“I don’t like it when it’s obvious,” Lutz Huelle tells me about his designs ahead of his first fashion show in Germany last Friday night. Earlier that day, Huelle met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, before presenting a selection of his favourite looks from the last two seasons in the hallowed halls of Berlin techno Mecca, Berghain, for BFW. The glaring juxtaposition of these two events proves that Huelle is nothing if not unpredictable. And, as the first model stepped out into the cavernous space — incandescent under the glow of splendid chandeliers — to a virtuoso string composition by Vivaldi, it was clear that nothing about this spectacle would be obvious or expected.
The normally Paris-based designer explains that he wants clothes to “pose questions” — he does not want to be able to sum up a person’s character just by glancing at what they are wearing. “What I really like is when you can’t dig up anything about who that woman is”. This sense of complexity is palpable in Huelle’s ensembles. There is an intellectual density and rigour to his designs that somehow translates into an effort to capture the multiplicity of female identity. “Fashion gives you the chance to decide if you are this person, or that person, or someone else entirely, or a mixture of all three,” explains Huelle. “It’s such freedom if you think about it, because if you’re born into a specific social construct, or find yourself in a certain situation, but you’re not that kind of person at all, you can show that by choosing not to dress like that.”
Somehow, this pronouncement of freedom is befitting of the show’s setting, even if the gleaming crystal chandeliers and a crowd consisting of the polished Berlin glitterati is not (elegant summer trouser suits and bright block colours replaced the regular all-black dress code ordinarily punctuated with PVC and mesh). With the ferocious 18th-century opening number seamlessly segueing into the jumpy euphoria of trance classic, The Age of Love, Huelle’s transformation of the hedonistic, anything-goes techno paradise into an epic Baroque banquet hall, didn’t feel so incongruous after all. The marriage of Huelle’s thoughtful brand of glamour and the notorious clubbing hotspot, was perhaps aided by Huelle’s own connection to the legendary venue, “I’ve had so many wonderful times in Berghain so it’s really unreal to be presenting my clothes here,” the designer cooed before the show.
As for the clothes themselves? These might have been “greatest hits” from recent seasons but Huelle’s ensembles assumed a new drama and significance in a space so at odds with their almost old-fashioned pomp. Ostentatious tulip sleeves and ballroom puffball skirts had the plump expanse of 1950s Dior or Balenciaga, while shimmering jacquard and dangling diamanté earrings augmented this aura of grandeur. That is not to say that this presentation was rooted in dusty couture affectations, however; on the contrary, Huelle’s commitment to designing clothes for “reality” — as he puts it — undeniably shone through.
The reality of Huelle’s garments is present in the mix-match of fabrics and genres. Oversized denim sits easily with futuristic foil padding and feminine lace; skinny trousers complement scintillating pleated tunics; a grey hoodie pokes out from a pinstriped suit, or a navy blue bomber is finished with a soft, feathery hem in an perfect collision of reality and fantasy. Despite their gorgeous splendour, Huelle insists that “these clothes need to be worn by people in real life situations because otherwise I have failed my job”.
Huelle, who cut his teeth in the industry at Margiela — because he “understood what Margiela was doing” and shared a similar thought process to the cult Belgian designer — does not want “rules” to dictate “what is high fashion and what is low fashion”. He celebrates the current fondness for streetwear on the runway because “why would we constrain ourselves to certain things? Why would we make differences between certain kinds of clothes?” He finds such hierarchies “old and boring”, preferring instead to put everything he likes together and “to see what happens”.
The final look was the epitome of Huelle’s desire to combine styles and elements with an open mind. A gold jacquard puffball was paired with elbow length leather gloves and a perfectly Instagram-able, oversized tee emblazoned with the words: “There’s no one like you”. Despite the ensemble’s theatricality, it somehow felt like a contemporary interpretation of femininity, one that is smart, romantic, cool and powerful all at once. According to Huelle, it’s not that he has a particular woman in mind when he designs, but it’s more about “a very open way to see clothes”. “I think the women who wear my clothes can feel that — it’s never a certain age, or a certain body shape, or a certain kind of profession, it’s just a certain kind of spirit”.
We sent Devon Kaylor to snap backstage. Take a peek here: