Dresden-born Kostas Murkudis, who studied fashion at the Lette Foundation’s design school in what was then West Berlin, started out as Helmut Lang’s right-hand man, working for the Austrian designer for seven years before launching his first collection for women in 1994. His debut in Paris a couple of years was a hit, as were his menswear designs that followed. His clean but edgy and extremely well-tailored ready-to-wear designs quickly became an in-demand designer for hire. He created a range of underwater for Schiesser, accessories for Coccinelle, fashion for German department store Karstadt and, most recently, a line of womenswear for Regent, a made-to-measure and bespoke label with no experience in women’s fashion. This collection saw him experimenting with highly technical fabrics but arriving at delicate lingerie finishes as opposed to stiff and papery silks and slashed neoprenes. ‘Each project helps me to learn more about the many design aspects of fashion and triggers my own aesthetic,’ he says. Murkudis recently moved part-time to Paris, but his lips are sealed about what fashion project has taken him to the French capital.
In his second season as creative director at Rena Lange, Karsten Fielitz is still hard at work rejuvenating the Munich-based fashion house. After teaming up with German denim retailer Closed last year and designing a bow-tie blouse that would blend with the label’s younger design, Fielitz has continued to update the brand’s signature look of dramatic evening gowns. ‘The reality of today’s fashion is all about wearing a designer jacket with trousers by a high-street brand’, says Fielitz, a reality he sees in his Berlin neighbourhood Prenzlauerberg every day. Femininity, though, is still paramount for the designer, who wants to stay true to the brand’s roots as a lingerie store, founded by Martha Lange in 1916. The Peter Pan collar, a Rena Lange trademark, can be found on sleek tube dresses and is as much part of Fielitz’s aesthetic as cutting-edge tweed dresses and silk blouses covered with tiny little hearts. Is this playful approach a nod to his former employer Moschino? Maybe. But more so, he says, it’s a tribute to Rena Lange’s long-term owner Renate Günthert, who died last summer, and was fond of these icons. Either way, Fielitz is determined to keep the Rena Lange show a must-see-event at Berlin Fashion Week.
The only fashion input Vladimir Karaleev could get in his hometown Sofia as a teenager was British Vogue that would hit newsstands six months out of date and the local avant-garde fashion magazine Egoist, published by a former assistant to Martin Margiela. It wasn’t until he visited Berlin as an exchange student that he saw the opportunity if becoming a fashion designer. ‘Everything seemed possible in Berlin in the early 1990s,’ says Karaleev, who as a studio on Leipziger Strasse in the now gentrified Mitte. The designer has come a long way since he ditched his Berlin backyard style for a more sophisticated look, though the titles of his collections – ‘Externally Synchronized’, ‘Principles of Disarrangement’ – suggest a certain edginess endures. Indeed, lining materials turned inside out make for long jackets with a rough finish, different lengths juxtaposed in a single garment produce never-before-seen forms and raw edges create a grungy feel. This unique style earned him his first runway show in the tent at the Brandenburg Gate at Berlin Fashion Week last summer, catching the eyes of H&M and Topshop. His autumn/winter 2011 collection was sold online and at selected London stores this season – until, that is, it sold out.
Michael Sontag is the fashion purist among our Berlin designers, best known for innovative fabric manipulation. His liquid silhouettes and asymmetric cuts, which the designer refers to ‘giving the body space’, got rave review from fashion critic Suzy Menkes after her first visit to Berlin Fashion Week in 2009 – the same season Sontag, a Weissensee graduate, was having his runway debut. ‘I am not so much interested in telling stories with my collections’, the designer explains from his studio in Prenzlauerberg. ‘My clothes form during the design process’. His staring point can be a simple terry-cloth towel draped around his neck, which then becomes the pattern for a coat with batwing sleeves. Geometric shapes, such as triangles and squares, often form the basis for his folded but fluid seperates. Featherweight wool plaids, cashmere and jersey come in muted tones of grey, taupe, navy and light blue, with the focus always on the structure. Each collection builds on the previous one. ‘I prefer to develop ideas than follow trends’, he says. His rather unorthodox approach saw him skipping Fashion Week this season, opting instead to film his collection at Schinkel Pavillion in Mitte and post it online for just one day during the shows.
The German-Franco-design-duo Augustin Teboul, made up of Annelie Augustin and Odély Teboul, adds some drama to the fashion calendar at Berlin Fashion Week. Their meticulously hand-stitched gowns were dubbed ‘borderline couture’ by the press following their womenswear debut in 2009. The couture appeal is undeniable and, although comfortable with the label, the designers slyly subvert it with rock ‘n’ roll elements from contemporary ready-to-wear – think long, black dresses with crocheted, bustier-like tops reminiscent of the 1920s, contrasted with shredded leather strips and biker jackets. ‘Our fashion is a work in progress’, says Teboul. ‘Often our collections take a new direction once we start sewing.’ Augustin, who worked for Yohji Yamamoto for Adidas, brings a minimalist touch to the label, while Teboul, who worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, adds a nostalgic and playful craftsmenship. Each season they create a mini-collection of 30 pieces from their studio in Neukölln. Rumours have it that Beth Ditto has requested a dress for her upcoming tour and model Karolina Kurkova one for the Oscars. ‘We’re thrilled to see our clothes on all kind of people,’ Augustin says. ‘But we never wear them ourselves. We like to keep a distance.’
Stylist-turned-fashion designer Hien Le may have grown up in Germany, but he was never going to be restrained by geographical borders. Having completed a training as a tailor in Berlin, he says that an internship at Veronique Branquinho in Antwerp inspired him to create his own fashion label. Coming from a Laotian family, his clothes are constructed using Western tailoring techniques, but made to look easy and functional. ‘In the beginning, people kept telling me I had a very Asian aesthetic,’ says Le. ‘Instantly, all sorts of stereotypes popped into my head, such as traditional costume, which I didn’t like.’ Le felt challenged to demonstrate he could think outside the box. Inspired by a picture of his parents taken in the late 1970s, he took their minimalist everyday clothes as a starting point for a collection. Now, in only his fifth season, he’s developed a mature style that sets him apart at Berlin Fashion Week. Structured pleats and firm fabrics, like wool and alcantara, are juxtaposed with soft jersey and silk, while his palette never stretches far from primary colours such as muted yellows and electric blues. ‘I never use black. It feels heavy in my hands,’ he says. ‘I want to create fashion that feels easy.’