Dusseldorf The idea of organizing fashion fairs in Düsseldorf seemed bold to presumptuous to many from industry and trade. On the Königsallee, spectators watched the first fashion show after the war in disbelief.
The change in the industry – from the beginnings of what was once the world’s largest fashion fair Igedo in 1949 to the Gallery and the Düsseldorf Fashion Days today. In 1949, Berlin, the former fashion hub and Europe’s center of clothing, lay in ruins. The Soviets had blocked the undisputed fashion capital for months. Two dozen clothing manufacturers from Berlin and West Germany, including the business and tax advisor Willi Kronen, founded an association, the interest group for women’s clothing – Igedo. To this day it is considered a synonym for German fashion history.
To many from industry and trade, the idea of holding fashion fairs in Düsseldorf, which was not established at the time, appeared to be daring or even presumptuous. On the Königsallee, spectators watched the first fashion show after the war in disbelief. The fashion-hungry ladies were delighted by the wide swinging plate skirts and the lush abundance of fabric.
That was almost unbelievable at a time when new things were made out of old, scratchy coats or the worn skirt was turned inside out and recycled into a blouse. Instead of the coveted but hardly affordable nylons, the women painted the stocking seams on their skin in a deceptively real way and, to top it off, colored their legs with coffee grounds. There was a new edition of the show only in 2004: For the 200th birthday of the Königsallee even Naomi Campbell walked down the boulevard.
What began with a few booths for exhibitors in the courtyard as the birth of the fashion trade fair city of Düsseldorf, developed into an unprecedented success story. The need for fashion was enormous. If there were hardly any fashion exports before the war, business abroad has now also started – Düsseldorf became the number one fashion hub worldwide. “Igedo became a platform for exports, and international visitors came along with the foreign exhibitors,” remembers Margit Jandali, who was the trade fair’s managing director for almost 30 years.
As the “King of European fashion fairs”, as “one of the key figures in German fashion” and as “Mr. Igedo “Manfred Kronen was once celebrated around the world. The man, who was practically born as a trade fair director and, at the age of twelve, witnessed the birth of the Igedo in his own living room, joined the management team as a young lawyer in 1965. The 85-year-old built it up and built it up at the world’s largest industry get-together. He was at the top for 36 years.
In 1981 the Igedo Company started the first export initiative for German fashion abroad. Twelve fashion brands showed their collections in the Guggenheim Museum in New York under the title “The New Expression of German Fashion. “That was a sensation, because until now the Americans only knew French and Italian fashion,” says Jandali, looking back.
In 1984 Manfred Kronen initiated the “German Designer Shows Düsseldorf” for the first time, at which almost all well-known German fashion designers, including Beatrice Hympendahl and Uta Raasch from Düsseldorf, presented their latest creations.
In the 1990s, the North Rhine-Westphalian state capital became a Mecca for fashion designers – Wolfgang Joop, Jil Sander, Karl Lagerfeld, Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood, all the big names in the industry, including Klaus Steilmann, Robert Ley from Escada and Gerhard Weber, world-famous models like Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer – they all came to the Rhine.
Many careers started here. The German cashmere “queen” Iris von Arnim immediately made a turnover of 10,000 marks with her knitted items in Düsseldorf. Designers like Annette Görtz and Dorothee Schumacher started with their first T-shirts. “We felt we were in the role of those who made it clear to the designers how best to talk about their well-kept secret that they are now making fashion,” Kronen once said.
The man, who always flirted with the fact that he had no idea about fashion, initially built the fashion houses on Danziger Strasse that were demolished last year against the resistance of his father, invented the collections premieres in Düsseldorf, and after the fall of the Wall also tried his hand as a fashion fair maker in Berlin. Igedo distributed car stickers in Düsseldorf with the slogan: “Fashion is my profashion”.
The climax was reached in 1999, with 30,000 trade visitors on the international stage, the fair was the largest and best-selling of its kind, with offshoots in Hong Kong and Moscow. The clothing and accessories business developed into one of the main economic pillars of the industry.
But then the fat years were over. Vertical manufacturers such as Zara and H&M did not need a trade fair, more and more manufacturers were moving to showrooms. In 2004 it was over for Manfred Kronen, his nephew Philipp continued the business. Today the established showrooms form the corset for year-round business in Düsseldorf. The shrunken fashion fair has been relocated several times and has been reorganized under the name Gallery in the Böhler works, while online trade is booming.
And what are the prospects for the location on the Rhine? Margit Jandali is not the only one who is convinced that “fashion is alive and well in Düsseldorf, it is a great asset”. Because fashion wants to be touched and experienced. After the pandemic, the need for new clothes will grow.