There’s been an ongoing discussion about Berlin Fashion Week and its identity. On this note, should fashion and technology rub shoulders even more?
The discussion about Berlin’s creative identity is as old as 2003, when the city started showing fashion with its first Bread & Butter. Does it have one? Does it need one? And where does Berlin stand in relation to all the established hubs such as London, Milan or Paris?
It wasn’t the first time that the Berlin date clashed with a fashion week in another city, this January the mens shows in Paris. Where this has led to frustration in previous years, this season, some of the relevant editors moved straight to the front rows in Paris without hesitation. And, traditionally, brands who want to make it internationally show their collections there anyway (current example: GmbH). The fashion world order with Paris at its centre is still in place.
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And now, since Bread & Butter has become a show for end consumers and the IMG tent is gone, the importance of Berlin Fashion Week seems to diminish, at least in the perception of the international eye. In some calendars Berlin doesn’t even appear as fashion week anymore but as market week.
But only because it looks different from the outside it doesn’t men that Berlin Fashion Week has lost its strength. There’s the trade shows like Selvedge Run and Panorama and of course the Premium with its sisters Seek, Bright and Show & Order. The Berliner Modesalon is a platform for a curated selection of German fashion design. There is also the Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion Show in a spectacular venue, the Kraftwerk, which also hosted the Fashiontech and Fashionsustain conferences. Shows are being held at Modesalon and E-Werk.
Admittedly, Berlin can lack a certain je ne sais quois when compared to the other hubs, but there are other qualities.
Germans are usually not perceived to be the creative types. We’re the engineers. Building cars, yes. Pioneers in sustainability, yes. Fashion? Hm. Fashion comes from London (the quirky ones), Milan (where they know how to flirt with commerce and creativity at the same time) and Paris (well, they kind of invented it, didn’t they?). But isn’t it a creative mindset that counts?
As mentioned in the beginning, Berlin has often been blamed for not having its own fashion identity. An identity is something you acquire over time, it is not something that you decide on (and if you do, it’ll come across as constructed). Acquiring an identity is a bit like going through puberty but most of all it’s trial and error.
If we read about entrepreneurship today we learn that basically every company needs to be able to act as agile as a startup. Part of this is to not be scared to make mistakes. If you do, you get up, learn from them and move on. This is what Berlin does. We fail and develop. Berlin has not only a vibrant startup scene it also has a startup mentality.
Sung-Joo Kim is Chief Visionary Officer of her brand MCM Worldwide. It is based in South Korea but she just moved their creative hub to Berlin. South Korea is considered to be one of the most digitalised countries in the world. She was interviewed at Industry Insights, an event that opened Fashiontech. Sightly provocatively, she was questioned what she thought about Germany’s lagging behind in digital matters. She answered, „In South Korea, we need a competitive edge as we border on China and are close to Japan. We can only survive with tech.“ In Germany, she said, we might not have the best broadband but something that is very precious: freedom. ”The freedom to act, to think and to be creative … Be kind to yourselves, you have everything you need.“
I find this a telling example of how we see ourselves and how we are perceived by others. Am I thinking in clichés or is it time for more self-confidence? Identity is also about believing in yourself and in your strengths.
Entrepreneurs always had to ”think outside the box“ (sorry, I tried to avoid it but couldn’t find a better alternative to this overused term) to be successful. Fashion and tech don’t exclude each other. I’m not necessarily talking about wearables. I’m talking about where in the value chain fashion and technology can complement each other.
An example. Why is it almost impossible to run a small, independent fashion label profitably? Because it is enormously difficult to realise economies of scale. With the help of technology, economies of scale can become negligible. If you are able to print your own branded buttons on a shared 3D-printer, your buttons cost the price of the material and the rent for the printer. 1 of 10 units costs as much as 1 of 1,000 units. Many of the smaller design studios in Berlin are struggling. Technology could be their chance to run more profitably – and this is just one example of how the technological shift could positively affect the fashion business.
„Made in Germany“ is a label that is globally trusted when it comes to technology. So might the fusion of fashion and technology where Berlin’s potential for identity is? I think that fashion and tech should rub shoulders even more. We have the Fashiontech and we need even more platforms. The world of fashion needs to continue to understand that it can benefit from technology – and the other way around (and throwing in some venture capital from the tech world wouldn’t hurt either). The merging of fashion and tech is a great opportunity to differentiate from the other fashion hubs (neither London or Paris seemed to care much). Berlin, this could be your niche.
And who knows, maybe the problem of finding a spot in the fashion calendar resolves itself sometime soon? At least in London there is a discussion going on whether it still makes sense to have a separate men’s fashion week. Many big names merge the presentations of their men’s and women’s collections to show on the traditional women’s dates in February and September. This would make space in the crammed calendars of buyers and press for Berlin.
If you look at the world of fashion in a traditional way (catwalk shows in charming venues or the salons of the grand hotels), then Paris shall remain at its centre for a long time. Watching a fashion show at Le Meurice in Paris will always be nice but does it offer solutions to the challenges we are facing in the 21st century? Aren’t aspirations changing as technology becomes the lifestyle?
And does it have to be ”either or“? Berlin offers a home for (the merging of) both.
Disclosure: Björn Lüdtke has worked for the Fashiontech conference in January 2018. However, he does not receive payments from third parties for this article which solely reflects his point of view.
Featured image: Fashiontech logo (left) and look from Odeeh autumn winter 18/19 (right)