Leaving Berlin: Achtland

Berlin, Berlin fashion, Berlin designer, Achtland
Achtland's first show in Berlin in summer 2013

I love Berlin fashion, you know that. So you might be able to imagine how my little fashion-heart almost broke to pieces when Thomas and Oliver, the genius minds behind ACHTLAND, told me they’re leaving Berlin and are going back to London. Of course I instantly knew that the business they’re building can only benefit from that step, still, sad patriotic emotions swept over me. I couldn’t help but ask them: WHY!?

You studied and met in London, why did you decide to start your label in Berlin?

When we decided to start ACHTLAND three years ago, we felt instantly drawn to Berlin for a number of reasons: For one, we had become very comfortable in our London life and felt that leaving our comfort zone would be essential for a creative project – a completely fresh start. In addition, we were tempted by the space Berlin offers: We were able to have a full-sized studio on a reasonable budget, whereas in London that would have meant a considerable investment from the start. We also felt that there was still a niche for what we were planning with ACHTLAND.

Berlin, Berlin fashion, Berlin designer, Achtland, Thomas Bentz, Oliver Lührs
Thomas Bentz and Oliver Lührs of Achland at the final fitting the day before their final show in Berlin in January 2014.

Which advantages had Berlin?

Berlin is a great place to start a new label  – there is an immense curiosity for new brands and labels. Everyone is looking out for new homegrown talent it seems and there is still room to experiment and no competition but a true sense of camaraderie among the emerging generation of designers, which is lovely.

How did you experience the work of the German fashion press and that of the fashion trade?

We truly continue to be amazed by the amount of support we have received from the German press –  from blogs, dailies and magazines. It was Christiane Arp and her VOGUE Salon who first put us on the map straight from the very beginning, which was an immense stroke of luck. From then on, many others – across the board – have followed suit and have been incredibly supportive. We think many other young designers share the same experience.
German retailers are somewhat cautious when it comes to young Berlin designers and that is actually perfectly understandable from their point of view: There are a lot of international young upcoming brands, whereas the younger generation of designers emerging from Berlin, like us, are relatively new to the scene. Retailers have to make money from their merchandise and in today’s online-driven market place, brands have to withstand international competition. Retailers will need to be able to compare labels in an international context to see if they work and if the standard of their collections shows some continuity. They need to develop trust and that takes time  – and an international platform. However, the collaboration with our existing retailing partners has been a very rewarding experienc. Berlin’s Departmentstore Quartier 206 has supported us from the very first collection onwards.

Berlin, Berlin fashion, Berlin designer, Achtland, Thomas Bentz, Oliver Lührs, Achtland Summer 2014
My favorite Achtland piece of the Summer 2014 collection.

What was missing, why did you decide to move?

The product we make involves a lot of craftsmanship and high-quality fabrics – that makes ACHTLAND a high-end product and there is a limited number of retailers who can carry such a product. Therefore, it is vital for us to give ACHTLAND an international platform which gives us access to international buyers who cater to that particular audience and international press. We have chosen London as ACHTLAND’s new home, because it has proven to be a great spring board for young talents over the past couple of years and out of the big fashion capitals it is the one which is most familiar to us. Over the years, London has remained an important source of inspiration – we still have our favourite places, museums and a close-knit circle of friends – and over the years, the city’s energy has been like a gravitational pull which has now finally lured us back.

What would’ve had to change in particular to make you stay?

For our particular segment, the date of Berlin Fashion Week would have to find a place in the international fashion week calendar. Currently, it continues to clash with Paris Couture, the men’s shows in Milan – or both. We know that moving the date has been an ongoing debate for years and it is easier said than done, but at the end of the day, retailers have a lot of scouting work on their hands and they need to be able to find us on style.com. The fact, that WWD has started to do runway reports from Berlin is a very positive sign, though, and we will never forget that our reception here in Berlin has given us the confidence to make this step. We have had an amazing time here!

Now that you’re gone, what are the future perspective for this city – will it turn into a global player or establish itself as a local hero?

There is a tremendous amount of extraordinary talent to be found in Berlin which does not have to shy away from international comparison – so the potential is definitely there. What it needs is a true commitment from inside the industry to build upon the foundation that the German press and the Berlin Senate have laid. London Fashion Week is now strong because a number of important industry figures like Net a Porter’s Nathalie Massenet and Topshop’s Philip Green and many others have come together and said ‘We want this to work’. They have built up a strong support network for young designers which has been very efficient over the years. It would be great if the industry and young designers would be able to learn to speak the same language in order to pave the way for collaborations etc.

Berlin, Berlin fashion, Berlin designer, Achtland, Thomas Bentz, Oliver Lührs, Achtland Summer 2014, Mercedes-Benz fashion week
Achtland’s final Berlin show in January 2014

And what do you expect from London?

We think that the move to London will be a first step towards reaching a more international audience. We love the city and it has also been a great place to hunt for new inspirations
Was wird sie euch nicht bieten können, was werden Schwierigkeiten sein?
We know very well that nobody in London will be waiting for us  – we will have to make a convincing collection in order to make our mark – but we love a good challenge.

Are you taking up old contacts or is it a new start?
We do have some old contacts in London, so we have a bit of a network set up there already, but in some regards it will feel like a fresh start. That can also be a good thing, though, because we can take stock at this point and determine what has worked well in the past and what are the issues that we need to work on. For us, it feels like a bit of a luxury to be able to do this after three years.  We are tremendously excited!

Berlin, Berlin fashion, Berlin designer, Achtland, Thomas Bentz, Oliver Lührs, Achtland Summer 2014,  Mercedes-Benz-fashion week
Berlin celebrities dressed in Achtland’s spring collection sitting front-row minutes before their last show in Berlin.

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