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Berlin fashion fairs: No reason to worry about the end of Bread & Butter

By Jan Schroder


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On Tuesday, a few days after the end of Berlin fashion week, the organizers of trade fair Bread & Butter sent out an email. It was not the usual release offering a round-up of the past few days, but instead a simple farewell letter. After thanking everybody “for your friendship, your honesty, your loyalty, and in the end, your understanding” as well as “14 wild and wildly intense years” it concluded “Bread & Butter is dead, long live Bread & Butter!“. In short: It announced the end of an institution that had been the most important fair of its kind and one of Berlin’s major fashion attractions not so very long ago.

But the statement failed to cause panic in the German capital, as nothing else had been expected. Last winter, Bread & Butter entered administration after a series of unfortunate strategic decisions, losing the trust and interest of many exhibitors. As a consequence, the fair was called off in January, only to return to the halls of former Tempelhof airport for one last, low-key edition in July that attracted few exhibitors and buyers. A few weeks before, Berlin based Zalando, Germany’s most important online fashion retailer, had agreed to take over the fair. The new owners plan to announce a completely different concept once the bankruptcy proceedings conclude later this autumn. Apparently, they aim to reinvent Bread & Butter as a public fashion festival.

One year ago, such plans would have caused considerable worries in the industry – even though the best days of the trade fair were clearly over, Bread & Butter was still seen as an important part of Berlin fashion week given its huge international reputation. But now that it is finally gone, it does not seem to have left a void. Other trade fairs have had some time to prepare for Bread & Butter’s demise and came up with new concepts to cover the demand for denim and urbanwear platforms in the city and provide new platforms for Bread & Butter’s former exhibitors and visitors.

New denim and menswear concepts filled the void left by Bread & Butter’s demise

The most important step had already been taken during Bread & Butter’s sabbatical last January. Premium Exhibitions, the company behind the hugely successful Premium trade fair, decided to move Seek, Premium’s little sister fair focussing on sophisticated denim and progressive menswear labels, from the small Kühlhaus building to the huge halls of the Arena in the trendy Treptow district. The fair took the step up from cosy, carefully curated niche event to major trade fair, featuring almost 300 brands, successfully and became an instant hit with exhibitors and buyers. In July, Seek consolidated its new status as a serious menswear platform and grew visitor numbers by five per cent.

The position of Seek was reinforced by a new neighbour: Sportswear and board sports fair Bright moved in right next door, sharing a courtyard and many visitors with Seek. Together, both fairs presented almost 600 brands, covering a wide area of styles from denim via designer menswear to authentic skatewear. It was a perfect offering for buyers from progressive concept stores focussing on menswear.

Bright profited from the move, growing its floor space by twenty per cent and vistor numbers by a quarter. The fair, founded in Frankfurt ten years ago, had moved to Berlin in 2010 and used a couple of locations over the following seasons.

Premium Exhibitions bought Bright trade fair to “strengthen Berlin’s reputation as a fashion hub”

The new set-up was made permanent by a strategic move from Seek’s owner Premium Exhibitions. On the last day of the event, they announced the takeover over of Bright. “With the influential Premium on the one hand and Bright and Seek on the other, we are strengthening Berlin’s reputation as a fashion hub while taking the lead with a powerful, progressive menswear selection“, said Jörg Arntz, one of Premium Group’s managing directors. Both fairs will keep their established identities as Bright’s founders Marco Aslim and Thomas Martini will stay on as managing directors after the buyout. “Bright will remained unchanged in terms of perception and content. The event’s familiar atmosphere and authentic charm will remain intact. We will continue to focus on streetwear, skateboarding, board sports and sneakers“, Martini said.

Seek’s growth opened up new opportunities for more specialised smaller platforms. This summer saw the debut of Selvedge Run, a new fair for exclusive men’s denim and accessories brands focussing on heritage and craftsmanship. It started out with 50 exhibitors in Oberschöneweide’s Reinbeckhallen. Due to its remote location and selective portfolio, it was not exactly overrun by visitors but exhibitors were mostly happy as they managed to attract highly specialised buyers from all over Europe. “We met the right customers”, said Frank Jørgensen, Sales Manager of Norwegian denim brand Livid Jeans. His company made good use of the new opportunities in Berlin: they showed their full collection at Seek and their highly exclusive “Made in Norway” line at Selvedge Run. Other brands such as Nudie Jeans took the same approach – presenting their popular lines at Seek and more exclusive products at Selvedge Run. The organisers of new fair already announced that they plan to build on the successful debut: For the upcoming edition, Selvedge Run is moving to the larger, more centrally located Kulturbrauerei in the popular Prenzlauer Berg district.

Premium, Panorama and Show & Order saw another successful season

While the most interesting developments in Berlin happened in the denim and menswear segments, the other established fashion fairs continued to go from strength to strength. Premium, presenting about 1.000 brands and 1.800 new collections, saw visitor numbers rising by five per cent. Once again, the event demonstrated its international attraction as almost seventy per cent of the guests came from outside of Germany. Panorama, the rapidly growing platform for mid-market, high-volume brands, added a few thousand square meters to its already huge spaces due to high demand, and Show & Order, presenting almost 300 brands, reported “excellent results” and “enormous order volumes”.

With its strong core of successful fashion fairs and new concepts in the denim and menswear segment adding to the city’s international drawing power, there seem to be no reasons to worry about Berlin’s future after the end of Bread & Butter as a B2B platform. It will be interesting to see details of Zalando’s concept for their new event at Tempelhof – which may retain the Bread & Butter brand name. If they go ahead with the idea of a large public fashion festival – and have some kind of success - it may pose a few fundamental questions about the traditional set-up of fashion fairs.

Pictures: Fashionunited (2), Premium Exhibitions

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