speakfashion: Elke, as far as the story goes did you step into the fashion business accidentally since you couldn’t find the right garment for yourself. Is that true?
Elke Walter: Absolutely. It happened during the 90s while I lived in France, certainly the designated mother country of high fashion. Ironically I couldn’t find my dress of all dreams even there. So I decided to create one by myself. At this very first experience with fashion design I experienced the beauty of fabrics. This was the start for me as a fashion designer.
speakfashion: Back then you didn’t have much experience either in design or in working with fabrics. How did you teach yourself into all that?
Elke Walter: Honestly, I hate being taught. But I have a good taste and a very good feeling for high quality. And learning by doing is very often the best way to approach an unknown territory. So it took me some hard days and sleepless nights at the beginning before something wearable came out. But after all people started asking me where they could buy those dresses. At this time I knew I’m on the right track. I’m not very good in sketching but I know what I like and what makes women look beautiful. I’m a natural born designer.
speakfashion: Sounds very dedicated. But since you don’t have all the typical skills fashion designers learn while studying, how do you create your designs then?
Elke Walter: I choose the fabric I want to work with and have my mind go into it until I know what has to be done with. Then I start my creation as a courageous act: I take my scissors and I cut. I never draw. I never make sketches. I create sculptures. This is how I started and I’m still working within this unusual design process. Finally the cut will be made after my first sculptural prototype.
speakfashion: Since you have lots of experience as a self-taught designer: What’s the most important skill for upcoming fashion designers?
Elke Walter: In my mind the most important skill for a fashion designer is to work out his own design signature. A very unique handwriting combined with passion and diligence is probably a must have for future success.
speakfashion: And what’s the biggest challenge designers have to struggle with when they start their own business?
Elke Walter: All designers are challenged by the same uphill struggle which is to design a beautiful head-turner that is both comfortable and wearable at the same time. A great garment has to be stunning from all sides. It doesn’t make sense to work on a beautiful front and ignore the back for instance.
speakfashion: Talking about stunning dresses. What’s your design all about?
Elke Walter: All my Ready to Wear and Couture dresses are made out of a rectangular piece of fabric. That’s my individual design signature. I decided to work with this rectangular structure because the base of all things is simple. Why shouldn’t be the base of fashion design simple either? The simplicity keeps open all the possibilities to proceed later on. For me there is no other way of cutting. It has become sort of a personal dogma. It makes my designs very special, very comfortable and there is a new challenge in designing different items every day.
speakfashion: A special design sounds very tempting. Are all your pieces still handmade too?
Elke Walter: In the beginning I did everything myself. After a little while I got some helping hands working in my Hamburg based design studio. But 2011 will be the year where we have to outsource the production to specialized German production companies.
speakfashion: That means you’d broaden up your fashion line in the past since you need more and more outside vendors to help you out?
Elke Walter: Yes, definitely. Meanwhile I’m running four lines. My all-time bestselling line ‘TOKYO’ which is made of black Japanese polyester and sold by retailers worldwide. ‘ADAN’, an abbreviation for ‘All-Day-All-Night’, is a line where I design street wear. I also have a highly exclusive line which is what it says: ‘Elke-Walter-One-Of-A-Kinds’. All designs are custom-made for special occasions of special clients. To bridge the gap between the lines I’ll put on another one this year ranging from street wear to cocktail and evening dresses.
As for the fabrics I love modern yarns that make fabrics better to wear and more beautiful. Oh and I have to confess: I am a polyester maniac.
speakfashion: So it seems you found yourself a niche where customers are willing to pay for sophisticated designs rather than to go for widely known fashion brands?
Elke Walter: That’s true, yes. But you have to be able to react really fast to market changes if you want to survive in this niche. Do what big companies can’t: React fast to changing demands of women and you can get decent prices for your designs. Speaking of the reproducible lines my designs start at 300 Euros and go up to 1,500 Euros. My unique pieces range between 2,500 and 10,000 Euros.
speakfashion: Did you experience a distinctive taste in different countries since you market your clothes all over the world?
Elke Walter: Today there is no difference between the countries. Fashion is international. It is the attitude of women that makes the difference. In general I would say that women everywhere have the same token: Dressing up to be beautiful.
speakfashion: This statement pictures a bright future for fashion though. What’s your plan for the upcoming season?
Elke Walter: Oh there is a lot going on in 2011. First of all I’d like to bring out my men’s line. To broaden up our sales promotion we’ll open up a showroom in Milan and get some promotion assistance from our US and Japanese agent. In March we will have a runway show in the German Embassy in Tokyo as well. So stay tuned and keep an eye up for Elke Walter designs.
speakfashion: We will Elke. Thanks so much for sharing all these ideas with us. Enjoy your trip to Tokyo.
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