Blaž Čuk’s minimalistic dystopian designs are based on his love for the colour black and Berlin’s thriving subculture lifestyles – it is the only colour in his palette – and he uses contrasting materials paired with out of the box experimentalism to create his collections. Born in Slovenia, he studied fashion at the Academy of Design in Ljubljana and moved to Berlin in 2012 to continue his dream of launching his own label. We met a year ago during Berlin Alternative Fashion Week, where I simultaneously fell in love with his minimal dystopian designs that are somewhere between functional, fetish and combat. This was a year ago. Today he owns his own intimate showroom in Berlin’s crowded but iconic Neukölln and his label Obectra has become synonymous with Berlin’s thrilling nightlife. He just debuted his second collection “Zwei” at Berlin Alternative Fashion Week, taking inspiration by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote that “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” I decided to interview Blaž to talk about Berlin’s fashion identity, the city’s startup opportunities and his own journey from young designer to a quintessential Berlin label.
Is Berlin a fashion city?
Berlin is a fashion city. It may not be Paris, New York or Milan. It´s Berlin! We have a fashion industry here as well and it´s getting louder every year.
Would you say that it’s underestimated?
It doesn’t make sense to compare Berlin to other fashion capitols. Berlin is special in a lot of ways. It’s a very different fashion scene over here. It´s very niche and perhaps not as respectable as other fashion cities around the world (yet), but it´s growing- and I think it’s growing towards an interesting direction. Something special is developing here.
How would you describe the fashion of Berlin?
Fashion here, the way I see it, is more street-wear then anything else. It´s connected with what we do, our daily lives and the many subcultures the city houses. Here in Berlin, we like to party and the city offers some of the best clubs in the world, which consequently encourages out of the box personalities and edgy styles. Sex is an omnipresent element of the city and being naked in Berlin is old news and not frowned upon. Expressionism and emancipation is everything. So if you ask me how to describe fashion in Berlin in one sentence, I would say “alternative with a hint of comfortable sex.”
How is the entrepreneurial climate in the city?
It’s relatively easy and affordable to start-up in Berlin, if you know what you want and what you are doing. There is always something different, something new and exciting- lots of opportunities on the horizon. From Music, parties, to art, movies and fashion- here it’s about the people who are driving it. There are a lot of people with certain knowledge or areas of expertise and they are willing to share this with you, which really helps.
What’s the best thing the city has to offer to ambitious starters like yourself?
Berlin is a great city to start anything. Compared to other big cities, it offers affordable living in every way imaginable. This is the ultimate everyday gift, especially if you are interested in entrepreneurship and are looking at costs ahead as a starter. However, it´s changing fast.
You started for your own, why not going to work for a big brand first?
I always knew what I wanted to do in life- and that helps. My dream has always been to have my own label and I started building on this idea quite early on. I had a plan all along and I knew exactly what kind of a fashion designer I wanted to become.
Starting your own label is not easy, a lot of fresh designers try and fail and some won’t try at all, not being encouraged to do it. How is it working for you?
An important part of the process is to be mentally prepared by having a firm idea of who you are and what you want to present as an artist. Knowing how your world looks like is tremendously important for your future, because from this point on, you need to focus on your work and on how to grow as a designer and an entrepreneur at the same time. From there on you really need to work hard if you want to achieve anything, because talent means nothing if there is no hard work involved. There are just zero shortcuts! And money is the factor that is present in every step of your work and unfortunately it has a big impact on your future. But there are ways to create a balance in all this ‘chaos.’ And this chaos is and will be always there for you to figure it out. It’s a constant, but worthy battle.
Did money play a factor for you?
Of course, and it still does and probably always will. Money is always a problem, but sometimes this is a good thing too. It pushes you to be creative, to be humble and patient. Timing is everything. You have to be realistic throughout the entire process.
Berghain. Your clothes are always associated with the notoriously famous Berlin club.
Well, my brand is definitely inspired by Berlin nightlife. People here are building and maintaining these beautiful subcultures and living all kinds of lifestyles and all the while they are having fun, dancing and enjoying the music and each other’s company. I try to facilitate that through my designs. The connection to Berghain comes from the fact that everything I design is black and minimalistic. But that was a decision that came way before I even knew the story about this club that I’ve come to love so much. In a way, we found each other and this is the result. It’s an honour to be associated with the club I find extraordinary in the best possible way.
You presented your first runway collection at Berlin Alternative Fashion Week and now your second collection. How has that experience helped you?
I’ve been wanting to show my clothes at Berlin Alternative ever since I found out it existed. BAFW really breathes the spirit of Berlin’s audacious fashion and it fits in well with my work and the world I’m in as a designer. It´s funny, because the first time around I applied, I thought that I wouldn’t get in, because I’m a small brand and thought I had nothing to show. But then I got in and the reactions to the clothes were really positive. I came home after Berlin Alternative Fashion Week after midnight, exhausted but incredibly inspired, and started searching for the studios or shops I could rent. That night I found exactly the one that I have right now. It´s crazy how sometimes everything comes together. It was the last push I needed to understand that I had to open my own shop. I’m glad I did, I guess the timing was right and I did it. Knowing your stage and audience too, is part of knowing your world, and consequently it helps you achieve that success.
You’ve been in business now for little over a year, any regrets?
I opened my store exactly a year ago- having worked on my label for 5 years before that- and I have no regrets of any kind. I’m growing slow and I´m very focused on what I´m doing. I realise how often I’m mentioning that you need to be focused, but this is everything in my opinion, because it’s so easy to lose yourself on your wanted path. There are many factors that can and will screw with your brain if you let it. To me, to succeed means knowing what you want and what keeps you grounded in that to live your ambition to the fullest. As for the future, I want to be big. I want to grow my brand. How big? I guess we’ll see when you interview me then.