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Translated by
Nicola Mira
Nov 17, 2023
Reading time
6 minutes
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Berlin trade shows: Premium to cease, Seek to continue

Translated by
Nicola Mira
Nov 17, 2023

The news came as no surprise. Following the departure of Anita Tillmann, who had been the Berlin fashion scene’s ambassador for over two decades, many had begun to wonder about the future of the Premium group’s flagship show in the German capital, Premium. Even more so after Premium’s unfortunate attempts to make a new start in Frankfurt, followed by its troubled return to Berlin for the Messe Berlin event in summer 2023. While Clarion, the investor that acquired a stake in the group in 2018, was clearly putting pressure on the event.

The end of an era: the Berlin am Gleisdreieck centre will not be hosting a fashion show for the foreseeable future - Archiv

Like the Bread&Butter and Panorama shows, Premium now definitely belongs to Berlin fashion events history. Only its companion streetwear event, Seek, will live on. Premium was held in 2022, but the atmosphere was already strained. The pandemic’s long-term impact gave it the final blow.

First staged in 2003 in the Potsdamer Platz subway tunnel, the Premium am Gleisdreieck on Luckenwalder Street was for 17 years one of the fashion industry’s most important seasonal events. It may have never reached again the popularity enjoyed during the Bread&Butter days, but exhibitors and buyers have always made the three-day show a directional highlight.

Tillmann and her staff have always been able to stage meticulously curated editions, especially during Premium's first decade, focusing on the contemporary segment and differentiating the show from its slightly stale competitor Panorama. 

It is now time to turn over a new leaf, a process that had already started in 2019. The Premium group has failed to turn Berlin into a global fashion capital, and so have the city authorities, whose financial support came far too late.

It will be interesting to see how show organisers in Düsseldorf and Munich will react. And whether Frankfurt might glimpse a fresh opportunity, something that seems rather unlikely.

Industry changes have come thick and fast in recent years, while a degree of disillusionment and a certain weariness are taking hold in the manufacturing and retail sectors. Notably because it seems increasingly clear that, beset by the current consumption slump and energy crisis (to name but a couple of issues), the fashion industry will continue to struggle, both in the medium and long term. Only luxury retailers and discounters seem to be bucking the trend.

Jörg Arntz and Anita Tillmann - Premium Group

Berlin has always been a purely marketing-driven show. The time to place orders was later, [at the Düsseldorf Fashion Days event]. In recent years, international fashion labels have found fewer and fewer partners with which to gain a foothold on the German market, and have gradually edged away from Berlin. Organiser IMG stopped staging runway shows under its Brandenburg Gate marquee, and smaller events in the city have been scrapped too, severely denting Berlin’s fashion appeal. People living in the city are increasingly regarding fashion as a disruptive element rather than an economic growth driver.  

Orders can be placed in a showroom, as German manufacturers now know very well. Premium Berlin’s events have always been a prestigious but expensive indulgence.  

The Premium group has described it, quite candidly, as “the end of an era.” Nothing will remain the same. Is this a good or a bad thing? Who can tell? It is now best to focus exclusively on Seek, a trade show that has always managed to foster a thriving community. With no structural support, despite being the only fashion show with a future in the region, and alongside a Berlin Fashion Week whose commercial relevance has always been questionable.

Tillman and her long-time business partner Jörg Arntz have realised that, as is often the case in this fast-changing industry, even exceptional success stories have a limited lifespan. They have embraced change, and are now concentrating on Seek, which was first staged in 2009.

“Premium was more than just a trade show. In 21 years, we have been able to achieve a great deal, we have showcased an incredible number of fashion success stories, and we have brought the whole world to Berlin. In the process, we have become corporate and creative consultants, conference organisers, publishers, tech experts and retailers, we have staged the first fashion week in Germany, and entertained the entire industry,” said Tillmann. 

“We have instituted awards for emerging talent, and have witnessed the rise of many great names in fashion. We have made friendships and learned so many things, and I am most grateful for that. But we are also entrepreneurs, and concepts have a limited lifespan, nothing lasts forever. Two decades is a long period of time, during which Premium has absolutely outperformed, against all the odds,” added Tillman.

“Our flexibility and creativity allow us to react dynamically to changes and always come up with innovative solutions. Together, we strive to continue to set standards in our industry while having a positive impact on the community. Our shareholder Clarion is the fourth-largest trade fair and event organiser in the world and is now focusing on the Seek show, which generated better results when compared to Premium last summer,” said Arntz, looking ahead to the near future. 

According to Arntz, the “Seek generation” represents the future - in a constructive, collaborative and authentic way. And in the absence of setbacks. The industry as a whole has evolved significantly in recent years, and the transformation is still ongoing. For some time now, trade shows and physical fashion weeks have been viewed as rather outmoded.

Big trade shows are no longer compatible with the times, people in Berlin are saying. The visceral power of physical attraction is apparently no longer relevant. The fact that showing in Berlin always was and will remain for almost everyone an undertaking (and an investment) that could only be justified by a highly attractive event seems to have been somewhat glossed over.

Streetwear show Seek is keen to continue to appeal to its loyal community - Seek

Arntz and Tillmann also mentioned the trend for “boutique trade fairs” and specialised events, which they say will become increasingly important. No one knows yet whether they are right about this. It seems that the whole mechanism, and the considerable effort expended for events that aren’t simply a showcase at a company's headquarters or at its (permanent) showroom or flagship store, are being called into question. Why should buyers spend time on the road when revenue is down and scores of digital alternatives are possible? This is the question to which fashion trade show organisers will have to try to provide clear answers in future. The key is #relevance. 

Seek, which has focused in recent years on its core segment, streetwear, is keen to continue to appeal to its solid, loyal community. Its next session is scheduled on January 16-17, and some 200 exhibitors are expected. Seek has not only established itself as a platform for innovative brands but, as the “proud organiser of the Conscious Club,” it has become a key sustainability hub for the industry.

In itself, that is commendable. But weren’t the round table debates and the many conferences staged in Berlin - the format adopted for the FashionTech event at the E-Werk venue - exactly the reason why many in the industry felt, even before the pandemic, that the main business focus was becoming increasingly diluted? 

The decision to put a stop to the Premium show certainly marks the end of an era, but it doesn't spell the end of German fashion. Instead, people in Berlin are now saying that it will open new doors and usher in new opportunities. Seek is ready to shape this change with like-minded partners, continuing to contribute significantly to the industry’s growth. It remains to be seen to what extent this approach will actually work.

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