germany: the knit without boundaries

above: Claudia Skoda metallic knit

Knits are a large component of the German fashion scene and have been for 25 years. A major innovator, Claudia Skoda, originally worked out of a loft in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Her studio, Fabrikneu or brand new, was shared by artists and friends, and her first runway presentation, 1977, featured a catwalk of photos made by Martin Kippenberger. Cohort of Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Skoda first captured the imagination of the punk art scene.
In an interview with ecomodista, Skoda discussed how her work evolved, experimenting with  any and all materials and techniques, especially technical innovations for machine knits. A member of the early punk pack that included David Bowie, Skoda experimented with knitwear.  She moved to America in the early 1980’s, she opened a boutique in SoHo, although production remained in Berlin. The dramatic political events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, compelled Skoda returned as Soviet domination and the DDR imploded. Subsequent unification of East and West Germany and the designation of Berlin as a unified Germany’s capitol once again, symbolized the the new Reichstag’s transparent dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, compelled numerous Germans to repatriate. These, the wealthy, and artists who were suddenly drawn to Berlin, patronized Skoda’s chic boutique on Ku’damm designed by Australian Marc Newson. 

An expanding German economy and a commitment to revitalizing the moribund former East Berlin, but which ecomodista found appealingly uncommercial, encouraged businesses to move to these neighborhoods. Skoda opened a boutique at Alte Schönhauser Straße 35 in Berlin’s Bezirk Mitte, near Alexanderplatz, once the heart of the DDR, now the neighborhood is filled with hip hotels like motel one, various designer’s boutiques and innumerable cafes where students and artists hang out. Vivienne Westwood, who spends a great deal of time in Berlin, Comme des Garçons and other designers also occupy this neighborhood.

Considered an essential accessory by numerous students, Skoda’s now classic slouchy beret even adorns Cate Blanchett and Milla Jovovich. The first knitwear designer to conceive of producing men’s trousers, Skoda’s concept captured the patronage of men who covet comfort. Using featherweight yarns, and an array of pale colors, these trousers are a perennial favorite.
In an interview with ecomodista, Skoda discusses her career, “I am interested in combining fabric with knit. I don’t remember how I learned, but I’m essentially self taught, learning by doing.” She muses, “Perhaps my occupation came out from a need to have some special clothes, one had so few choices then, unlike today, so i just knit. My grandfather and father were tailors, my grandfather had a business, bespoke suits--maybe it’s in the genes.” 
Sustainability is a serious issue in Germany, and the government supports major projects towards this goal. A major effort is underway to be independent of foreign oil and gas, and already almost one fifth of Germany’s energy is renewable. Wind turbines stalk the North Sea coastline, and surround major cities such as Hamburg and Lubeck and Germans are staunchly anti-nuclear, at least the populace, of course the industry is attempting to direct the political future of nuclear energy in that country. Resolutely chopping wood from renewed forests for energy efficient stoves, many families rely on layers of hand knits to stay warm. 

below: Marie Louise Vogt experiments with various sustainable techniques, from knitting with recycled textiles to this cape, a perfect concept for left over colors, although in this case, the design and colors were preconceived.

Minimalism, sustainable in and of itself, manifests this style in hotels, think The Pure in Frankfurt, 25 Hours in Hamburg, and the Motel Ones where the lobby’s dual function bar/cafe and reception, offers companionship or an internet hot spot. 


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