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So retro

The vintage clothing trend goes to extremes in the German capital

Author Boyd Farrow Illustration Peter Oumanski

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BERLIN – It’s no surprise that Berlin, one of Europe’s most fashionable destinations, has plugged into the vintage clothing craze. But the trend has reached new heights at Fein und Ripp, a retailer on trendy Kastanienallee, which tends to stock items from the 1870s rather than the 1970s, and where the look is more Prussia than Prada.

One mannequin here is attired in a three-piece suit handmade from a roll of linen more than a century old. Top sellers include a surprisingly fetching gray 1930s prisoner suit—one of thousands owner Joachim Pianka discovered in a Swedish government depot—and a collection of 1920s Henley T-shirts liberated from a vault in the Swabian Alps. Pianka cannot say how many of the T-shirts he has in stock. They were among a 45-ton consignment of clothing he agreed to buy three years ago. As his eye-rolling son Marlon pours coffee, Pianka explains that at the time of the purchase he wasn’t even in retail.

Back then he was a travel agent, irritated that the clothes he favored were getting harder to come by. His midlife-crisis–fueled research led him to the old Merz b. Schwanen factory in southern Germany, where he found the late owner’s sons keen to offload stock dating back almost a century. “I had turned 48 and was thinking of doing something new with my life,” he says. “So on impulse I bought the lot.”

Today, Fein und Ripp has a clutter of stock from all over Europe, mainly from tiny labels that have endured for generations. These firms, recently in danger of extinction, are now sought out by legions of hip workwear enthusiasts, who come to Pianka’s shop to buy denim as tough as chainmail, flannel shirts as thick as blankets and near-indestructible boots.

This summer, the store began altering items to sell under its own label—a new brochure features the owner and his two strapping sons modeling the clothes. “This is a family business,” Pianka says, “just like many of the old ones we have helped revive.”

Pianka admits that he cannot resist taking in consignments—this week, he received 700 mail bags from the 1950s—even though there is enough stock in his Kreuzberg warehouse to last his lifetime.

“Enough to last my lifetime,” murmurs Marlon.

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