At the beginning of October, Berlin just witnessed the first manifestation of what will become, in future, a staple of the alternative fashion circuit – the first ever Berlin Alternative Fashion Week. Featuring fashion films, discussion evenings, markets and culminating in two runway shows, the events program was curated, according to Project Founder Adam Rose, with the intention of “promoting influential, genre-breaking innovators and connect them with established contemporaries in the fields of fashion, music and art, in a context that isn’t constrained or dominated by big brands and labels.”
The event staged independent designers such as Roberto Piqueras, famous for his approach of “mixing IRL & URL” via methods such as his .zip fashion show, distributing his collection online; the futuristic, electronic music inspired surrealist designs of the Rotterdam based Maartje Dijkstra and the fantastic, strange and celebrated work of performance artist and sculptor Andrey Bartnev, to name just a few. The eclectic range of Fashion's more daring creative visionaries were provided a platform through the collaborative efforts of the BAFW core team and Berlin based initiatives such as Your Mom's Agency, Neu West Berlin and super creative agency We Are Battalion. Karl Lagerfeld's recent coming-out as a 'He-for-She' style feminist, replete with model minions bedecked in pant-suits and Gloria Steinem style spectacles and placards stating that “Boys Should Get Pregnant Too” notwithstanding, High Fashion – in fact, the fashion industry in general – has never been known for its radical social criticism and idealistic stances.
Although many heated ethical debates have raged within the industry over topics such as wearing fur and the promotion of unrealistic body types, prominent voices and the fashion weeks themselves have generally tended to steer clear of calling for revolution, or indeed making a clear statement of ideology in any form. BAFW was daring in its promotion of wearable tech, independent fashion films and the celebration of the underground-meets-melting pot riotous Berlin culture, but what made the project truly innovative was the ideology present right at the core of the event concept. And that ideology was: We need an Alternative. We need a Change.
Why do we need events like this? After all, depending on which end of the spectrum at which you choose to polarize your opinions, we're either fucked in 20 years when the skies implode raining fireballs as climate change and capitalism devour us in their ceaselessly pounding jaws like gummy bears, or conversely, everything is going to be totally fine so long as we all think positive, manifest happiness, spread the love and super rainbows happy love-the-earth-kisses-and-bubbles-I'll-be-over-here-wanking-and-tickling-kittens-now.
Except neither of these evaluations are true. Not the brutally fatalistic, nor the ear-droolingly utopian. And if we listen to our common sense, we know this.
We know that things are pretty dicey at the moment – and not just for us in Britain, but for every one of the c.7,238,184,000 human creatures on this planet; in particular, the 1.1 billion who don't even have adequate access to, for example, water, right now as we are at the supposed apex of human development, acquisition and material plenty. I'm not going to insult your intelligence and ruin your coffee break by listing out the perils that face our species one by one in a shopping list of destruction that we are all, by now, both familiar with and desensitized enough to find boring. But we also know that dwelling on the gloom is both useless and distasteful; instead, we would better place our energies into doing what we can, rather than trying to Immanetize the Eschaton and holding out for utopia.One example of Doing What We Can, is taking established institutions – like the arts, culture, and fashion industries – and examining and challenging the origins of their output, and the pathways by which they met us. Where do those bargain high street interpretations of fashion house trends come from? What is the long chain of production and distribution which streams out like a comets tail, burning through time and space, behind the polyester jacket that sits in front of you? We all have enough access to information to know by now that statistically, it's highly likely slash downright inevitable that if you bought it from Primark or Topshop or H&M or equivalent, it was made by someone woefully underpaid, quite possibly working in unsafe conditions. Remember the 2013 Savar Building collapse in Bangladesh? The death toll there was 1,129 – a number that is almost a third of the number of casualties of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
We've spent a lot of the last decade believing that more is more. The success of shops like Primark, offering gourmet fashions with a Netto price tag, have fooled us into thinking that we have found a loophole, that we can cheat capitalism – that we can bury our feelings of inadequacy and satiate our desire to dress like billion dollar fashion bitches under mountains of cheaply made knock-offs. Really, mountains. We no longer feel the need to spend a little more cash to buy good quality staple items, such as an enduring little black dress, which are well made and will last – instead, we jizz our cash on cheap, mass produced, often shoddily made 'disposable' garments, which cost so little that we have no problems with simply throwing them away after wearing them like a used condom. This also increases homogeneity in our styles, as reams and reams of identical Primark interpretations of current trends build up, clogging up the dusty corners of our wardrobes and our consciences; waste of hyper consumerism like plastic bags caught on barbed wires.
Projects like Berlin Alternative Fashion Week posit a counter-vision one which replaces disposable mass-produced clothing tat with pieces of focused creative intention worthy of treasuring; off-the-peg laziness with colourful innovation; cheap glamour for inspiring expression. We’re offered beautiful manifestations of artistic visions created from ethically sourced materials instead of mass produced garments stained with the blood of the workers. These alternative voices make the argument that we need to recalibrate our approach to our lifestyle choices, and not just for fashion's sake, but for the sake of our world. It's not just a matter of stylish or drab, but also a matter of life and death.
It's an urgent message with which we’re gravely pummelled from multiple directions these days – so often that, like mass-produced replicas of the same lazy Primark version of ‘this season's dress’, we quickly become unimpressed by it. Which is why it's a breath of fresh air to be reminded of it in projects like BAFW. It reminds us there's no reason why changing the world can't be playful. There’s no reason why the revolution can't be beautiful, and in the case of BAFW, we saw an alternative not just of ethics but also of aesthetics.
Words by Philippa Dee