By: Kai Yeo
Born in Berlin, Esther Perbandt studies fashion design at the Berlin University of the Arts and polished a master’s degree in Fashion and Textile Design in Paris. In 2020, she made it to the finals of international designer show “Making The Cut” with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, supported by Naomi Campbell.
Not only is she a contemporary fashion designer, but also a visionary, performer, and mistress of ceremonies. Esther Perbandt describes her fashion as an act of (post)feminism irrespective of gender: personality, autonomy and individuality are at the center of her avant-garde style. The non-binary silhouette is deconstructed and reframed with classical menswear details, however, maintaining timeless aspects of elegance and style.
360 MAGAZINE had the pleasure of corresponding with Esther to learn about her inspiration, goals, and much more. Read on to find out her answers!
What/who are your biggest inspirations?
The joy of life is my greatest inspiration. This motor is so big that I can’t imagine running out of ideas at some point. I like doing two things for a living: sleeping and dancing. Many ideas come to me when I fall asleep or wake up and when I can dance without restraint.
How did Making The Cut (MTC) change your view of the fashion industry?
When I studied fashion design in Berlin and Paris in the nineties and early noughties, the term “digitalization” was not really an issue in the fashion industry. I founded my own label over 17 years ago, which has grown very slowly on its own. Until I took part in MTC, I didn’t have an online shop, or only one that didn’t work. But I knew that if my brand was to survive the next 30 years, I had to change and become more digital. Who should I learn from, if not the biggest?
From a show like MTC of course you don’t only learn, you see what’s possible with a lot of money. But if you manage to transfer what you have experienced and seen at the highest level and translate it to your very own DNA, you can take the next steps. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way in the fashion industry. There are an incredible number of individual paths. Depending on what the goal is.
After coming back from the MTC shoot, I didn’t do anything creative for 8 months, I just prepared business-wise for the airing of MTC: New website, new online store, new strategy. Today, I work with my pattern maker with avatars and digital fittings. This saves us a lot of time and resources.
How has the newly found attention changed/shaped you?
The new attention was a boon for my brand to finally grow. Many things have become a little easier professionally. But the pandemic probably slowed down the speed of this growth a bit and still does. Personally, I only got a limited amount of that attention. When the first season of MTC came out, which I was part of the cast of, the world went into its first hard lockdown. For months, I just worked a lot with my small team and sent packages all over the world every day, but especially to the US, without having the opportunity to meet many people. Germany is a grateful or ungrateful country, depending on how you take it, when it comes to addressing public figures. In the meantime, I had the feeling that hardly anyone in Germany had seen the show.
You were unsure about whether or not to take part in Making The Cut. How do you feel about it now?
Yes, I was indeed very unsure when I received the first request to participate in MTC 1. For 16 years, I had been flying the flag for a freer, more unconventional and uncommercial way in the fashion industry, which also had a stronger connection to art. I felt it wasn’t for me or would betray my brand. But quite the opposite. It was the best decision I made for my business, but also for my life in general. In the last three years, since shooting MTC 1, I have learnt an incredible amount and finally started to build a sustainable foundation for my brand. Every path in the fashion industry is very individual and mine is probably also an atypical one. But it’s fun to see myself making strategic and business decisions in a very different way now and to see that the word “commercial” is not a dirty word for me.
Do you have any moments in your career you look back to often?
Oh yes, of course. I often think today where I got the strength to hold out for so long and to go through all the deep valleys. For many years I called my studio the “Palace of Tears”. Every few days there were tears because I felt like I was standing on the spot or because it was financially on the brink. But somewhere deep inside me, I always believed that it would work out and become easier one day.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
The signature of my brand has developed from the three cities in which I have lived in and which have been very important and inspiring for me: Berlin, Moscow and Paris.
Berlin, as the city where I was born, the city divided over the years with a great historical history, with its roughness, toughness, punk, subculture, snootiness. Moscow, with its avant-garde of the 1920s, the constructivists, high-necked, the uniforms and the austerity. And then of course Paris, as the city that gave me the finishing touch, the elegance, the femininity, and the glamor.
This special mix and the reduction to the color “black,” is meant to give my wearers a strength and make them grow. The focus on details should make the viewer curious to take a closer look at clothing.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a designer?
It has always been both a curse and a blessing that I have had to fight my own way through, especially financially. This has extremely slowed down the growth of my brand, but at the same time it has given me the chance and the time to carefully develop my signature and the DNA and to look closely at what I really want.
Do you think your surroundings and environment play a part in how you choose your designs?
Yes, definitely. As a creative, you unconsciously absorb everything you come across. I love observing people and thinking about why they wear the clothes they do. What identity do they have, and which one do they want to slip into? Dealing directly with my customers in the shop every day has of course influenced my choice of designs. Since MTC, I do a lot of styles in larger sizes and now a lot of women come and have my collection pieces made to measure. That’s a big market.
What are the next goals for your brand?
The USA has become my main sales market in the last two years. The next goal would be to open my own shop in New York for a while and then also produce locally so that customers who buy online don’t have to pay customs and the high shipping costs.
In fashion Esther Perbandt will continue to explore various paths, especially in creating haute couture looks for numerous events, as well as digging into costume design areas whenever projects allow for it.
It’s said that the future is unknown but at least with Esther Perbandt it will always continue to surprise and excite. We look forward to seeing more from her.