Reflections on Pomp and Circumstance at a Berlin Festival

Reflections on Pomp and Circumstance at a Berlin Festival

A writer travels to Berlin's Bread & Butter Festival and contemplates authenticity in fashion and festivals.

A writer travels to Berlin's Bread & Butter Festival and contemplates authenticity in fashion and festivals.

Text: Dimitri Cacouris

The unvarnished warehouse on the grey banks of the Spree is the likely/unlikely setting (unlikely for pomp; likely for Berlin) where the hautest of the haute have flocked like flamingoes, to strut and share their branded point-of-view. There is the juvenile, in the ball bit of BikBok and a motley teepee set up by Love Daily; the jovial, in the "Wroller Disco” set up by Wrangler, complete with attendants in roller skates and colorful projections merging the most psychedelic and western elements since El Topo; the sardonic, in the YourTurn stall with its Cash for Gold signs and fake celebrity endorsements; the immersive, in Napajuri’s four seasons encampment, prismatically split into four season-themed sections with corresponding cocktails and Vivaldi-inspired tracks, the air scented and a lush video display before which visitors could be photographed.

I’ve arrived unfashionably early, in time to see the bed-head setting up, while I bide my time for the first of an interesting lineup of talks: among others, Wyclef Jean is scheduled to speak about his new album, The Carnaval, Vol. 1: The Fall & Rise of a Refugee; Nike is organizing a panel around its “Force is Female” campaign; and Adwoa Aboah will discuss her Gurls Talk platform for women. And Dame Vivienne Westwood, in addition to giving a talk about literature and art, has an exhibition of archived works to represent the designer’s political activism and philanthropic efforts. Among the multitude of spectacular things to see and do, it is for me the anticipated highlight, with mannequins arrayed in Dame Westwood’s extravagant designs with political slogans and paper crowns, like players on an invisible stage, or befeathered and bedecked with stylistic explosions of their patterns. An array of patchwork bags is strewn over the top of an enormous old boiler or tank; a nearby placard explains that they are the products of a collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative and produced in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, to “promote the growth of sustainable business”.

This activist bent appears to backbone the festival’s themes, running through the subjects of panel discussions, the published PR materials, and in the slogans, such as those most notably plastered across the Missguided booth. At the same time, such altruistic preoccupations seem an unbridgeable contrast, as black and white as the festival’s logo, to the myopic materialism going on just without—indeed, the exit from the dazzling Westwood exhibition ejects me through a side door directly into a stream of oblivious passerby. But I begin to wonder if these are not two sides of the same industrial-sized coin.

On the one hand, these events resemble nothing so much as a carnival or school fête, with plenty of diversions and activities for adults, but perhaps behind the pasteboard façade there is an unironic engagement participants are having with brands. Many of the stands at B&&B offered the customization of an article of clothing—t-shirts or raincoats stencilled, or shoes decorated with colored eyeholes, laces, and paint—and I was struck by the question of whether the customisation and other activities were pure gimmick, or whether they might in fact be the palpable representation of the current customer-producer paradigm. That is, perhaps this, too, is fashion.

That might not be anything novel—people have long played a role in creation, whether subverting intended uses for garments, appropriating manufactured objects to wear, like safety pins for jewellery, or simply predating the existence of designers as such. But a company embracing its consumers in such a way as to actually have them do what would normally be done by employees—putting the finishing touches on items, taking the photos and writing the slogans used in ads—this represents something worth its own categorization.

(Perhaps the superficial decoration provides a metaphor for the nature of consumption today: we sip not like butterflies but mosquitoes, injecting a little of our own essence in order to absorb the products on offer, tasting, testing its responsiveness, its approachability, digestability, if its ethos is compatible with our own, or more poisonous than it’s worth. Will it drink from me more than I from it? is it an oasis or a pitcher plant? Maybe this is how we feel it out now, by taking advantage of special overtures, listening to ideological ruminations, and applauding philanthropic ventures with a voracious eye.)

If "fashion" means both the prescriptive creation of what is essentially high art in the form of clothing, as well as the descriptive observation of trends in what people are actually wearing, then this kind of involved participation seems be colonizing a third space in between and belonging to both. And if we consider the way in which ideological concepts can play a part in artistic conceptualization—though this certainly need not always be the case—the role of popular influence is redoubled. Granted, this is not high fashion we are talking about, and its "popular influence" is in fact only represented by a slim subsection of the populace; it may nevertheless be indicative of currents which will reshape not only our map but our world. Which if Dame Westwood has her way, may be one with our hearts on our literal sleeves.

Credits: IMAGE COURTESY OF GETTY

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