Heil fashion: how Germans got their groove back.
Weaver’s natural wonders. Ken Thompson; Hot Buy.
First we all wanted to be louche French women, then it was willowy Scandi blondes. Now there’s another country shaping up to be our new Euro crush. After decades of drab, Germany’s fashion street cred is on the up.
Forget mullets, trouser suits and Oktoberfest dirndls (more of which later) — Germany’s new style icons include Isabelle zu Hohenlohe-Jagstberg (Minzi to her friends), a Bavarian princess with a Valentino habit, and German
Vogue’s Christiane Arp, who has made the silk shirt into an art form. (Think
Homeland’s Berlin chief of police Astrid in her delicate silk T-shirts and sturdy slacks, rather than Angela Merkel.)
If you like your clothes smart but comfortable, well made but with a smattering of glam, the country that gave the world Birkenstocks and Jil Sander has plenty to offer you. And they have ways of making you shop.
The country always used to be a bastion of sensible separates, but that’s shifting. At Marc Cain, one of the country’s biggest fashion brands, capes, fringing and fun fur are the things that are flying. Dorothee Schumacher, who showed at Berlin Fashion Week this month, has raw-edged culottes, printed midi-skirts and jackets with cutaway shoulders for spring. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at Luisa Cerano’s orange drainpipes and blue suede bomber, or Laurel’s jewel-collared blouses.
“Germans are still careful,” Princess Minzi tells me. “They don’t want to take risks, but bloggers have taught people to be more daring.”
German women are cautious, despite having more disposable income than most Europeans. They’re loyal to brands they like; they buy pieces in several sizes to ensure the best fit (before sending the spares back); and they shop less frequently than us (but spend about the same). They don’t buy on impulse, but they love colour and embellishment. They don’t do seasonal trends, but they’re less obsessed with “classics” than us. Their basics are less, well, basic than ours — but they’re always practical.
“I’d never wear a certain skirt just because it is ‘the piece’ at the moment, if it makes me look weird,” Minzi adds. “I love fashion only if it suits me.”
I asked InStyle Germany’s fashion editor Jennifer Dixon what three things every German woman has in her wardrobe. “Flat shoes, jeans and a down jacket,” she says. That seems to sum it up.
“A lint roller,” adds art dealer Mon Muellerschoen. “And a very expensive pair of heels.”
All three women live in Munich, Germany’s affluent fashion capital, where the glossy magazines have their offices too. Die Munchner are glamorous but not showy, despite their deep pockets. If you want flashy, go to Dusseldorf with its conspicuous consumption and big-name bling. Hamburg is more conservative, while Berlin is home to hipsters and the avant garde. (“We’re poor,” the capital’s mayor Klaus Wowereit declares, “but we’re sexy.”)
Mario Eimuth is a founder of the retail site Stylebop.com. Think of it as the German Net-a-Porter: based in Munich, it ships globally and has a network of VIP customers across Germany and the world.
“In England, [they] admire and imitate people — that’s not so common here,” he says. “During the 70s, it made sense to hide your wealth, because the Red Army Faction killed a lot of people for it. But the younger generation has a different attitude — they want to express themselves.”
Stylebop caters to the wealthy women who are changing the country’s tastes. The site’s most popular items tend to be eye-catching catwalk looks rather than safe, versatile pieces; Valentino and McQueen do well, but British labels such as Mary Katrantzou (sample price: $2345 for a dress) and
Simone Rocha have also been a hit. Compared with similar shopping sites, Stylebop’s selection is refreshingly idiosyncratic.
“We’re always keen on bringing global trends to Germany,” says Thorsten Eimuth, Mario’s brother and co-founder. “We were the very first to sell Ugg boots in our store, and the second was Selfridges. People were sending their chauffeurs from St Moritz to Munich to pick up four or five pairs.”
The Germans know their labels. On Maximilianstrasse, Munich’s luxury shopping street, there are more designer handbags than people. Celine and Fendi totes are popular, as are the Chanel slingbacks that sold out in every European city within weeks last autumn — they’re just the right combination of sensible and chic for German women. (Ditto Valentino’s rockstud pumps, $1075, which are consistently one of Stylebop’s best-selling styles.)
Still, there is some way to go in a country where the high street is a relatively new concept.
“Individual style you only see on a wealthy minority,” says Muellerschoen. “The mass is now dressed better than 15 years ago, but unfortunately they all look the same.”
The streets of Munich aren’t exactly full of clones, but even in the city’s hippest venues — at Schumann’s, where Vogue staffers drink cocktails with financiers, and the art deco bar at the Haus der Kunst, which attracts a more bohemian crowd — the look is relatively uniform. Clothing tends to be quite straight — not in a Scandinavian sharp lines sort of way, but flattering and reassuringly bourgeois. At the Munich institution (and caterers to the Reichstag) Kafer, the city’s doyennes eat brunch in tailored trousers, printed silk shirts and fur or Moncler coats.
Like their Scandinavian counterparts, German women emphasise quality over quantity. “We have this tradition of building quality cars, quality machinery,” says Mario Eimuth of the elaborately embroidered and embellished pieces that sell so well on the site despite their price tags (new arrivals include a $6535 bejewelled Balmain minidress and an embroidered leather jacket from Alexander McQueen — a snip at $5825). “When we spend money, we want to see that it is handcrafted and has a story.”
The biggest influence on German women’s wardrobes (second only to their husbands, I am told) is street style, particularly the crop of homegrown editors who have made it their arena. Blogger Veronika Heilbrunner is one such (whose Australian-born partner, Justin O’Shea, buying director of MyTheresa.com, is equally influential on menswear), as are Jennifer Dixon and Christiane Arp.
But there’s one area in which Munich’s fashion scene will perhaps always be divergent — from Germany’s, from the world’s — and it’s the dirndls. Shops sell them on every corner (and in Munich airport, even at Hugo Boss) — not, as I initially assumed, to tourists but to locals, and often at great expense. They sit alongside the likes of Chloe and Lanvin on MyTheresa.com, where a pinafore, blouse and apron from Austrian label Lanz will set you back $2600. On billboards around town, male models pout into the middle distance wearing lederhosen and feathered caps.
This traditional finery is important in Munich, where social standing rests on the calibre of the private parties you’re invited to during Oktoberfest. Stylebop hosts its own, as have Stella McCartney and Tiffany.
“I stick to traditional fabrics,” Minzi explains of the dirndl. “They look like a Halloween disguise when they’re too modern.”
‘Germans are still careful … but bloggers have taught people to be more daring’
G E T T Y I M A G E S
Princess Minzi zu Hohenlohe; Mon Muellerschoen, right; Vogue’s Christiane Arp, below right; blogger Veronika Heilbrunner, below left