Nestled away on Grosse Hamburger Strasse 25, in the heart of East Berlin, lies the chic atelier of one of Germany’s most promising young designers, William Fan. The studio sits in a typical “hinterhof,” or backyard, beside a vintage store and across from an American-style diner, the perfect bricolage of modern, fashionable Berlin. Across the courtyard is a must-see treasure trove of tailored, conceptual garments.
From eye-catching signature pieces, such as the striking fortune cookie-shaped leather bags or deconstructed stripe shirts, these pieces mark Fan out from the typical Berlin designer. And despite his small size, his label is surely taking a slice of what is Europe’s biggest fashion market now better know for e-commerce giant Zalando — with a market cap of 28.4 billion — than emerging designers.
Still, in 2019, consumers in Germany spent €76 billion on clothing and footwear, just behind the UK, however the market is notoriously difficult to crack. This makes the in-store social media blackout at Grosse Hamburger Strasse even more intriguing: in an age of Instagrammable fashion, Fan keeps his interior world under wraps. This only adds to the appeal and his trademark “slow fashion” approach has won much praise from Germany's fashion powerhouses, rendering him indispensable to the event despite only six years in operation.
“He’s essential to Berlin Fashion Week and is extraordinarily important for us,” Scott Lipinski, CEO of the Fashion Council Germany told Jing Daily. “He’s always stood out with exceptional concepts, not only in his collections, but also in the way he presents fashion too. He always uses the stage in a new, modern way.” This inventiveness has seen him show at a Chinese restaurant, a Karaoke bar, Berlin’s landmark TV Tower, and a recreation of “Chinatown” in Berlin.
According to Lipinski, while the Chinese community in Berlin is small, Fan has a community of close-knit Chinese partners and friends all over the country as well as a strong link to the mainland where he produces and manufactures. However, given the ongoing pandemic, the latest collection has deliberately focused on the universal and the local: it dispensed with a named season but highlighted his “neighborhood” — from parks and homes to people and biographies.
The result is a timeless, ethereal fashion collection with a dedication to craftsmanship. The physical show was a gem of the Berlin Fashion Week’s hybrid schedule which ran over six days. Voluminous cuts went down the runway in extravagant fabrications of brocade, virgin wool, seersucker; a psychedelic print appeared amid ruffles, and hand-embroidered crystals. Accessories, a staple, were no less impressive, adding final, dramatic accents.
Jing Daily caught up with the low-key designer with a highbrow vision and asked if he's ready to eye the China market?
“My Chinese heritage is quite evident and important to the brand. My parents are from Hong Kong and I grew up with two cultures, but I was born and raised in Germany. When I started the business I always wanted to do something very personal and what feels very natural to me. I think my heritage and the cultures I grew up with are very important, so it's always a mix between Chinese and Asian elements, and the German and European elements, so that’s how my character is built up with these certain values.”
Well, this season I couldn’t travel at all and the collection is called “neighbor.” So everything we did was in the neighborhood. Like most of the casting was round the corner, we found them on the street. I started with this concept, so we listened to many stories and biographies and that’s how we built it up, that was the flow, they were the people from our hood. But this was also mixed in with nature references and escapism.
Business is going well actually. I love to have my team around me, to build up visual highlights and work from the studio. My team grew, and I had time for myself. So even though it was terrible around the world, I can’t complain. I have always worked sustainability anyway; I don’t travel too much. I traveled once to check on production and our suppliers in China. My business is very local, we mostly sell in Germany, though we have international consumers. We have great consumer loyalty. This period was good to me, I have to be honest.
I would love to sell in China! I think the new generation have different values, ideals, and ideas. There is a lot of energy, and they love to play with fashion, style and identity. I’ve had a lot of conversations so far and people are checking out the brand. But I want to take it slowly. I enjoy slow growth, which is healthier for me.