I spoke with Jennifer Brachmann, the designer behind the Berlin-based men’s wear label Brachmann to learn more about her design background and process.
We were introduced to each other through a mutual acquaintance and on that occasion, both Jennifer and her husband and label co-founder Olaf Kranz were wearing outerwear from Brachmann. I was struck by the understated elegance of the clean yet strong silhouettes they cut: Olaf in his trench and Jennifer in a simple jacket that was alluring in its simplicity. Brachmann’s design aesthetic, quality, craftsmanship, and expertise are evident from the start.
Brachmann specializes in menswear classics with a twist. Enduring and timeless pieces like the dress shirt, vest, and suit jacket are reinterpreted to give a contemporary and even futuristic resonance. This is the label’s signature: post-classical menswear.
Jennifer solely works with natural fibers. She sources her fabric from the best mills and producers in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Portugal. The fine materials truly suit the refined and expert cut and construction with which Brachmann is synonymous.
There is a contemplative nature to the label’s driving concept of post-classical menswear. The past is not discounted but it is not revered, either. In Jennifer’s hands, the classics become fresh and relatable. These are pieces that breathe new life into menswear and are thoroughly modern and avant-garde while being unpretentious, wearable, and versatile.
Perhaps Jennifer’s training and immersion in architecture led to the well-struck balance between all three: concept and form, form and function, and art/design philosophy and fashion.
6dB: Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you trained as an architect. Did you practice as well?
Jennifer: No, I just did an internship. But I decided to go on studying with fashion design when I was still studying architecture. I finished my studies and continued immediately with fashion.
6dB: Did you continue at the same institution?
Jennifer: No, it was another school. I did architecture at a technical university in Dresden where we also had art subjects. We had figure drawing and [other classes] to get trained in seeing proportions and so on. We could also choose painting as a class.
I studied fashion at Halle, which was an art school. While I was studying architecture, I noticed that I wanted to develop further in all the things that were more [about] designing and art, designing cross points. That’s why I didn’t leave it – I went on with it. In art school, I repeated classes in the same subjects because you can’t draw enough. You aren’t finished in one state, so you go on and go on developing. And I wanted to take this chance to do it.
6dB: When you conceive of and design a collection, do you work with a lot of drawing or does it depend?
Jennifer: No. I don’t really work with a lot of drawings because the design process is more in the head than drawing with the patterns. But drawing is also important for just learning how to see proportions and how proportions relate to one another.
I like drawing but in the usual way of making the collection, drawing often just comes at the end. Unfortunately there isn’t enough time to [draw] – not as much as I would like in order to do it. But sometimes there are competitions or exhibitions for which I have to draw and I really enjoy this.
[There are] technical drawings, of course. We have to make them for production. When we don’t do the samples in-house, then we do it as a communication paper. But this is another kind of drawing – it’s a technical drawing.
6dB: Are there any similarities between the architecture plans and the technical drawings?
Jennifer: Yes, of course. Grundriss in German, the blueprint. In a way, [it’s] the layer where you really have level by level in a technical drawing. It’s also something abstract that brings a 3D thing into two dimensions. And if you do a pattern for example, it’s also the same because you also have to bring 3D. Clothes are also on a body, they are 3D and [you] to bring it again into 2D so it works. Also in the technical drawing, you have special symbols for a special seam for example. If it’s for overstitch or it’s the outside line, it’s different. It’s not as strict as it is in architecture so there is more room for interpretation. But there are those similarities.
6dB: Do you do the pattern making in-house?
Jennifer: From time to time we give it to a [pattern maker] for grading and alterations. As for developing the patterns, it’s part of the design process. That’s why I want to keep it in-house so I can also develop what’s important for our handwriting, because it has a lot to do with the patterns.
6dB: It’s very clear from your clothing that’s the core of it and that you explore shape and proportion through the pattern making.
Did you make clothing when you were younger, as a child?
Jennifer: Yes, I started when I wanted to have a special dress and my mother said, “It’s so easy, you can do it yourself.” And so I started. My mother and grandmother were always making clothing. When I was a very small child, my mother was sewing a lot and so I was supported in doing it. We had a sewing machine at home anyway. When I was bored, my mother would say, “Here, I have some fabric. Why don’t you make something nice?” It developed more and more. I was sewing just for fun, just to have nice stuff that was a little different.
6dB: You grew up in East Germany. I’m not sure when you were born, but was it difficult to source clothing if you wanted something special?
Jennifer: This was maybe the reason why my mother and grandmother did it because it was easier and you also had quite good magazines that [included] patterns.
6dB: Like Sybille?
Jennifer: Like Sybille. It was quite famous and we had it at home. That’s why I think it was more common to sew in the family. But I was nine when there was the change so it wasn’t that important for me. But even after the change sometimes you had an idea and wanted to have something and you couldn’t buy it. I remember I wanted to have a long shirt with Mickey Mouse on it. My mother had some bedding, a pillowcase with Mickey Mouse on it so we made a long shirt out of this together. And this was after the change.
6dB: What drew you to do architecture initially?
Jennifer: My mother is a landscape architect and my father was an architect and I was raised with architecture always around, [surrounded by] a lot of models and plants. I was always around it. My parents always supported me in being creative. I was drawing and doing these sort of things from the beginning. So it was not a bother [or stretch] to start doing it and [my parents] encouraged me and so on.
When it came to [deciding] what I would like to study, it was quite fast. It was clear that it had to be connected to something, and not just emotional, as maybe art is. There had to be a connection with the functional and a little structural thinking because at school I was not bad in this. I was also interested in science. With both of these interests, I thought, “ok, you have a bit of an idea of what architecture means and it could be fun for you.” So I started doing architecture. I really liked it.
6dB: Was there anything in particular that triggered your decision to branch off into fashion design?
Jennifer: It was [the reality of] the profession as it is in architecture. [When] I did my internship I got more of an idea of what it means to be an architect and in a way, how big the gap was between what I studied and what they wanted from me in everyday life.
It was still a growing process when I was studying. I started when I was eighteen and while studying architecture, I found out what my strengths are and what work I enjoy doing. The everyday life of an architect or for most architects is to plan a lot, to organize a lot, to sit in front of the computer and draw a lot on the computer. Of course, there is also creativity – this is not a question – but it’s not the way I wanted to spend my life, my working life. So this was the point where I decided to find something where my strengths could be a little more [utilized].
6dB: How did you come up with the concept of The Explorer for this past collection?
Jennifer: In the previous collection, we were working with the topic of sailors. At the same time, we were nominated for a Woolmark competition for which you have to find solutions for fabrics or get into fabric construction with wool. In combining the principle of form follows function with Bauhaus, the idea came up.
The sailors’ clothes were wool, but in a functional way, and the forms that were used for the sailors’ clothes were [also] functional. Many ideas came up that I couldn’t finish with the Sailor collection so we tried to find a continuing story. At the same time in the media, there was an article about this expedition, that they found a lost ship from an expedition. I studied the whole story to see what it means to be an explorer. That’s why we went on with the winter interpretation or continuation of the sailor and the explorer as well.
This topic has a lot of levels. [There is this element] of the future – you don’t know the future. One part of this [expedition] story was that they wanted to find a passage through the Arctic Sea, which was at that time still icy and that’s why they all died and the expedition wasn’t successful. In a way, it’s really cynical that the ship is found now because of the climate change. This passage is now ice-free. This was also very interesting.
Another point is that as an explorer you look into the future and try to find something. You hope you find it and hope you are successful in what you imagine what might be there.
There’s a little link to fashion because you are also designing something for the future, even it is just for the quite close future. There is also some kind of risk, if you are successful in it and if the influences you receive, if you find the right interpretation that fits to the future. Yes, this similarity was quite interesting.
6dB: And hopefully not as cynical. No one has to die.
Jennifer: (laughing) No. “Now you’re banned forever!”
6dB: I could really see that in the fashion presentation, because they looked a little frozen over too.
Jennifer: That was the plan, that they looked a bit frozen.
6dB: I could clearly see anorak references. Was there other typical outdoor wear/exploration gear that you referenced?
Jennifer: The hood, the duffel coat, having a big coat, hiding from the weather. There was also material reference to modern explorers with the neoprene. We used a cotton knit that looks like neoprene.
We also referenced sea clothing like the captain’s blazer. They didn’t just wear functional stuff. And of course the vest, it was the vest with the pockets. It looks like a lifeguard vest, the shape.
6dB: And the color palate too.
Going back to the spring and summer collection since we shot that too, I noticed you used a lot of linen. How you did you choose those fabrics?
Jennifer: For me, linen is a summer fabric. It’s a natural fabric that you can do a lot of nice things with, especially this kind of linen is very fine and very thin and it looks very luxe. I don’t mean luxury but very fine, precious. And I really like the color palate offered, from a producer from Switzerland. I really like it. I know that it wrinkles a lot and [this] belongs to it; it has its own material properties.
6dB: Because your designs are very structured so it’s an interesting counterbalance to make something very structured in a material that has its own…
Jennifer: Weave but yes, especially with this, linen works quite well. There are other linen qualities where it’s much more difficult. Sometimes you have a little more width and then suddenly you have a big bubble, but with this linen it works great.
6dB: The linen is quite dense even if it’s quite fine, with a high thread count. It was a real weight, stiffness or hand to it.
I know there are a few pieces that are signature Brachmann [pieces]. Can you tell me which items those are?
Jennifer: We are always developing them a little. In the beginning it was or it still is what customers [keep] asking for. For example, [there’s] the shirt cut, the mix of a cutaway and a shirt, which we didn’t present in the winter collection. [We aim] to give a classical piece a modern appearance, in using modern fabrics, and not lining it and stuff. But we didn’t present it at the [winter] collection because there were other pieces that could be developed in that way.
Some of the jackets, the (suit) jacket without the collar and the wider pants, the pants with pleats, are also signature pieces. They are in more than one collection but there will be new signature pieces maybe in the next collection.
6dB: There’s also the shirt with the vest, which ties in nicely to the cutaway shirt or the cut shirt as you said, which really speaks to this concept of neo-classicism.
Jennifer: This was also the starting point and the main idea of my graduation. It was in my graduation collection. I developed the concept to find clothes that are really as classical as possible, [those which] haven’t changed over the years. In my opinion, they were very [clearly] the cutaway, the vest, and of course the shirt. And that’s it, three pieces. The idea of the graduation collection was to mix them up and see how strongly they still communicate what they are. So if you have a lot of pieces that you know from the vest then you are saying yes, it’s mainly a vest but with something [from] a shirt. [It’s difficult] in a way to describe it or give it a name. The collection [aimed] to play with how far you can go and how [menswear or designing menswear] works.
It’s the same parts of every classic and what happens with this hybrid. Some pieces were absolutely shirts but also have a detail from a vest, for example. So the whole concept from the label started [from this].
6dB: It’s like a remix. Do you have names for these garments you’ve developed?
Jennifer: Technical names or names, names?
6dB: You mentioned “cut shirt”…
Jennifer: We had this kind of thing in the beginning but after awhile you get confused. [At first] we had names like “the vest shirt in one layer” or “the vest shirt in two layers.” Since there were so many versions of [pieces] we decided to give names for every collection. And for the online collection, it’s very strange and hard to give [pieces] technical names so we gave them names of men. But it’s not easy to find so many names.
We always try to connect [the names] with the topic of the collection, so the Explorer names were Icelandic names. The sailors were mostly North German or North European names as far as it was possible. In the beginning we had a lot of French names so let’s see what will be next.