Designers Benjamin Alexander Huseby and Serhat Isik discuss their brand, ‘Brown Culture’ and belonging, and share their tips for clubbing in the German capital. Plus, they premiere a new film capturing their S/S18 collection
“If you want to show yourself to the world, you have to be on the centre stage. [For us], it’s just important to show that even though we’re aware we’re a Berlin-based label, we’re relevant on a global scale. We’re not just a local project.” Benjamin Alexander Huseby is talking about why GmbH, the brand that he began with designer Serhat Isik just under a year ago, decided to show their latest collection as part of Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June, rather than their hometown. It makes sense: if you want be noticed, go to Paris.
Not that Huseby, Isik and their collaborators are having any trouble being noticed. It’s only their second collection and based on the strength of their first they have already received a nomination for the LVMH Prize, been listed in the Dazed 100 and, as of today, is sold at high fashion mecca, Dover Street Market London. Overwhelmed? Just a little. As Isik says, “we didn’t expect to grow this much, and this fast… it all just happened”.
Rooted in the pair’s bi-cultural heritage (Isik is of Turkish-German descent, Huseby of Norwegian-Pakistani), GmbH’s S/S18 collection was inspired by their fathers’ arrival in Europe after World War II, and how these men communicated their innate elegance and grace, not to mention their aspirations, through the way they dressed. Naming the collection after the Kraftwerk song, Europe Endless, the designers wanted to explore the fathers’ experience of moving to and assimilating into Europe – an idea that is particularly pertinent given the current political climate that’s so ripe with anti-immigrant sentiment.
In their research they came across the Greek myth of Europa which, Huseby explains, is the root of the name of the European continent. “Europa was a Middle Eastern Princess. She was from what we would consider modern-day Syria or Turkey. She was kidnapped and later seduced by Zeus, and had offspring that were the forefathers of Greek civilisation.” This, in a way, leads us back to Kraftwerk. Europe Endless. According to Huseby, it all made perfect sense. “We’re based in Germany… they’re the forefathers of techno (Kraftwerk), it became another layer to the idea of forefathers. I think it all came together in a very nice way.”
Not surprisingly there’s an element of clothing as armour to their designs and a sense of ‘we are stronger together’ to their ethos. Combining Turkish and Pakistani elements with ones borrowed from German workwear and Berlin clubwear, ideas of protection and comfort were at the forefront of their minds when designing the last collection. These ideas came through not only in the familiarity of the silhouettes but in the use of materials, many of which are more commonly used in protective and technical garments, and are rarely seen in ‘high fashion’.
Additionally, lots of these materials were (and continue to be) sourced from deadstock, illustrating the designers’ committment to the ecological aspect of production – they have previously spoken about their desire to change ethical fashion’s “uncool or unsexy” reputation. That said, they’re not interested in making GmbH ‘cool’ in an alienating way – they want to make it inclusive. “We aren’t trying to create something exclusive or cool,” Isik says. “Every single aspect we chose for the show, every garment, we just to come back to this word of community and family. It should be all positive.”
This idea of community and family is actually paramount to GmbH, resting at the very core of the brand. It’s something that stems from their fathers and their experience growing up as first-generation immigrants in Europe and the idea of ‘Brown Culture’, a concept that they regularly use to denote what they do. To be honest, they don’t really know where it came from themselves, it’s a phrase they throw around among friends, but when asked to try and explain its meaning they’re both very clear that it’s deeply rooted in family and inclusivity. More, according to Huseby, of an attitude than anything else: “[It’s] a sense that develops from this feeling of growing up in a place where you have a sense of alienation, where you don’t quite fit in because of your skin colour,” he explains. “For us, it’s almost like an internal word used to describe that sense of ‘otherness’. Brown Culture, or the way we talk about ‘brown’ also intersects with queer and feminist cultures… We’re not academics, but I’m sure there’s another side to [this sense of ‘otherness’] where that kind of intersects.”
To quote Isik, “We want GmbH to be positive and accessible and about beauty and togetherness” which is an idea that shouldn’t seem that alien to anyone growing up in today’s world, but similarly feels like a modern-day rebellion, a call to arms to ensure that everyone is judged on one single principle: the content of their character and nothing else. Because of this, GmbH has succeeded in creating something more than a brand – a community, which seems particularly important in these dark times.
GmbH’s Guide to Clubbing in Berlin
This guide is adapted verbatim from The Norwegian Mountain Code, a set of guides from 1950 that every Norwegian is taught on how to be safe in the mountains. (Translation from the Norwegian Tourist Board.)
1. Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected.
2. Adapt the planned routes according to ability and conditions.
3. Bring the necessary equipment so you can help yourself and others.
4. Don’t be ashamed to turn around.
5. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary.
Video art direction, Nicolas Santos; Video, Nicolas Despis; Styling Mina Hammal and GmbH; Hair Holli Smith; Make-up Inge Grognard; Casting Hammalcaide; Music Lucas Heerich; Production Brachfeld.