“I want Berlin to be a strong fashion location.”
An old hand in the German fashion scene for a long time: since 2006 Marcel Ostertag has been convincing with his urban-elegant – and from the beginning sustainable – collections for women and men. Initially from Munich, he moved to Berlin three years ago. Who better to chat to about Germany as a fashion location and its development? A conversation about the challenges of young labels, the need to promote young talent and, of course, green fashion.
Mr. Ostertag, you founded your own fashion label in 2006, when you just left university. From today’s point of view, would you describe the step into founding a company as naive?
In the last 26 seasons we have developed into an established fashion brand. Whether this would have been easier if I had only gained experience in another company, I can hardly say retroactively. What I know for sure: I always had a clear idea of my own collection. But 13 years ago nobody understood my idea of fair production and a high fashion collection “Made in Germany”. It was important for me to think green before it became sexy and the term sustainable inflationary took hold.
The Fashion Council Germany is also increasingly committed to sustainability.
Fortunately, the topic of sustainability is becoming more and more important in fashion! I don’t want to convert or teach anyone, but the consumption of fast fashion is simply pointless and lacks any appreciation for the product, the tailors, the design – and also for itself.
Building a sustainable fashion brand: How does this actually succeed?
In order to build a sustainable and transparent brand, it was very important for us to find a producer who shared our high standards. In our fabrics and materials, we attach great importance to the highest quality and origin and do not use leather or fur. The greatest challenge in this area is always to calculate this demanding production chain into a marketable price.
What challenges did you face at the time of your foundation, from a creative point of view but also from an entrepreneurial perspective?
The fashion market is very fast-moving and completely saturated, today even more so than 13 years ago. This, of course, means that you have to bring in many times more energy and passion. There were many moments when I questioned the “own brand” project. But on a creative level I had so many ideas. Implementing them was always more important to me than just looking at the effort behind it.
At the beginning of your career, you won several young talent awards. How decisive was that for the continued success of your career?
These awards opened some doors for me both medially and financially. I also always enjoyed participating in these competitions and can only recommend this to any designer.
Do you think enough is being done in Germany for the next generation of fashion designers?
Unfortunately not. In Great Britain, for example, the promotion of young talent is much more established. I studied in London at St. Martins College and at the time I had quite different opportunities for development and promotion. Germany has a lot of catching up to do in this area – starting with the self-image and perception of its own great designers. In Germany, people like to orientate themselves internationally instead of building up and promoting nationally. I would like Berlin to be a strong fashion location.
You are also a member of the Fashion Council Germany…
… Exactly for the above-mentioned reason: to strengthen the German fashion industry institutionally and to get more into conversation. For me, the FCG’s greatest achievement to date has been to promote exchange among designers and to represent them. It’s also good for the industry to have an institution that is committed to ensuring that fashion is recognised as a serious economic sector.
What else is important for success in the fashion industry?
For long-term success, it’s important to determine your brand DNA and constantly develop it further. Through various projects I have been able to further sharpen the identity of the Marcel Ostertag brand. These were great experiences for me personally and fulfilled my dream of presenting at New York Fashion Week, for example.
At Berlin Fashion Week you were a permanent fixture right from the start. But what kind of wind is blowing in New York?
People in New York celebrate Fashion Week as a big event and show their enthusiasm for fashion in a positive and supportive way, which is something I miss in Berlin. In New York, my show was also visited by many international press and media representatives and buyers.
In Berlin I increasingly miss the specialist public, but I still stick to the local fashion week and hope to contribute to the promotion of Berlin as a location with my continuity.
Until 2016, your label location was Munich. Then you moved your headquarters to Berlin.
I love Berlin and simply had the most appointments here professionally. That’s why the decision was made so quickly. Our production facilities in Brandenburg and Thuringia can thus be reached even faster, which is optimal. In addition, this city inspires me insanely and gives me the feeling of having arrived.
Was it an advantage for Marcel Ostertag to work from Munich during the last decade and – and not from Berlin?
Munich was a very interesting location and will always remain a piece of home for me. After my studies Munich gave me a certain security as well as closeness to existing contacts, partners and my family, which supported me in founding my company. In addition, I was able to win my first long-term customers there, with some of whom I also cultivate a personal friendship. From Munich, my team and I have coordinated many exciting projects over the past few years, enabling Marcel Ostertag to establish himself as a brand.
However, thanks to our international presence, I can say that my customers are at home all over the world. The Berlin store has also brought me amazing new Berlin customers.
You were a professional ballet dancer before your fashion career. Do you miss dancing in time?
I still really love to dance, albeit in a different setting. I’m always looking forward to going to the ballet and to putting aesthetics into my designs. For my current autumn-winter collection 2019/20 – “Heroes” – I was inspired by the heroes of my youth, such as the ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. Ballet also taught me something important: discipline. Without it, fashion doesn’t work either.