Berlin Fashion Week: Backstage Exclusive with Mika Modiggård

ExclusiveAn interview backstage at Berlin Fashion Week with Swedish sustainable designer, Mika Modiggård.

The industry’s biggest names converged in Germany’s capital last weekend for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin. Historically, haute centers like New York, Paris, and Milan have defined global garment trends, and these cities’ gridiron prominence make it difficult for emerging designers to make inroads in high-concept couture. Berlin, still gritty over 20 years after the Wall dividing East and West fell, is a different story altogether, and has become a prime platform for new, less-established designers to showcase their collections on an international stage. Swedish-born, Berlin-based fashion designer Mika Modiggård is one such artist.

With astounding industry momentum and only 23 years under her belt, Modiggård is a rising star in Europe; this year, the Swedish Fashion Council ranked her as one of the best up-and-coming designers at Stockholm Fashion Week, and she presented her business and designs to the Crown Princess of Sweden. On Thursday, Modiggård kicked off the catwalk for the Lavera Showfloor in the Kosmos building on Karl-Marx Allee, a monumental socialist boulevard that divides the Mitte and Friedrichshain boroughs of Berlin. She debuted her collection, Rollercoaster, for over 1,000 attendees, featuring sustainably-produced clothing crafted from upcycled vintage-leather and ethically-sourced silks.

Sweeping change has defined 2011 for Modiggård, a theme that manifests in her latest designs: Her life has been a professional and personal roller coaster this year. Post-runway show, EcoSalon sat down backstage with the designer to talk about her career and latest collection.

Mika Modiggård

Modiggård explained that she has been hand-producing and selling clothing since she was 15 years old, when she began experimenting with a sewing machine and creating projects with scrap and secondhand shop garments she deconstructed for auto-didactic purposes: “My education wasn’t formal, but rather one of reverse engineering,” Modiggård said. Growing up in downtown Stockholm, she would frequent used-clothing stores, picking up items that she would disassemble at home, in the process learning how to recreate the shapes and patterns herself. After “one hundred so-so projects,” she received an internship and, summoning all her young-adult courage, asked if she might sell some of her own designs in the shop.

Out of bits of leftover cloth, she stitched together quirky little wallets with a set sales price of only 10 euros. Later that year, she and her father went out for a quick bite to eat at, of all places, a European McDonald’s. At the eatery, a fashionable young woman stood in line in front of Modiggård; to pay for her meal, the young woman pulled money out of one of the billfolds that Modiggård had sewn. At that moment, the designer said, “I knew that I could make it, and that this is what I was going to do.”

Four years ago, Modiggård relocated to Berlin, a cultural destination for indie artists from around the world, who are attracted by the city’s cheap rent for apartments and studio space. She set up shop in the city’s Neukölln borough, a district with one of Berlin’s highest immigrant populations and began fusing her existing eco-fashion sensibility with a harder-edged style. The result? Rollercoaster, a collection that bespeaks the designers current state of mind.

“The past year has been a figurative roller coaster ride. My designs burst into the public eye, garnering me attention I could never have foreseen. The limelight has been overwhelming, but more so an inspiration to push my work into riskier territory.” With the challenge to up the ante creatively, Modiggård retained her loyalty to Scandinavian minimalism but began fusing this design tradition with influences from Berlin’s burgeoning hip-hop scene and also street fashion, which tends to be hard, dark and with little whimsy.

With Modiggård’s gravitation toward experimentation has also come a deepening of her commitment to ethical production of her garments. Her company motto – Fashion, but not at any price – translates her ecologically-minded philosophy toward her craft, one in which environmental and labor conditions are just as important as developing her unique brand of clothing that gives you extreme street cred.