inside the 24-hour fashion festival taking over an abandoned berlin car park
Curated by Reference Studios and 032c, the open-to-all festival included ambitious immersive artworks by labels like Martine Rose, Alyx and Comme des Garçons.
Photography Sebastian Reuter/Getty Images
From the outside, the abandoned car park on Donaustrasse in Berlin’s Neukölln district is unassuming: a few splashes of graffiti, an empty shop window and fading grey tiles. If you were walking up the entry ramp this Saturday, however, you would have found yourself greeted by a much unlikelier sight -- an army of models standing stock-still in a space filled with fog, decked out in streetwear.
Further in, there’s an experimental film by Berlin-based photographer Matt Lambert visualising various scents from Comme des Garçons’ latest fragrance collection. Approaching the top floor, there’s a four-piece band of steampunk robots jangling away at their instruments, commissioned by Berlin magazine 032c. Then, moving into the main exhibition space, there are dozens of interactive installations from white-hot designers like Martine Rose and Alyx and the cult Korean eyewear label Gentle Monster.
It’s the product of over a year of planning by the Berlin-based communications agency Reference Studios, who represent many of the designers on the roster: their aim was to stage an event that was very firmly not about shifting product, but instead giving their collaborators free rein to make whatever excited them. The results ended up having very little to do with fashion at all.
“The idea was to create a think-tank like platform where people come together to exchange ideas, explore newness and celebrate creativity,” explains Mumi Haiati, Reference Studios’ CEO and founder. “From a brand’s perspective we are the perfect platform to introduce special projects, and we want to fill that empty space. These days, telling a story has become just as, if not more, important than the clothes themselves.”
Alongside the various contributors who provided installations for the event -- ranging from the fashion industry’s go-to music maverick, Michel Gaubert, to artist and Balenciaga collaborator Mark Jenkins -- there were a series of talks and panels exploring the central topic of the day of “working out loud”, with its intentions of celebrating the work-in-progress or the artwork that feel's a little unfinished and unrealised.
A notable highlight came with a conversation between make-up artist and avant-garde beauty guru Isamaya Ffrench, and the self-described “transhuman” artist duo, Fecal Matter. The latter pair explained that it was a welcome opportunity to be able to interact with like-minded creatives from across the world in the flesh, living as they do in the sometimes creatively isolating city of Montréal. If you were simply scrolling through their Instagram feed, you could be forgiven for imagining the pair as intimidating or somewhat cooler-than-thou: in person, even with all their extraterrestrial stylings, they came across as simply two young, smart and ambitious designers.
That was very much the charm of the event: during interactive events like Alyx’s Japanese ikebana flower arranging workshop, you could find yourself chatting to anybody, from the latest trendy influencer to a family who live around the corner and fancied stopping by. With many of the labels on show popular among Grailed acolytes, the digital-native hypebeast community came out in full force to interact IRL, rather than just haunting online forums or sharing their fits on Insta. But instead of forming queues around the block just to pick up the latest drop, there was nothing for sale here: instead they were drinking on the car park rooftop and dancing to the rotating line-up of DJs that continued until the early hours of Sunday morning.
It was also, in many ways, a tribute to the city that Mumi calls home. “I think there is a strong creative energy in Berlin generally, mainly in art and music. Fashion-wise there are just a few really interesting brands and designers: it’s becoming Europe’s new creative hub.”
The event might have been 14 months in the making, but there’s plenty more to come, with another festival planned for next year and a satellite event in Los Angeles. Even as it continues to evolve, however, by maintaining its policy of being free of charge and open to all, it will always exist as an apt reflection of the open-minded, permissive values that are at the heart and the soul of Berlin. “We celebrate inclusivity,” adds Mumi. “It's necessary in order to contribute to the city's cultural offering, add value and evolve; which I believe we managed with our debut already. I'm excited for the future.”