technic apparently scores.

The pitcher goes often to well but is broken at last. If Berlin Fashion Week is swimming against or with the tide remains to be seen. The stakeholders should take Joseph Beuys' words to heart: “The future that we want has to be invented otherwise we will get one that we do not want.” Let's just wait and see.

Danielle De Bie is part of the founding team of BREAD & BUTTER BERLIN. Today, she is working as a marketing & communication consultant and as a freelance journalist and translator. She also coaches retail, industry and media clients.

This article refelects the author's opinion and not necessarily that of FashionUnited.

Photos: Fashion HAB Runway Moods - Fashion Council Germany, Premium Exhibitions GmbH