Unlike Balensiaga’s Georgian-born designer Demna Gvasalia, who was recently severely criticised following the scandal about his latest campaign featuring bondage bears and kids, the designers participating in the Berlin Fashion Week 2023 focus on true values like sustainability, environmental consciousness, fair pay for all, up-cycling, slow fashion, and rethinking of consumer attitudes.
This year’s edition of the Berlin Fashion Summit “Active Alliances for Positive Fashion” addressed sustainability through the topics of collaboration, transformation and regeneration with regard to economic, cultural and ecological action within the fashion industry.
The Berlin Fashion Summit has always been the hub where change-makers share solutions and signals for fashion’s necessary transformation on a corporate and cultural level. The main topics of the 5th Berlin Fashion Summit were “Regenerative Business”, “Regenerative Culture”, and how these two cannot be separated in order for the fashion industry to contribute to holistic positive change.
CEO and Co-Founder Hasna Kourda of Save the Wardrobe talked about how changing our consumer behavior can save the planet, while in his presentation on Regenerative Agriculture at Scale, Nick Ericsson from UGG presented how regenerative leather can be brought into the industry at scale, sharing the successes and challenges of his brand´s latest sustainable endeavor. Katya Kruk from Armed Angels, Manuel Schweizer from Oceansafe and Essi Glomb from the Weißensee Kunsthochschule to name but a few gave presentations on the different perspectives of implementing new materials and business practices.
Berlin Fashion Week started with The Yes Men taking over and staging Adidas supposedly introducing its Reality Wear Collection which was game-changing with its new attitude of raising awareness about the appalling conditions in its textile factories in a resolute attempt to take action to end the exploitation of its workers. Vay Ya Nak Phoan from Cambodia was asked to take to the catwalk. She had once been employed in an Adidas textile factory in Cambodia until, as a whistleblower and journalist, she publicly denounced the appalling working conditions. It was announced in a solemnly orchestrated ceremony that Adidas supposedly appointed her as co-managing director, and she put her signature next to that of Bjorn Guldens (CEO of Adidas) under the binding “Pay Your Workers Agreements”.
Bad Bunny, Pharrell Williams and Phillip Leyesa contributed to the REALITYWEAR line launched at the Berlin Fashion Week. Instead of the conventional cool and glamour, the models were trudging, stumbling and crawling down the runway with torn, run-down Adidas outfits; make-up was replaced by skin abrasions and the Adidas logo “branded” into their cheeks. Quoting Vay Ya Nak Phoan from Cambodia, if the three Adidas signature stripes stand for cool and sport in Europe and elsewhere, for her and her people, these stripes are associated with prison bars, something that will hopefully change once proper action is taken.
VORN Fashion show presented dynamic and inspiring looks by famous brands, as well as pieces by Berlin-based younger designers and independent brands. The carefully selected outfits, with pieces by Vladimir Karaleev, DSTM, Isabel Vollrath and #Damur, among others, spoke volumes about the typically Berlin style of care-free, freedom and experimental touch in clothing design. Unlike that of other European fashion capitals, the Berlin signature style is all about the non-conventional, where fashion is about each one of us focusing on personality. The pieces by Vladimir Karaleev, for example, his jackets, dresses and tops, are characterized by assimetrical shapes, unexpected incisions, material and fabric contrasts, all inspired by architectural shapes, often conceptual but always having a functional purpose. DSTM bodywear, made with ecological fabrics of the highest quality with pieces thoughtfully designed with cuts that flatter and accentuate the natural body lines while giving shape and support, are made to be worn as underwear, outerwear or swimwear. Pieces by Berlin-based Therapy brand impressed by their innovative use of used garments, unconventional color combinations and the philosophy behind – to revise the consumerist fashion trends and to create something new out of used materials that expresses one’s individuality and care for nature through the use of re-cycled clothes. MLI by Svensson presented strong pieces with elegant details, strict silhouettes and an authentic aura, with a special emphasis on creating long lasting fashion without environmental damage. The VORN Fashion Show showcased the best of national and international sustainable fashion in a curated and editorial format. The concept of VORN focused on diversity and collaboration to reflect the current zeitgeist. All participating brands underwent a sustainability check by the studio MM04 team.
For this season, VORN chose the theme of ‘Role Models’ to focus on. At a time when there are many uncertainties about upcoming developments in politics and society, and when the fashion industry has to undergo profound changes in the face of the great challenges of our time, role models are needed as orientation and inspiration. The VORN Fashion Show takes role models as inspiration for the looks presented on the catwalk. Current and former role models and influential personalities are researched and different perspectives on fashion and style were shown, reflecting sexuality, sustainability, courage and diversity, just to name a few keywords.
#Damur, who also presented a separate high-end street wear runway show in the St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin’s old city center is all about the non-conventional, non-standard stylistic forms. Vibrant luminous fabrics, bold heart-shaped cut-outs, skilful use of fabrics almost sculpting human bodies out of materials, richness of details, e.g. applied patchwork-like elements and ornamental patters carefully merged together in harmonious unity. Decorative elements, impressive color combinations and the abundance of flowers made the show a special experience. The brand follows sustainable and up-cycling design practices, using ecologically friendly materials. The sustainability of the human resources involved in the production process is of great importance for the brand, and all collections are produced under ethical working conditions, with fair wages, in Poland. Each person’s voice is ever-present in clothing: That’s what the # logo stands for. It is the new generation’s means of self-expression. Damur (Shih-Shun) Huang, the designer behind the brand, is creative but resilient. With his collections, he undermines stereotypes, including gender categories.
One of the Berlin Fashion Week highlights was Astro Noir Lab – the immersive mixed reality presentation of Esther Perbandt’s new collection at the Art Library of the Berlin State Museums. As sustainability is important for the designer, she started cooperating with FFB /Fashion for Biodiversity, who produce chips that digitally visualize the supply chain and origins of the materials the garments are made of, and that are elaborately integrated into Esther Perbandt’s clothing. Astro Noir Lab included features of a digital fashion show with elements of 3D, virtual reality and projections. The vast dark hall of the Kulturforum came to life under the holographic projections, mysterious light dots and stripes projected onto clothes, with electrifying sound accompanying her opulent new collection of robes, tops, pants and veils in all shades of black. She played with transparency and opacity of materials. For certain looks, fabrics were arranged into cascades of rounded forms, calling to memory baroque-like dresses. Some tops reminded one of geometric conic formations, imitating natural forms or exotic plants that came to life as the models moved. Bodies clad in these fairy-tale looks appeared surreal and dreamy, the holographic projections in constant movement giving the presentation a special atmosphere of authenticity; a daring experiment inspired by a rich tradition of fashion history that is preserved in the Berlin State Museum Art Library. Since fashion history plays an important role in her works, its no wonder that Esther Perbandt’s designs are in a lively dialogue with the Museum collection of costumes.
There is a new wave of creative Georgian designers active outside their home country on and off-line who continue to influence and inspire us, irrespective of where they work. One such example is Lasha Mdinaradze, creative director of the GUDU brand, founded in 2015 in Kyiv. GUDU’s core mission is female empowerment through the creation of exquisitely tailored looks emphasizing femininity. The aesthetics of the brand are revealed in Mdinaradze’s self-sufficient designs, which require no accessories to complete the look. GUDU garments, with their eyes-stopping silhouettes and strong shapes, beautifully adorn and revere the female body.
“The woman is always in the very center of my attention,” says Lasha Mdinaradze. “I wish to create outfits for her that reveal her gentle power, personality and passion all at once.”
GUDU‘s previous collections were inspired by the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. The music, art and style of Kyiv’s streets are combined: prints referring to the works of Malevich meet with vintage denim, and the brand’s signature tailoring takes on new facets through the play of volumes. In the new collection, for the first time, the designer does not cover the faces of his models, because the search for individuality is the main goal of this collection. Mdinaradze‘s looks for the new collection are exceptionally vibrant, with clear cut shapes, combining bold geometric silhouettes with zipper details, pleated fabrics, belts, and with extra long trousers elegantly wrapping the body. GUDU’s recent collection has received international acclaim and was featured in German Vogue in November 2022.