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© Marius Knieling

Berlin fashion spotlight: Designer Hien Le

As a leading fashion hub, Berlin mixes art, film, music and fashion to drive the trends of tomorrow. It is home to over 800 designers and labels, and approximately 60 industry events and networks, and nine fashion schools. The spectrum of design created in the capital spans from edgy streetwear to elite couture to eco-fashion.

Alongside fashion meccas like New York, Paris and Milan, Berlin has hosted its own Fashion Week since 2007. Twice a year, the city transforms into a captivating catwalk of local and international talent, showcasing the latest trends, innovative fashion-tech, and established and up-and-coming designers..

So it’s no surprise that fashion-forward entrepreneurs like Laos-born designer Hien Le are making their mark in the capital. Since his Berlin Fashion Week debut in 2011, Hien has been an integral part of the city’s style scene. Fusing subtle cuts with delicate simplicity, his designs perfectly embody laid-back luxury.

We caught up with the in-demand designer in the run-up to Berlin Fashion Week to gain insight into what inspires him and why he feels Berlin is an exceptional place for designers.

© Christoph Schaller
© Christoph Schaller

Hien, what inspired you to become a designer?

I knew I wanted to work in fashion since I was 12 years old. I watched a documentary with Karl Lagerfeld about the supermodel era. From that point on, I was hooked. I watched every fashion programme on MTV. I liked the notion of dressing people – of transforming fabric into clothing.

My grandfather was a master tailor in Laos – and he also inspired me to do a tailor apprenticeship. Looking back, I’m glad I did because of his ten children and thirty grandchildren, I’m the only one who followed in his footsteps.

Why did you decide to remain and grow your business in Berlin?

I was born in Laos but I’m a Berliner. I grew up here. I studied here – and my family and friends are here. So why move? There’s always something happening in Berlin. It’s a big city with so much diversity, which is very inspiring. After I finished my studies at HTW, I worked in PR and sales – it was a great learning experience and it allowed me to build up my network of contacts in the city before I decided to launch my label in 2011.

Are you intrested in the fashion city Berlin? Find more information about Europe's most underrated fashion capital.

© Christoph Schaller
© Christoph Schaller

What makes the city special for a fashion designer?

It’s an extraordinarily creative and inspiring city. And on a more practical note, Berlin is still cheaper than other places in Germany – and less costly than other fashion hubs in Europe like Milan, Paris and London. It’s a stimulating location for both new and established designers.  I decided to set up my business here because I knew I could develop my label locally but still also easily expand and promote my collections internationally – like at Paris Fashion Week. So it’s the best of all worlds – lots of opportunity and more accommodating when it comes to living and commercial costs. 

What inspires your designs?

Its everything. The city. The people I’m surrounded by. The book I’m reading. The music I listen to. The movies I watch. Other artforms. Other cities I visit. Inspiration never comes from a single place, it comes from everywhere.

Although Asia has been a theme in a previous collection, I wouldn’t say my cultural background or my lifestyle here in Berlin directly influences my designs. Typically my designs are more of a German or Scandinavian aesthetic. Perhaps subconsciously culture seeps in – but that’s true of most things in my life. People, places and everyday occurrences continue to inspire me.

Why are you interested in sustainable fashion - and how important is sustainability to you?

Sometimes sustainability isn’t quite as ‘sexy’ to some people – but there’s much more to it than just ‘eco’ fashion.  Sustainability isn’t just about what fabrics and materials clothes are made from. It starts with knowing where and how they were produced.

Although more designers are beginning to consider sustainability, it’s always been important to me. I constantly want to ensure my clothes are produced under fair conditions. That’s why I’ve chosen to make my ready to wear collections in Germany – it means I know exactly how things are produced.

Learn more about Berlin as a fashion location.

© Christoph Schaller
© Christoph Schaller

What makes Berlin and its fashion scene so special?

It’s an innovative city where creativity flourishes. There are plenty of events and opportunities to meet people in the industry. Berlin has become an international fashion destination – yet it isn’t as costly as other fashion capitals. Over the years, working in different areas in the fashion industry has allowed me to build connections both locally – and beyond.

What makes Berlin and its fashion scene so special is because it's ever-evolving. That’s exciting. Even in just the last few years, it’s grown, expanded and advanced. There are world-renowned events like Berlin Fashion Week, and the selection of supportive fashion institutions like the German Fashion Council and calibre of new talented designers is extraordinary.

Text: Trish Elms

Header image: Marius Knieling

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