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Fashion in the
GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

THE BERLIN APARTMENT

Available in Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook,
and eBook!

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You didn’t really think I’d write a historical novel without touching on the fashion of the time period, did you? Of course not… you know I can’t resist a research deep dive!

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FASHION BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

“I applied for a visa to go to Paris four years ago to view the spring collections -- Givenchy and Dior, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. I'd not been to Paris in... oh, not since I was a little girl. To see the city in all its glory..." She smiled, roses filling her cheeks, and Lise could see a glimpse of the young woman she'd been -- but then Gerda snugged her reading glasses back on her nose. "But of course, now we have all the inspiration we need here in East Germany." 

When it comes to fashion behind the Iron Curtain, so much of what we see in East Germany came about as a result of restricted trade: when the Wall went up, trade links to the western world – and western fashion and textiles – were severed. Accordingly, East German fashion was almost entirely homegrown: from textiles to designers to distribution, East German fashion evolved as its own separate entity, which prized modernity, durability and functionality.

Thanks to trade embargos against the Soviet Union and its satellite states, fashion – like most consumable goods in the GDR – was centered on plastic products: synthetic fabrics like Dederon, Wolpryla, Vliesett and Malimo were used in place of natural fibres like wool, linen and cotton, stocked in clothing stores like Praesant 20. According to more than a few East Germans, the clothes were moderately chic, if not durable… once you got over the chemical smell emanating from the fabric.

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INSPIRING NEW OUTLOOKS

 

"They bring me patterns from Sybille and I use them as inspiration to create one of a kind pieces." She smiled. "We might all share in the common goal of building our workers' and peasants' state, but no woman wants to go to the State Opera and see someone else wearing the same dress." 

The height of East German fashion could be found in the pages of Sybille, a groundbreaking magazine which presented highly editorial photos of East German models posed out and about in East Berlin. Considered the Vogue of the East, Sybille offered sewing patterns to East Germans who wanted to dress beyond the proletarian ideal: some women would sew their own fashionable threads, while others would take their magazines to the dressmaker, with dreams of wearing something that went against the collective grain.

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FASHION AS REBELLION

Perhaps Lise ought to have paid closer mind to Rudi's antics, recognized that he'd fallen in with the wrong crowd. But she'd met his friends and they were all like him: thoughtful and restless, railing against a society that refused to try and understand them. If the punk movement had been around when the Wall had first gone up, Lise had little doubt that she would have been among their number.

In a society which prized conformity, fashion was one important, if often dangerous, way to rebel. Teenagers cut up bedsheets and shower curtains, dishtowels and plastic bags to create edgy clothes that better represented who they were than the staid offerings of Praesent 20 - clothes which made them stand out to East German authorities, who saw such self-expression as capitalist decadence. Contraband Levi’s jeans were particularly sought after by East German fashionistas, who bought them off of tourists or smuggled them in from the West – so much so that the German Fashion Institute, outraged by the trend for “riveted pants” created poorer-quality East German dupes.

 

The punk movement found fertile ground in East Germany, with young people banding together to create visual expressions of their dissatisfaction with the controlling socialist state. Such daring fashions could brand a person an "enemy of the people", but rebellious youths weren’t afraid to court the danger: they would cut and dye their hair in wild mohawks and meet at secret parties where underground designers would show them what the world of fashion could look like beyond the strictures of the German Fashion Institute.  

Want to learn more about Sybille and the role it played in pushing East German boundaries? Check out this article from Sleek Magazine. 

Rave Reviews for Turnbull's Latest Novel

"Bryn Turnbull does not disappoint in this illuminating and heart-wrenching tale of life on both sides of the Berlin Wall. I found myself wholly immered in Uli and Lise's worlds, reading late into the night to find out how their love story ends. A stunner of a novel!" 

SARA ACKERMAN

USA Today bestselling author of 

Radar Girls

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