Friday, March 20, 2015

Beate: Reinvented

Her world is enchanting. Just a glance at her photographs will bring you to a place you haven't been before. And even if you visited the geographical places about which Beate writes (an avid world traveler, she went to India, Australia, North America, Italy, Egypt...), you will be lost in time - guaranteed. But not in the sense that time stops - rather that it flows at a completely different pace, and perhaps direction too. She has an incredible sense of wonder and timeless beauty all around her - in towns and wild nature (in the midst of which she lives), in gardens and interiors, and undoubtedly in her unique outfits. Beate lives in a century old railroad keeper's house (which is what her blog name means in German), in Saxon Switzerland, a picturesque area of Germany. She designs and makes clothes. She gardens. She cooks. She and her husband restore their beautiful old house. She not only loves expressing herself through style, but knows fashion inside and out, being a fashion designer and living in Berlin for a huge part of her life. Don't let the fact that Beate blogs in her native German stop you from reading her blog. Even with the often wonky Google Translate, you will get a sense of  an original personality, artistic talents, rare beauty and such an admirable love of life in its many facets.

I often think of you as a forest fairy - someone who knows the language of animals and plants. I have the impression that nature takes a huge part in your life, which is surprising to me for such a city girl as yourself. Were you always drawn to nature, or it's a recent development?

I grew up in the green outskirts of a small town (60 thousand people), and my grandparents often took us hiking or mushroom hunting in the woods. In summer, we lived in their gardens. And Berlin was much greener in bygone years - a lot of empty places where the bombs erased blocks of buildings - wild overgrown and full of little critters and birds. There were also big parks, so it was not that bad. And we made weekend trips to the sea, the mountains or just to the nearest lake. Living now in the middle of a national park is kind of a dream that came true. 

What things have you had to learn to live in the railroad keeper’s house?

I still learn gardening, but most of the skills I know from my childhood - growing up in the country where the day to day life was not exactly an "atomic age" gave me a good portion of DIY ability.

You make a lot of your clothing and accessories by hand. When do you choose to purchase an item?

I buy underwear (bras at Hunkemöller, they have a lot of sizes and styles), leggings, tights (a pair per year maybe), socks, woolen underwear for winter, hats, gloves, mittens - very rare. I collected such items over the years, so I don't get bored. Jackets and coats are hard to sew (I have a few self sewn), so I buy them, when I find one that fits me and my style, in a second hand or vintage shop, on a flea market (new coats and jackets almost never fit the bill). But there must be a need too, and this is the question I always ask myself: "Do I really need it?" And with my over the years collected wardrobe, the answer is mostly "no" in the last few years. If there is a need, I look for the quality - the fabric, how is it made and will it last for a while. For a well made item, I can throw out some good money. Making my own shoes is not really an option, so I look for shoes in regular stores, using the same criteria as for buying clothing. In the last three years, I bought exactly three pairs of shoes - warm winter booties, sandals and lace-up booties - and only to replace the worn out pairs. 

How would you define your fashion sense at this point? Is it different compared to what it was when you worked as a designer?

I still have the same fashion sense that I had when I was five years old, it has never changed. I have very early memories of adoring clothing on women, and I still adore that same style, and I made collections inspired by that style. In my early childhood (1968-74), most older women still wore  the 1940s-1950s inspired style, or even still wore the same clothes they had twenty years earlier! My mother shook her head about my adoration of the "granny clothes". The definition? "Real" materials, colors, prints/patterns, classic feminine shapes - the mid-century street style. Form follows function. No rules.

Did you like the clothes you were wearing as a child?

Some clothes I liked, some not. I liked  - you guess it - the old school dresses, skirt suits, classic coats. Not so much the usual early 1970s stuff - corduroy pants, anoraks, scratchy polyester sweaters. Those "practical" clothes I had to wear to kindergarten and school. The cute dresses were only for events like birthdays or family gatherings. 

In some of your outfits, you remind me of Grace Kelly. I also noticed that you speak very admirably about your grandmother. Do you have any style icons? 

My style icons change over the time, but yes, both grannies were my first "style icons", and in the end all the stuff I like can be broken down to the style my grannies had: abstract printed shirtwaist dresses in subtle, but not dull colors; strait/pencil skirts in neutrals, with a nice detail; pretty, but not "sweet" blouses; cardigans; solid, timeless coats; headscarves; simple hats; comfy, but not frumpy shoes. For a special occasion, one piece of statement jewelry, but never cheap costume stuff.

What do the words "fashion" and "style" mean to you? How do you differentiate them? 

I'm with the dictionary definition: fashion is a daily mass taste, the things that we can see in the mall windows and on the most people on the streets. Style is a personal thing, and it has nothing to do with the actual fashion. I think it's dressing a personality, not a body, and it is more than clothes, shoes and handbags. In German, Stil means good manners and personality in the first place, clothes are only a part of the picture. 

Do you have favorite designers?

I lost track a bit in the last years. but to name some: Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada, John Galliano, Rei Kawakubo, Wolfgang Joop, Coco Chanel. I like their designs, the clothes, that's it.

What is your favorite period in fashion history?

The 1930s through the 1960s for wearing, first half of the 18th century for admiring and inspiration.

On a day to day basis, how do you dress? What is typically your starting point?

The weather. Then what I want or have to do that day. If it's not homemaking, gardening or hiking, I dress according to my mood. Usually I have some favorite items which get mixed for a while, until I have to wash them (wool skirts, sweaters etc. don't need to be washed all that often - airing in the garden is enough).

What inspires you when you create an item of clothing?

It differs a lot. For my outdoor wardrobe, functionality comes first, and otherwise it can be a piece of fabric (color, pattern, texture etc.), an item I saw somewhere, a historical costume... Mostly it is a mix of all and more - I wake up in the morning with a skirt/dress/trousers etc. in mind, and am not sure from were it comes.

Typically, we divide our wardrobe between basic stuff and statement pieces. How do you interpret these terms? I remember you said in comments once that even a gray cardigan can be a statement. What makes a piece a statement? What does the expression "basic wardrobe" mean to you?

Nothing. I know from reading that one is supposed to have so many plain pants, skirts, shirts, but how plain is plain? And by wearing a plain black sheet with nothing else, but plain black pumps, I make a statement, I think. On the other hand, some of so called statement pieces to me are just an amusement park taste. And as for that very expensive "statement" stuff like purses... a big price tag does not make you chic or stylish, or cool. I remember that comment vaguely. I said something like that: all my pieces make a statement, because they are all special in some way. I have to add that boring, dull clothes (it's mostly the fabric) make me sad. So maybe I can divide a wardrobe into simple/pure and elaborate pieces.

Do you follow any guidelines when creating an outfit?

I have some personal guidelines for dressing my body. Some stuff does not work, and some types of clothing do wonders for me, so I always have that in mind. But for years now, I only have the "wonder doing" clothes in my closet. I don't have to think about proportions or colors, it's all an instinct. If an accessory comes to mind immediately, I'll put it on, if not - I go without. Not much thinking involved in the dressing process.

Many girls dream of working in the fashion industry, but are not sure whether it's possible to reach their dream. You actually went for your dream and became a fashion designer. What was your journey like?

Becoming a fashion designer was relatively easy. My friend Johnny actually helped me a lot by picking up the papers at school and pushing me a bit to fill them out, and send them in, with a couple of my drawings. I was invited to an interview, and two weeks later received an acceptance letter - just because of my talent. The three years at the art school were packed with work, up to sixty hours per week, but it was really wonderful and mostly fun. The hard times came after the graduation. Talent and hard work alone are not enough. Coming from an East German working class family was a big rock in my way - no connections to anyone who had something to say in the fashion world, no money to invest, and I did not know how to behave in that world.

Do you remember when you first started thinking about becoming a fashion designer?

I think, in elementary school my teacher said (after seeing some paper dolls I made) that I should become a fashion designer, and it stuck with me. Later, in my early teens, I discovered the English pop/new wave scene which gave me the idea that I was not alone with my "strange" clothing choices. I learned sewing from granny, and in my late teens I was one of the style icons of our town.

What kind of jobs have you had? Have you ever worked as a model?

Studying design was not possible for me in the GDR (it's a long political story), so I learned to be a leather seamstress in a local factory. After fleeing to West Berlin I still worked for a while as a leather seamstress in a small Turkish shop. After getting my degree, I had a lot of different jobs, to name a few: seamstress in a evening gown/bridal boutique, costume designer for a children's circus, seamstress in a vintage shop. I did pattern drafting for a producer of blouses for big German retailers, was a shop assistant in diverse fashion shops and boutiques, and at all times worked as self-employed as well. I made a lot of bridal dresses, worked with friends on costumes for Rammstein, designed and made the costumes for opera at the music school. Then I had a little shop for two years, but the rent got too expensive, and I had to change to an atelier. Between 2002 and 2010, I made my own collections twice a year, organized presentations, fashion shows and photo shoots. And yes, I worked as a model in my teens, but hey - it was East Germany.

What did you like about working in the fashion industry? What did you not like?

The only thing I liked was that I could make clothes. The fashion industry/scene is a snake pit, it is not a cliché. They kiss you and say how gorgeous you are, but in the moment you turn your back, they will poke a metaphorical scissor in it. Nobody is honest, cynicism is the parole of the day. Connections are sealed with cocaine (I have never done it, which I'm sure is one of the reasons that I was not successful). It's a misogynist business. Have you ever wondered why the fashion seems to be only for the very young and thin, almost boyish?  I wanted to endure all that, because I wanted to make clothes, but when the sales descended with the economical crisis in Europe there was no reason to put energy in that any longer.  

Was it a difficult decision to stop being a fashion designer and start a new chapter in your life? How long did it take to make the decision? 

It was difficult. It took me one year and the "help" of a knee surgery which put me in bed for two months. 

When you decided to change your life, in your darkest days what was helping you to stick with your new dream?

In the darkest days, there was no new dream, just hopelessness and darkness. But a lot of conversations with my wonderful husband cleared the skies, and I could dream again. Then he came up with the railroad keeper's house in the Saxon Switzerland, and I knew what I wanted to do in the future - to be a wander guide. I need "only" a drivers license, then I will start walking interested people across our cute mountains.

Which do you think is more important: to try new things and reinvent yourself from time to time, or to be faithful to what you once created or achieved and stick with it, no matter what?

If your chosen way of life really sucks - change it! I don't mean that you should throw the rifle in the field at the first obstacle, but when even after a lot of thinking, consideration and trying it gets only worse, you should make the cut and start new.

How do you define yourself now?

Artistic homemaker and nature loving wanderer. 

What your typical day looks like these days? Describe it. You wake up, then...

I wake up between 7 and 8, check my email, make strong coffee, sometimes cook muesli (if I don't have bread which I started making myself weekly a year or so ago, it usually lasts for 4 to 5 days). While eating breakfast, I read the blogs I like and comment. In winter, I make fire in the oven and feed the wild birds. Then I get dressed (home clothes like I showed lately on the blog) and start my day: bring in coals, chop and store wood, clean the kitchen a bit, put away worn clothes. I usually have some kind of project to work on: fixing broken things, stripping/painting furniture, planning bigger building projects. Once a week I do a big cleaning, bake bread and prepare food for the weekend - when we are busy, it's nice to only have to warm up a soup or stew. In summer, I work in the garden - weeding, watering, harvesting, processing the harvest. And can't forget taking and editing photos, writing posts and a lot of sitting around and thinking, and making scribbles. I have a quick lunch around noon, and maybe another coffee. I usually work till six, in the very dark winter days till four or five, and in summer it can be till nine. Then I change into my pajamas, read a book, magazine, newspaper or something on the Internet, listen to some music or to the birds if it's warm enough to sit outside. Then I cook dinner, eat, read some more or watch a DVD. By ten I usually fall asleep. Boring, eh?

What are some of your favorite spare time activities, when all the daily work is done?

Reading books! But more and more often, I have troubles to find books that I like. Márquez, the Manns or Agatha Christie are hard to top.

You are an avid world traveler. Does discovering different countries and cultures affect your sense of fashion? Do you buy clothing or accessories in your travels?

I love buying things to wear as souvenirs while traveling! And different nature and cultures inspire me a lot! After Egypt, I loved earthy colors with blues, after Australia I did not wear black the whole summer, but rather combined hot pink, turquoise and sun yellow in one outfit, with flip-flops, of course.

How did your vision of fashion and its place in people's life change from the girl who dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, then being a fashion designer, and finally being the person who you are now? Other than functionality, why do we need clothes?

I don't think my vision changed. We only need clothes for not getting frozen to death or sunburned. The rest is art, a game. Even modesty is something made-up. On Bali, before the colonists and missionaries came, only prostitutes covered the bosom - it was the pride of all respectable women to go bare-breasted. 

What do you love the most about your newly chosen lifestyle?

I can go outdoors without being confronted with the crowd. My own garden, almost without a neighborhood (only a few tiny dachas), is a blessing. And growing my own herbs is just wonderful. If I want, I can go hiking directly from my front door. And wild animals! All the birds, squirrels, mice, frogs, butterflies and bugs, the occasional boar, deer or fox bring me peace. They live, and I suppose happily so. To watch them is like a therapy. 

Do you have a dream or a goal for the near future?

Getting a driver's license! Want it - need it! But with an old house in the middle of renovation and only one income, and the price in Germany for such kind of document... But it is the base to do any kind of payed job here. It's my biggest goal at the moment, besides the house renovation. The house renovation is something I can do by myself in most cases though, with just a few bucks for some materials. I just have to do something every day, that's easy. 

When thinking of yourself in the future (10, 20, 30 years from now), what do you see? Will you live in the same home? Will your style change? Do you think it's possible that you will want to reinvent yourself once again?

I wish I can still live here, I wish that I don't get too fragile for this kind of life. If my clothes don't fall apart, I can wear them for the rest of my life, or I sew some new in my road-tested style. I see no need to reinvent myself again - I have the feeling that I've arrived.

Dear Beate, I'm happy and honored to have worked with you on this piece. Thank you so much for your openness about the past and the now. It is truly inspiring to see a talented person who despite some painful experiences stays true to herself and her passion for life and creativity, and while letting go of disappointments is building her new dream.  


You can find all interviews here.

Linking up with Visible Monday.


  1. Very interesting interview! Thank you for introducing me to Beate.


  2. Wow, this is amazing Natalia and Beate! Excellent writing on both of your parts. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every word and the pictures are gorgeous. I loved getting to know Beate more as I don't get a lot that comes through on the translation option. Though much of her personality and style definitely comes through in the pictures on her blog and her personable and honest way she communicates in her comments on my blog. I would love to spend time with her in her world and hire her for a nature walk. Her life and style are authentic and richly classic. I feel that I enter a classic storybook from way back in time when I click over to her blog, it takes me away and reminds me to stay true to who I am.
    Thank you for sharing Beate!

    1. joni! you are very welcome! if you´r ever in germany i would love to take you around in our mountains!!!!! xxxxxx

  3. natasha! thank you very much for having me for a interview on your fabulous blog! and for polishing my wonky english a bit :-)
    you did a great work, if i look from a distance - like a magazine reader looks at a random interview - i´m really impressed how your questions and their chronology work! you know your job!!!!!
    tons of big hugses! xxxxxxxxx

    1. Thank you, Beatochka! I'm learning. :) And it was incredibly fun to work with you! xxx

  4. Natasha, you are such a fabulous interviewer! Really interesting and insightful questions. I thoroughly enjoyed your take on Beate. Thankyou! xo Jazzy Jack

  5. Natalia, this was a fascinating interview that took us into Beate's world. Your insightful questions gave me a better understanding of Beate and her way of life and her thoughtful take on the fashion world, to say nothing of the simply beautiful photography. Thankyou Natalia and Beate .

  6. What a wonderful interview, Natalia. I love Beate, I think she is such a unique and beautiful woman. Her style, her home, her ethics and approach to life, I find it all very impressive. You chose some fascinating questions (and some wonderful photos!) and I really enjoyed reading Beate's answers. It's always good to learn more about one's favourite bloggers, so thanks to both of you! xxx

  7. Natalia, thanks for giving us a glimpse into Beate's life. You are such a fantastic writer. xo

  8. What an intriguing woman, with a truly beautiful life (even pets the snakes!). Thanks for sharing this portrait with Visible Monday, xo.

  9. This is delightful, thank you for such an in-depth piece of writing and the accompanying creative imagery. How good that Beate now feels herself 'arrived'.

  10. What a wonderful interview, Natalia. Beate is a fabulous woman, stylish, talented, kind and authentic. I know that we'd be great friends in real life. I loved the questions, I feel like I know her even better now. xxx

  11. I trully enjoyed this interview. I admire Beatte and always count on her comments and I find her style one of a kind but I also admire your sense of writing, so true and touching. So you can understand how much I enjoyed the interview ,every bit of it. You are both fabulous women and I'm glad I've met you in blogosphere. Maybe in real life one day....!

  12. Beautifully done, Natalia. I think you have a gift for asking the best questions and this was such a delightful piece to read! It is also your gift that you really see people clearly and I think that is why you do this so well. xoxoxo

  13. I had to come back a few times to this post because someone would always interrupt me while reading, but it was worth it. What a fabulous lady...thank you for introducing us to her!

  14. Thank you for this rich introduction! Her style is so beautifully eclectic and her face so lovely. I love the wonky translations of Google, by the way, so I will look into her site. She certainly has so many talents !
    I hope you are well
    xx, Elle