It may just be the perfect garment for a beer-soaked visit to the Munich Oktoberfest starting this Saturday -- lederhosen-style swimming shorts. The invention by Austrian restaurant owner Peter Kolb has taken Austria by storm in recent months and will be going on sale in two of the 14 giant beer tents.
Kolb, 41, says they're a cheaper and more user-friendly alternative to the traditional leather breeches that will be worn by many of the 6 million visitors to the world's biggest beer festival which will open its gates on Sept. 19 for two weeks to the sound of Bavarian Oompah bands and yodelling folk dancers.
In the packed tents, where dirndl-clad waitress heave liter-glasses of the amber nectar between the crowded wooden tables, beer spillage becomes more likely with every passing hour. Flying pork knuckles can also be a problem as the atmosphere gets more rowdy. Not the right environment for proper lederhosen, which can cost up to €700, one might argue.
That's where Kolb's trunks come in. "You wouldn't even need to wash the beer off, it's a fabric that dries immediately," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The shorts look remarkably like the real thing, with elaborately embroidered deer heads, a front bib and traditional side stitching. They retail at €79, a fraction of the cost of the leather alternative.
Alpine traditionalists who last year complained about the growing trend towards cheap lederhosen imported from Asia may cry heresy at the sight of Kolb's lederhosen. After all, they're manufactured in China and don't contain a scrap of leather.
But Kolb insists he is helping to introduce Alpine traditions to younger generations, and is even exporting the region's folk culture to a global audience.
"Unlike others, we're not turning folk costume into kitsch," said Kolb. "There's no reason for purists to protest because our design is authentic, it's merely made of a different material. In the last few months we've brought about a major shift in attitudes. People aged 15 to 30 who would never have worn folk costume are now starting to identify with lederhosen. It's reached cult status."
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Kolb, who runs two restaurants in Austria, says he has received orders from all around the world for his trunks, which can also be used as leisure shorts. Countless emails have flooded in to his company, PK Traditional, with photos of people wearing them on beaches as far away from the Alps as Florida, Australia and Japan.
Since he launched the product four months ago, he says he has only been able to satisfy 10 percent of demand, and has sold more than 20,000 via sports shops in Austria and his company's Web site.
Major retail chains are lining up to stock them and Kolb says the demand has got so out of hand that he decided to shut down production at the Chinese factory at the end of August and reorganize the business from top to bottom so that he can produce and distribute the design in sufficient quantities in time for 2010 spring/summer season.
A woman's version, the "dirndl bikini," has already sold out completely and the company is fast running out of lederhosen in the most common sizes, he says.
It all started out as a joke. "I liked the thought of someone emerging from a swimming pool in lederhosen and everybody looking at them as if they'd gone mad," said Kolb. "I had it in my head for years and finally came up with a design. I thought I'd only sell a few hundred to friends. I never expected things to turn out like this."
He says he has only supplied a few hundred to the Oktoberfest, the annual celebration of Bavarian beer and folk culture. "If they run out, I can supply more."
In the long run, he's thinking of designing a whole range of Alpine style garments such as lederhosen ski pants. "The sky is the limit," says Kolb.