berlin-based label gmbh talk politically conscious fashion and being nominated for the lvmh prize
As their new campaign film drops, i-D Germany caught up with the collective to talk about why they love the city's party scene, but have a silent studio.
It's tempting to start an article about the Berlin-based fashion collective GmbH as an ode to the city's nightlife. Its members met each other on the dance floor. If you read anything on the internet about GmbH, it will inevitably include the words techno and clubbing. The party scene in Berlin fascinates people, and for good reason, as anyone living in the city knows. "There's an easy association between us and Berlin and it kind of makes sense when you think in headlines. When it comes to us and our relationship with the city, some of the things that have been said are a bit cringey," the collective explained when we stopped by their studio in Kreuzberg. "But we are also aware that we as a fashion brand must not become exploitative of the scene we love. We are a politically conscious group of people and this is something we take quite seriously."
GmbH was founded by Serhat Isik and long-time i-D contributor and photographer Benjamin Alexander Huseby nearly a year ago. Their shared love of good design, combined with Berlin's techno clubbing scene, and their urge to make something different, brought them -- and a diverse mix of other creatives — together, resulting in the first ever GmbH collection. A year on and they were nominated for the prestigious LVMH Price. We caught up with GmbH to talk about their current view of Berlin's clubbing scene, fashion's political consciousness and what family means to them. Plus, they gave us a look at their new campaign film below.
From launching your label to the LMVH prize shortlist, did you ever imagine things would happen so fast?
We didn't have a clear plan of how exactly the project would unfold. We just started because we wanted to do it. Everything happened very quickly. The idea was fast, the execution was fast, and the response was immediate. We knew that we wanted to build something representative of Berlin, but work internationally. We wanted to have the perfect space and a place where we could be creative. We knew we wanted to create jobs and build a business.
Why was fashion the best way to do that?
Because fashion is our field of expertise. That is what we know. We have never done anything else.
Do you think that GmbH could exist anywhere other than Berlin?
We couldn't have started it anywhere else. Berlin and who we are is inseparable, in a way our attitude is so much inspired by living here. Also practically, if we were in another city it would be far too expensive to try something out and see how it works. If we had done it in Paris or London, we couldn't have started it with basically no money... but we are very Berlin.
But when we first spoke you said you don't want to be associated with Berlin directly?
No, that's not what we said. We are protective of what we are, and said 'no' to being grouped with other designers purely based on locality, because we don't think that is the right framework for us. But we are very much of Berlin.
That makes a lot of sense. The outside perspective people have about Berlin is often that everybody here is just partying all the time.
Yes, do they think because we are from Berlin we're just having fun all day and listening to hard techno 24/7? Is that the association that people maybe have? It's not like that at all. Everyone at GmbH works really, really hard. Yeah, it's also fun and we draw inspiration from the things we occasionally do, like every other person, but it is not our studio framework.
Do you play on the idea of the Berlin party scene?
A lot of press on GmbH focuses on the techno clubbing scene, because it is such an easy association with Berlin and it kind of makes sense when you think in headlines. When it comes to us and our relationship with the city, some of the things that have been said are a bit cringey. We don't want to be exploitive of the scene. We all have a background of going out, partying, dancing and music -- it's our backbone. And it is very important because it's how we all met each other. Most of us met on the dance floor, so it's really essential to what we are about. But we are also aware that we as a fashion brand must not become exploitative of the scene we love. We are a politically conscious group of people and this is something we take quite seriously.
How does your political consciousness translate into your work?
Politics defines us and Berlin. It is so much part of the city's history, you see it in the architecture, attitude, in everything… That affects who we are and how we work. We are trying to create awareness, trying to make changes, reflect on the current situation around us and be a positive force. We are raising questions, that are for us easier to translate into fashion or photography. We cast a lot of Middle Eastern and Arab guys, who are not really represented in visual culture. Issues related to brown identity, our own muslim heritage and growing up as guys of colour in Europe are really close to our heart. It is such a hot topic, but there is so little visibility of people like ourselves in fashion. Just look at any advertising in Germany, it is like brown people don't exist. It is often a white, blonde family. Once we worked on a fashion shoot together and we street cast guys around Kottbusser Tor. A lot of the guys did not get why we wanted to shoot them. They think of themselves as second class citizens, and in many ways they are. They don't feel a sense of belonging.
Clearly family is important to how GmbH operates...
We moved away from our hometowns and our families at a very young age. Eventually we found families in another community here in Berlin -- the gay community or whatever you want to call it. That's also why we believe the project is so strong. Everyone involved feels so genuine about it. It's the baby of the family. It sounds a bit cheesy but that's kind of how it is. We call it a family. It's an energy created by collaboration.
Your latest collection is based on a track by Blake Baxter called When A Thought Becomes U. Is there a special GmbH soundtrack?
No, we don't have a GmbH soundtrack. In the studio it is mostly silent concentration. But the songs we pick for our collections are always from our memories. And it's definitely for very emotional reasons.
If you could dream up a future for GmbH, what would that be?
Everyone is happy and gets paid and we are doing what we are doing. That is the ideal situation. We have a lovely studio, maybe a little garden, a terrace and we are just feeling good. You see, not everything we do is about being cool.
Text Alexandra Bondi de Antoni