In 2001, Karl-Heinz Müller and two friends – “three guys in sneakers” – dreamt up the name Bread & Butter while eating exactly that: nothing but the essentials became his mantra. As a cool, selective “offshow” and an alternative to boring fashion trade fairs, Bread & Butter first took root in an abandoned industrial building in Cologne. Two years later, Müller and his colleagues left “provincial” Rhineland for the Siemens Kabelwerk in Spandau, their trademark pimped-up B&B Jaguar in tow.
The biannual show quickly became the most popular urban wear event in Europe; in 2005, it moved to the sunnier, more spacious climes of Barcelona. But this January, Müller stunned Berlin and the fashion world by announcing that Bread & Butter’s summer show would take place in the iconic 1930s buildings of the recently defunct Tempelhof Airport – and that it will remain there for at least the next decade. About 100,000 visitors are expected to flood in on the first three days of July this year: it’s the biggest fashion event on Earth.
Exberliner: After four successful years in Barcelona, you’re back in Berlin. Why leave in the first place?
Karl-Heinz Müller: We always thought Berlin was the place. We were extremely successful here, but then the halls of the Siemens Kabelwerk became too small. We had to rent the neighbouring Pirelli building, but the contract was never secure, so we were forced to move. Back then there was nowhere available. The Berlin trade fair grounds weren’t what we were looking for: we always used old industrial buildings. Going to a conventional trade fair ground would have gone against the creative ideas of our brands. So we went to the old Montjuic grounds in Barcelona, which have wonderful historical buildings, instead.
Exberliner: Then the closure of Tempelhof Airport changed everything. How did the move come about?
Müller: A couple of years ago we became aware that Tempelhof would be closed down at some point and we wanted to look into it even though we were really successful in Barcelona and liked it there. But brands and exhibitors kept saying: “When are you returning to Berlin? Your office is there.” Which was true: when, in 2005, we casually said “we’re going to Barcelona”, we already had 50 or 60 people working in Berlin. We felt that people didn’t really want to live in Barcelona, so we’d fly them down. Then last year, I started to follow the reports in the newspapers more closely: what was happening with BBI [Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport], the referendum on Tempelhof. And when the last plane took off on October 31, we started to talk about it seriously … On January 28, we announced officially that we were moving to Tempelhof. We’re really happy that we’re here. It’s been very well received: we’re virtually booked out, in all the hangars.
Exberliner: When the announcement was made, it caused a huge scandal: many complained that it was a waste of the space because you would only be using it for a total of one month each year …
Müller: I assumed there would be resistance to the idea. Of course, I discussed the topic in advance with some people, including Klaus Wowereit. He’s known us for a long time and followed our development. He understands the
significance of fashion and he sees that for Berlin it is a big and important thing. And the city has engaged itself: it started Fashion Week. And Bread & Butter has a much larger pull than a Fashion Week or the Premium exhibition. It’s just much bigger.
Exberliner: It’s the biggest fashion event in …
Müller: … the biggest worldwide – at least in our field.
Exberliner: So what does that mean for a city like Berlin?
Müller: Barcelona did a study: each event brought €100 million to the city. Two events per year, €200 million a year. That’s a pretty large number, at any rate. I talked to politicians of every shade and explained it to them. I don’t think they really knew what potential was behind it. None of the politicians had anything against us: they just moaned about it a bit. Some of them would like to have been involved in the decision.
Exberliner: There were alternative plans for Tempelhof – for the UFA film studios to use it, for example …
Müller: Of course, there were other ideas for Tempelhof. The Babelsberg film people wanted to rent space there. It wasn’t quite clear what they wanted to do. But I think Tempelhof will play an important role – not just with us, but in general. I think a lot more will happen in Berlin in the field of fashion and creative industries.
Exberliner: So it will have a positive effect on the entire fashion scene?
Müller: I can imagine that, if something so important takes place here, some company headquarters of the big brands that are still in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt or Munich could move here. Berlin still has enormous potential for development. It’s also important to say: next month, I’m giving a lecture about urban wear. What is urban wear? The biggest sales in the clothing industry right now are in urban wear. The products people wear in the city. Basically what you and I wear every day. It’s logical that it’s the biggest industry, because if you look in a women’s wardrobe, how many designer labels will you really find?
Exberliner: So Berlin will become the capital of urban wear, the way Paris or Milan are centres for couture design?
Müller: Look at Mr Joop. He’s a great fashion creator who produces wonderful things with his Wunderkind label. I would say that’s the best that’s here – although of course there are a lot of younger designers, too. But I think Berlin is a more real city, not as artificial as Milan or Paris. Berlin’s just more down to earth. And that’s why it’s so liked.
Exberliner: You’re bringing some old planes to Tempelhof and organizing an exhibition about the airport’s history with the Allied Museum. Why?
Müller: For us, it was important to take an in-depth look into the history of the place. The airport was built in the 1930s and we wanted to see if it somehow carried negative associations. Then we realized what really happened here: the runway was built after the war by the Trümmerfrauen [“rubble women”], which made the Luftbrücke [Berlin Airlift] possible. So we actually realized that Tempelhof is a place that stands for international solidarity. It’s a great symbol – especially for the fashion industry, which is very international.
Exberliner: So what’s the next ‘big thing’ in fashion?
Müller: I don’t know. I’m not a fashionista. I just believe in good taste, good style and good quality. People always talk, nowadays, about the next season, about next year’s trends. Nonsense. It doesn’t develop that quickly. It’s like architecture. Look at Bauhaus, it’s over 80 years old and still totally modern. Or a building like this [Tempelhof]: it’s great. I think a general trend is that people will consume less, with more awareness. They’ll look for authentic products. They will look for where it comes from, what it means, what history is behind it. A pair of really well-made jeans, for example, or really good leather shoes.
Exberliner: What are your favourite hangouts?
Müller: Borchardt, Cafe am Neuen See and Bonfini.
Exberliner: Something you hate about or in Berlin?
Müller: I think it’s sometimes a little difficult to do good things here. Often people ‘bake small Brötchen’ and people think that’s cool, but if it becomes successful then it becomes uncool. Earning money isn’t considered cool. But I think that it’s important at some point to really make money so that the city functions properly, so that you have a proper company. But in Berlin people often like to potter about.
Exberliner: How would you Save Berlin? An idea for Tempelhof?
Müller: I liked the idea of building a mountain in Tempelhof; I’d like something like Central Park in Manhattan, where everybody could go and which would be surrounded by great buildings.