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Carl Tillessen of Firma
Freitag, Nov. 26, 2010, 16:54 / Germany
Fashion labels from Berlin often have a lifespan of only a few seasons. With Firma, Carl Tillessen (43) and Daniela Biesenbach (41) demonstrate the opposite. They founded their menswear label in 1997, and have produced a womenswear collection since 2006. Today, the designers’ razor-sharp cuts are in the first league; their fashion is sold beside Acne Jeans, Rick Owens, Helmut Lang and Neil Barrett in top boutiques around the world. We met Firma founder Carl Tillessen in his Berlin flagship store and talked about the typical Firma style, the colour black and how they managed to survive the hype.
TribaSpace: Did somebody actually compare Firma with Armani?
Carl Tillessen: We were mentioned in the same breath with Helmut Lang and Jil Sander. But Armani? He is a designer we hold in high esteem, especially because he has improved clothing and carried it to the extreme.
But this you also do?
CT: As for the passion for tailoring, there’s certainly a parallel. Forming and modelling the body, this demand has been followed by Armani – and us also. We want to bring out the body and accent it in an advantageous way.
What role does the colour black play in your design?
Black is not our only colour, but it is very dominant. The more you reduce in the term of colour, the more you are showing the advantage of silhouettes and material contrasts. Thereby the design appears especially clear. This is very important for us.
Why do you place such importance on manufacturing?
This has especially to do with the fact that we both are coming from men’s fashion. Stability and longevity are very important in menswear. Besides our design education, we both have passed a solid artisan education, and we are both master tailors. Previously Daniela has even manufactured the suits of Helmut Kohl.
Honestly? That must have definitely not been easy.
That’s true. Because once a year he did these brutal diets, in which the yo-yo effect was inevitable. When the fittings were between two diets, you can imagine that this was not easy. But without this experience maybe we wouldn’t have the same demand.
Are your women’s collection based on the men’s pattern?
Originally yes. Our women’s collection was based upon the men’s line, then it took took its own direction. Today our women’s collection is neither androgynous, nor masculine. But it is also not a playful look.
It seems like business-style fashion for tough women. Is it?
A compliment that always pleases us is when women buy Firma and say “Alongside Firma my other clothes looks like fashion rags.” It’s as a narcotic effect was activated – if they realise the pleasure of one Firma piece they always want to feel like this.
Firma is one of the few Berlin brands existing for a very long time. What do you think is the reason?
The artisan aspect is quite an important factor in our longevity. I believe this also has something do to with authenticity. We never tried to do something “Italian” or “French” as a Berlin label – our fashion is for Berlin. And this also works very well in the press.
Was there much hype in the past?
Yes, at the very beginning of summer in 2000 there was really a bang. After this there was an economic slump – and from then on it was uncomfortable. If you want to survive you need a long breath. But for us, we regard such periods as stimulation for our creative work. Then we really accelerate.
True to the motto “Now, more than ever?”
If you want building a brand, this also has something to do with dourness. G-Star, for example, one of the biggest success stories ever in fashion: In all those years they only showed one colour: dark grey, and their campaigns always looked similar. But their success proves them right. Although the fashion business has a reputation for being erratic, you need an unbelievable dourness to partition yourself from all uncertainty.
The classic G-Star model is the Elwood jeans. Does Firma also have a classic piece?
Yes, it’s an appointed coat in the menswear collection: a big, heavy one made from military fabric. A key piece in our women’s collection is the ‘little black dress’. Our skinny trousers are also very typical. We are not so much for ‘the big red dress’ or ‘the big pink dress’. That’s also the reason why our womenswear is not going so well in Japan, where womenswear tends to be cute, innocent and a little bit helpless.
What is your strongest market?
Our fashion works very well in Italy and the United States, and especially well in Germany, closely followed by Switzerland and the Netherlands. At the moment Europe becomes more and more important – because of the crisis. What we lost in overseas markets were were able to balance it in the European countries. Much also has to do with buying power. For that reason, the Swiss market is easy for us. But it’s also fun to sell into the United States.
And who are your favourite retailers?
There are a few shops I really like – Spmrkt in Amsterdam, and Maendler in Munich. I particularly like the former Helmut Lang shop, which belongs also to Maendler now.
Tel: +49 30 29492576
Wolfgang Altmann | TribaSpace
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