The dirndl or Trachtenkleid (for women) and Lederhosen (for men) began as a traditional Bavarian and East Austrian folk costume. Lederhosen were considered sturdy work clothing, and the embroidery often indicated both the region and class of the wearer. Today both have come back in style for many formal occasions, and when Oktoberfest season nears, dirndl and lederhosen displays can be found in every German department store. Young designers like EriKa Neumayer are interpreting the classic style for a new generation.
Neumayer's puts out her German-inspired collections under the name Rare Dirndl, and her designs are just that with just 3-10 pieces created in each style. The combination of modern couture and the traditional dress of 18th century German peasants has resulted in collections with names like “Down the Rabbit Hole,” “Beautiful, Dark Days,” “Rainforest,” “Nevermore,” and “Intergalactic Expedition.” Lederhosen are now worn by both men and women, and Neumayer’s collections include creative mash-ups of dirndl and lederhosen style.
A Chicago-native of “Donauschwaben” descent, Neumayer feels a strong connection to the German culture that inspires her designs. When she joined the American Aid Society of German Descendants’ youth group in 2001, she says, “she knew she had found home.”
“When I was growing up I always wanted to travel to Germany and when I was in high school I did get that opportunity,” Neumayer explained in an interview. “And being there, it is so different than America…and that also made me want to do more here in America to educate people and really explore my German heritage further.”
During her sophomore year at Dominican University, Neumayer received the Up and Coming Designer of the Year Award, an honor she would receive again in 2008. Her studies also took her to Ghana, West Africa for a closer look at the textile industry, and it was there that she took notice of the “world of cultural textile and dress.” But it was traditional German and Swiss dress that held her attention.
“I am influenced by a variety of things from world history and current events, to artwork and nature,” Neumayer says. “I am inspired by others who stand up for their beliefs and use their art as replacements for their words, such as Marcel Duchamp, Käthe Kollwitz and British graffiti artist, Banksy. My travels also greatly influence my work. Cultural dress and traditional textiles from around the world help me to have a better understanding of my surroundings. My education at Dominican University has taught me the value of quality workmanship as well as given me the confidence and understanding that I can make a difference in not only the fashion industry but also in the society in which I live.”
What will you be wearing this Oktoberfest? Join in the conversation on the Young Germany facebook page.