uo make it in fashion, sometimes it’s enough to meet the right person. For Coco Chanel it was the industrialist Étienne Balsan, for Alexander McQueen the patron Isabella Blow. For Namilia it was Kelly Cutrone. “Remember them from ‘The Hills’?” asks Nam Li. Cutrone rose to prominence in the ’00s on the reality series that follows young women in American fashion. They met her in London – and she then got Namilia slots at New York Fashion Week.
Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl have presented their collections in New York five times. They founded Namilia seven years ago – this week they presented a show in Berlin for the first time. How did that happen? “People took us for an American label,” says Li and laughs. The two had studied fashion at the University of the Arts and then went to London. Nan Li completed a Masters at the Royal Academy, Emilia Pfohl worked for PR agencies.
Back then, Berlin wasn’t the right place for her: her label was too colourful, sexy and playful for the city whose residents love to wear black. A lot has changed since then, says the 33-year-old. An award from the Fashion Council Germany was the sign to come back: The Berlin fashion industry wants to bind its successful children to the German market.
The list of A-listers is long
The fact that the label became so successful in such a short time is due to a concept that uses the mechanisms of social media: they created outfits for music videos and concerts. jennifer lopez, Billie Eilish, Rihanna, Cardi B, Kylie Jenner: The list of A-listers wearing Namilia is long. Where labels used to be able to hope that a Paris Hilton would wear a skirt or a top in a paparazzi picture, today they stage themselves voluntarily on Instagram – an advertisement that many brands can dream of. Hilton then ran for Namilia in New York, Li and Pfohl simply contacted her via Instagram.
Is fashion still possible today without stars and influencers who give you reach? “Yes, that’s possible,” says Li. However, he believes that without social media, they would not have become so big, which is particularly important in the United States. However, today as a label you also have to stand for something that is not just aesthetic. “With social media having democratized the fashion scene so much, you need a message.” What’s yours? “Sex positivity, empowerment, feminism”: buzzwords that the fashion industry has been particularly successful in recently.
Broad shoulders, black and colored leather, but with a revealing and body-hugging cut, this is how Namilia stages these terms. But who wears this besides superstars on Instagram? “When the sale of Coachella tickets starts, our order numbers will also go up.” Festival visitors and party people, because the outfits can be staged well. And the Namilia aesthetic embodies what Gen Z wears: the hyper-femme style of the noughties, the raver looks of the 90s. The label certainly serves both: pop culture and subculture.
And what if such youth cultures change? “We would adapt to the current zeitgeist.” Aren’t you simply using the subcultures that used to stand for something else? “But it’s a natural development,” Li says, “that subcultures become mainstream.”
Up until now, the label had primarily seen itself as “feminist” and aimed at women. Now they want to expand that: The “Cruising Utopia” collection is supposed to be more about gender fluidity, an imagination of what a queer future could look like. In return, they have a popular video game of the nineties, Need for Speed, as a partner; in the game you will be able to unlock Namilia’s outfits.
On Wednesday evening there are real guests in the Kant-Garages in Charlottenburg, many have walked up in Berliner Schwarz, only the influencers in colorful Namilia leather jackets are sitting in the front row. Strobe flickering introduces the show, a model in a long evening dress made of leather with raised, pointed shoulders strides along like a she-devil, then a non-binary person in a miniskirt with a calf-length mane of blond hair, later a one-armed male model in white belts. Some wear these wigs, others wear a cap like hair soaked with sweat from club nights.
The typical Namilia looks made of leather and colors (black, white, neon mint, orange) with motocross and raver elements remain, but are combined with the glamor of an absolutely antithetical era: long evening gloves, trains like those worn by Hollywood stars in the forties. Then again fetish elements such as corsets, which are tied from belts over the body and are open at the back.
But Namilia is expanding its canon: beige snakeskin jacket and eggshell faux fur boots are a good contrast to the artificial colour-blocking patterns of her previous collections. All the references aren’t new per se – but the way Namilia put them together, ravers come out with grandeur.