Berlin Fashion Week: Glamour, Gowns and Garter Belts

By Cathrin Schaer in Berlin

The fashion industry has come to Berlin this week, with the German capital hosting four major fashion events. Millions are being made, thousands have come to take part. But it's not high fashion that's making all the money -- a trade fair is coming to the rescue of German designers.

In Berlin, a city of casual creativity and sensible civil servants, there are not too many wildly dressed women wearing high heels. But this week the central streets of the German capital have been alive with the clickety-clack of designer heels. The bold, the beautiful and the fashion-obsessed have been in town due to not one, but four fashion events taking place in the German capital this week.

This is some of the most frenetic fashion trade show activity the city has seen for years. There are three trade fairs dedicated to the garment industry running between July 1 and 4 -- Premium for the fashion industry in general, Boudoir, a lingerie trade show and Bread & Butter, a streetwear trade show. And at the same time Berlin is also putting on its bi-annual fashion week, during which local and international designers show their wares on runways around the city.

And although it might seem like Berlin Fashion Week is the most important and glamorous of the four, it's actually Bread & Butter that will draw the most international visitors and likely do the most business. This year there will be around 567 exhibitors -- including big name brands like Nike, Adidas and Levis as well as a vast multitude of smaller brands -- showing at what is the largest "urban-wear" industry fair of its kind in the world. The first day's figures indicate that around 25,000 visitors attended. Between 40,000 and 80,000 visitors are average for the event, with just under half expected to come from outside of Germany this year.

Bread & Butter's new venue has also been a draw card. The trade fair started out in Cologne, moved to Berlin in 2005 but left for four years in Barcelona due to lack of space before being enticed back onto home ground by Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit.

Part of the reason for the return was the mayor's promise that organizers would be able to use Tempelhof, a historic former airport built in the 1920s, as a site for their event for the next 10 years. This led some locals, who believe the airport should be a UNESCO World Heritage site, to protest outside the trade fair.

Meanwhile, local designers and garment industry insiders have expressed nothing but joy over Bread & Butter's return. After some secrecy on the planned dates for Berlin Fashion Week -- which is run by IMG, a New York producer of fashion weeks around the world -- organizers revealed that their event would be held at the same time as Bread & Butter.

And for good reason. By international standards Berlin Fashion Week has always been considered a poor relation to similar events in European fashion epicenters like Paris, Milan and London, just another strange stop on an ever growing circuit of fashion weeks in odd places -- like India, Brazil, New Zealand and Russia. While the German market for fashion is a large and important one and the local media love to frock-watch, not much actual fashion business is done in Berlin itself. And most of the truly inspired creativity is found on the city's street, on the backs of local design students or in small boutiques where young designers survive because of Berlin's legendarily inexpensive rents. Which is why the re-appearance of a cash-rich and well-recognized industry event like Bread & Butter has been greeted with such delight and relief.

As to how important the streetwear trade show is to Berlin Fashion Week's ongoing success, nobody really has a straight answer.

An independent study done by the city of Barcelona looking at how much revenue the trade fair brought to that metropolis estimated business worth around €80 to €100 million, in the form of hotel bookings, taxi fares, hospitality generally and other forms of business. Wowereit himself has hopes of an injection of around €120 million into Berlin's economy as a result of Bread & Butter's presence.

"Bread & Butter is very important," Ulrike Möslinger, a staunch supporter of young, Berlin design on the board of Create Berlin, an initiative to support local designers said. Möslinger is also the Marketing Director of upmarket department store, Galeries Lafayette Berlin. "We have so many buyers from our headquarters in Paris here this week. They have come here before," she said tellingly, "but that was when Bread & Butter was here."

Things are looking up for Berlin Fashion Week. Möslinger says the event is growing up and designers are becoming more professional. Additionally local celebrities have turned out in force and German media have been able to aim their cameras at the likes of American pop star Justin Timberlake who is here promoting his streetwear range at Bread & Butter.

But when it comes to serious fashion opinions, there's been an even more significant visitor. A few short years ago Suzy Menkes, one of the world's most respected fashion editors who lives in Paris and who has been the International Herald Tribune's fashion editor since 1988, was interviewed by a German newspaper. When asked for her thoughts on Berlin Fashion Week, she replied, apparently somewhat surprised, that she hadn't even known Berlin had a fashion week.

In Berlin this oft-repeated story has been a persisting blow to local pride. But this year, for the first time, Menkes accepted an invitation to attend the event. She also plans to visit Bread & Butter. And while the influential editor has already said some nice things about German eco-fashion, the locals will have to wait a little longer to hear what this seasoned fashion critic really thinks about Berlin's week of fashion.

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