The definition of creativity is certainly a relative one when it comes to style. Attempted newness and originality can be scaled only according to their context, being the exact who, what, where, when, why and how of the matter. The thrill of designer clothing, even if Couture, hangs largely in the modern background of what truly gets publicity: which star is wearing what dress or suit, to which occaision and in which Metropolis.
Since moving to Berlin, I have been able to step onto the sidelines of what is concerning fashion folks in New York, London, Paris and Milan. Depsite Berlin’s hundreds of design students, foreward thinking musicians, artists, cultural events galore and beautiful youth studding its streets, it still remains on the outskirts of “the scene”, perhaps due to its lack of industry.
Yet, this is what continually draws me to this city: it’s ability, despite fifteen years of reunification between East and West, to protect itself from a total selling out. When the wall separating West from former Eastern-bloc Germany was torn down, it gave way to the unknown, to what Berlin has been and continues make of itself. The results fifteen years later, in my book, are quite positive ones.
Go anywhere in Berlin past the former communist borders, to Friederichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauerberg or even Mitte, and there you will find the fashion worth seeing in Berlin. One could surely wander the well known designer boutiques of West Berlin, or even the more independent ones, but in that case one might as well stick to New York or London. Same equation, different variables. Originality is often found where we least expect it.
The other night, walking through Friederichshain, after two quasi-empty blocks of grey, quadratic and obviously former Communist apartments, I came upon a tiny shoemaker’s store, offering personally fitted, crafted-leather and wooden shoes that some Prada or Vuitton pair could not hold a candle to. That for the equivalent of $100. It made me smile, and the smile kept growing, because one block further I walked unknowingly straight into Oranienstrasse, a street lined with some of Berlin’s liveliest eastern crowds, most underground bars and boutiques (not to mention, unfortunately, Germany’s heaviest junk addicts). In any case, Oranienstrasse is home to three-foot tall mohawks, two-foot long dread-locks, Rock-a-billy tatoo lodges and Hoola-girl bars. It has a mystery and rough-edged charm that will most likely disappear within a decade, if and when commercialism invades, taking away the place for my $100 boot store and cheap, cheap beer served by a gorgeous drag-queen with Betty Page style.
The thriving punk-rock and greaser-slick style of former Eastern Berlin are what make me love it, and not because the people taking part are paying big money for what they call style or telling me I have to be just like them. In Berlin, young style is about what you don’t have, what you can’t afford, how less is more and when all else fails, pink hair-dye is still cheap. It could be called anti-fashion, if it were a touch less trend-conscious. There is no rivalry and scarce discernment between crowds; a freeing feeling I have known in no other city.
Fashion, in this city where it doesn’t appear to count as dramatically as elsewhere, is perhaps where it has mattered the most to me, where it is not about Cameron Diaz and her new butt-lifting jeans or Marilyn Manson’s red eye contacts. It’s about being able to go to the opera for ten dollars and sneak up front, then still sit next to tatooed women in 1920s dresses with Vamp haircuts, or go to the Fleamarket in Prenzlauerberg and see a fashion show for free, just watching the bodies go by as they shuffle through, grinning at themselves and their bargain finds.
For those out there reading who have ever longed to let the free-spirit in them awaken, tired of half-hearted trend watching, I highly reccomend a trip to the former Eastern-bloc neighborhoods of Berlin. Come see how creativity can flourish when given the clean slate of mass-beauty liberation, or even just an almost empty wallet.