Hergenhahn: Craftsmanship at the Service of Fashion
28 October, 2013
Fashion firm Hergenhahn Knitwear has been working out of Barcelona for 24 years, where it designs and produces two knitwear collections per year – one for men and one for women – along with an extensive collection of accessories.
The person behind the Hergenhahn Knitwear brand is Susanne Hergenhahn, a German designer originally from Munich who started off in the world of fashion at the age of 18.
When faced with the choice of what to study after school, fashion didn’t even cross Susanne’s mind. At first she chose to study theatre. But the line between the scenic arts and fashion is often a fine one, and she decided to cross it. Shortly before finishing her theatre studies she decided to become a pattern and clothing maker.
Making clothes captured her heart. Together with a designer from Frankfurt, she took her first steps in the industry, first creating and sewing textile surfaces for high-end coats, jumpers and belts. Then, following a period in Madrid where she worked in the sector, she enrolled at Barcelona’s Fashion Arts and Techniques School, where she completed her studies.
She decided to set down roots in the Catalan capital and has now been here for over two decades. During this time Hergenhahn Knitwear has grown as both a label and a company. “Looking back over the years, the most important time was at the beginning. I started to work for myself in 1994 and my designs quickly became successful,” Hergenhahn explains.
At that time not only did she have her own company, she also designed for other labels. “I had so much work I had to turn down a number of offers and orders. You can’t even imagine that happening today”.
Simple and unique
The clothes Hergenhahn makes are contemporary, comfortable and special, “particularly because of the artisanal, unique details they all feature,” she says. “The design process begins with the raw material: the thread, the wool and the colours I want for the samples collections,” she explains.
Hergenhahn admits that when you run your own fashion company, most of your working hours aren’t spent on design. “You enjoy yourself enormously when you are designing, but design is only a small part of the work. You have to spend most of your time on other things, like production and sales…”
The designer keeps her eyes open during this managerial and administrative work. “I sketch and take notes year-round because ideas can strike when you least expect them. I draw inspiration from daily life, from what is happening on the street, or an exhibition, or the cinema, or from listening to music.”
Despite these preliminary sketches on paper, the creative process usually begins in earnest with the patterns, “Volume is extremely important to me and many times I actually design when I am making the patterns.”
Even though the shapes determine the designs she will make, the raw material is of central importance in her clothing. “I mainly use threads and natural wools. I am very concerned about quality and want my end client to have a great product and to feel very comfortable”.
Environmental awareness and durable designs are other considerations for Hergenhahn when it comes to choosing materials and creating new designs.
Into the future
Hergenhahn Knitwear is a small company, “practically a craft firm,” she says. But size is
no obstacle to her making two knitwear collections per year – one for men and one for women – along with an extensive collection of accessories that she sells around Spain, in Germany (Frankfurt and Berlin) and in the US (New Mexico). All together she has 16 points of sale. Like many other business of this size, she doesn’t rule out online sales in the near future.
When she started out in the fashion sector, Hergenhahn never imagined having her own company or designing clothes that would bear her name from scratch. Now, when she looks to the future, she says she “would love to have a complete collection, not just knitwear”. But that step will have to wait for now, because, the designer says, “I need to expand the company and take on staff”. “That’s very risky at the moment,” she says.
Ágata Ruiz de la Prada, Antonio Miró and Jocomomola of Sibilla are just some of the labels Susanne Hergenhahn has collaborated or worked with over the course of her career. She has learnt something from each of them. “All experiences are good experiences. They open your eyes and let you to see the reality better. Each company has a different work style that you learn to adapt to. There are some companies where you have to work with strict limitations and others that let you design with incredible techniques.”
Hergenhahn is not a person to be content with just one project and – as in the early days when she worked with different labels – she now combines the multiple responsibilities of having her own company with working as an end-of-course project teacher for fashion-design students.