HTW: Let’s hear from the teachers

Monday, 14 July 2014
What happens to all the knowledge about the fashion industry when designers, for example, give up the business? – The knowledge is passed on to the next generation of designers of course! FashionUnited wanted to share this knowledge and asked around at German universities to hear from professors who once worked for big labels. We wanted to know how every day life was in the fashion business and their reasons for leaving it.

FashionUnited first got lucky in Berlin at the HTW [Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft], the University for Applied Sciences, where Professor Horst Fetzer teaches his students what really matters in the fashion industry. He used to work as a designer for Barutti and Otto Kern and was product manager at Windsor and director, Casual Man division, at Marc O'Polo. But one thing at a time:

FashionUnited: Mr. Fetzer, how did you end up in fashion – was it your childhood dream or have there been detours?
Fetzer: „I actually came to fashion via music. In my twenties, I played in a band – “Funk Unlimited“. Well, I took care of the stage outfits as we wanted to look like our musical role models. So I used my mother’s sewing machine and created the first pieces. This passion led to me opening my first own store “Stilbruch” [‘style deviation’] in Ulm before starting to study fashion design. Ten designers from various fields were in charge of the “concept store“, among them two fashion designers, one hatter, one jewelry designer, one interior designer and three medicine students who had very good connections to the avantgarde crowd in Berlin. After finishing school, I studied fashion design and did an apprenticeship as a tailor at the same time.“

So you were well prepared for the fashion industry. But honestly, how difficult was it to join one of the big labels?
„Honestly – not tough at all. After finishing my studies, I was keen on working right away; something I would do differently today. But more about that later. So I sent applications to various companies and got hired by Barutti. I worked there for about two and a half years as a designer before one day, I got a call from a headhunter at Otto Kern. I was invited for an interview and had the good fortune to become a designer for Otto Kern Men. This is where I got my first taste of sportswear and casualwear – my specialization up to this point was actually formal ready-to-wear. “

How should one picture everyday life at Otto Kern?
„Life [at Otto Kern] was extremely cool. Working for a licensing company entailed travelling to many countries worldwide and for a young person like me at the time, this was pretty cool. Former Otto Kern advisor Uwe Jürdens introduced me to the world of luxury fashion. I would call him my mentor. There were many parties and everthing was extremely exciting. Apart from that, the daily routine was quite typical: coming up with moodboards and concepts, finding topics, creatings designs, finishing collections and taking care of licensees. I had four really valuable and exciting years at Otto Kern.“

And how did you perceive Otto Kern himself?
„Mr. Kern is the wacky type, a bit crazy, throws many big parties and was always very generous.When I was young, that was all very impressive. I have fond memories of this time; after all, I got to know New York and many producers in Italy and Turkey through Mr. Kern. That was great, all that travelling and all those events.“

That sounds fabulous. Why then did you decide to become a professor?
„Not so fast – much happened in between when Otto Kern was bought by the Ahlers Group in 2002. When they moved the location [of the office], I did not extend my contract as I had started a family by then and did not want to move for the job. So I started with Windsor in Bielefeld as product manager and chief designer, where I was able to improve my manufacturing skills for formal ready-to-wear. After all, Windsor makes luxury products and they have to do justice to their pricing. I worked for the “Windsor.men“ label, specifically on its modern and international image for eight years. Its main focus was Italy and the Pitti Uomo. In 2009, I moved to Marc O'Polo where I worked as the director for the division Casual Men and was able to get to know a completely different type of fashion. In summary, I moved from a designer label to a luxury label and then to a vertical collection in the „premium casual“ segment and was able to get to know various areas. In 2010, I finally asked myself: What can one do to live more independently? Because that’s what I wanted. By now, I had children and after so many locations, one sets new goals. I wanted to rearrange and advance my life – and working for a university suggested that to me.“

How is life as a professor – do you miss the exciting times of the past?
„Yes, I have to admit, when I meet former colleagues at fairs, I do get nostalgic sometimes. But on the other hand, the fashion industry today is too fast-paced. One collection chases another and the pressure on the designers increases continuously. But I have not completely left the business; I am still working as a consultant for some medium-sized premium labels and even in my job as a professor, it’s all about fashion, every day.“

What is the take-away for your students? What is important today to become a successful designer?
„It’s most important to think and act on an international scale. If someone gets offered an intership in New York that is unpaid but the costs are manageable, I tell my students – do it! Back then, I made the mistake of working directly after finishing my studies. I would certainly change that. It is so important to gain international experience and to get to know other markets than the German one. I never made it out of Germany and as a professor, this is something that I recommend highly to my students und will support them through my contacts and my experience. The German market is becoming more international – just like the careers of our alumni.“

How would you rank German fashion institutions in the international context?
„That’s difficult to say. One can certainly acquire a good foundation here. But I would still recommend to go abroad for a master’s degree. Antwerp, London, New York – these are the fashion schools whose expertise allows for great things. But exceptions prove the rule.“

One last question – what does it take to study fashion design and to be successful in this industry?
„Anyone interested in fashion and thinking about studying fashion design should have creative skills, love design and want to live out their creative identity. Fashion is zeitgeist and communication – one has to be able to inspire others. In addition, craftsmanship is a must and everyone should be clear that working as a fashion designer is wonderful and offers many exciting opportunies but it is also very hard and very, very tiring.“

Martina Michalsky, translated by Simone Preuss

Photos: Horst Fetzer and band (left, with sunglasses), Fetzer with his students