Visiting New York for the first time since the pandemic took hold, the Frankfurt-based designer Albrecht Ollendiek took in the art scene as much as he could.
Having been in business for 35 years, he said, “To be honest, my big love is New York because I started doing business in New York when I was 20 [through a German-American fashion agency that was selling German fashion designers to the U.S.].”
Exploring art heightens his design sensibilities, whether that be Chinese bronzes from the Shang dynasty or the work of British contemporary portrait artists. Before flying back to Germany after a multiday stay, he traveled throughout the city. “It was two terribly empty years — not that my life is empty without New York,” Ollendiek said. “I inhaled every bit of New York. I went to the Neue Galerie and Cafe Sabarsky, which I love. I went to galleries, Sotheby’s, Christie’s — all of the places that I love about New York.”
Pre-COVID-19, Ollendiek visited New York every six to eight weeks and he is now eager to get back to that routine. With an atelier and boutique in Frankfurt, he specializes in technically advanced couture designs, including ones in leather, suede and crocodile (from Hermès). The majority of Paris-made fabrics used in his designs are made exclusively for his company. Most are also lined with made-to-order silk prints (last winter ones inspired by Francois Boucher paintings were made). Over the past year, for example, a printed leather was developed and the same print will be offered in allover embroidered silk chiffon. The designer said the traditional concept of seasonal collections is old-fashioned and his collections are finished when they’re finished.
A trip to Peru led to such art-centric prints as one inspired by the gilded side altars in the Cathedral of Lima. He also visited the center for native Peruvian textile art and ordered a good deal of hand-embroidered trimmings. “The beautiful thing is with every meter of trimming you get a little tag with the name of the Peruvian lady who it was woven by and the remote village where it was made,” he said. “You don’t just have this jacket made from some of the most beautiful leather in France with this silk print with Boucher inside, but you have these ribbons that were made in remote villages in Peru by Peruvian craftspeople. This is what I love — to bring different kinds of cultures together and making something new out of it.”
Proud that clients trust him, Ollendiek said most of his clients are in “very exposed social situations, where they are being looked at, judged and need clothes that don’t ridicule them. They need clothes that give them strength and confidence. Plus, they want to communicate that fashion-wise they are in the front row of the chase. I don’t like the word ‘trend’ very much. I’m not much of a trend person. I’m more about style, taste and independence.”
The self-taught designer said he still knows exactly how everything is produced and made, including patterns. With everything being bespoke, customers expect very much and they pay very much, he said. The main retail price range is $1,500 to $10,000, with alligator and other precious leathers going up to $50,000.
At the end of next month, Ollendiek will participate in Frankfurt Fashion Week as the only couture designer. A trunk show is being planned for this fall in New York. “Lots of work — we’re drowning in work. We’re drowning in orders,” he said. “We do everything — the handbags, leather, suede, silk and evening gowns in our own workshop. I am extremely picky when it comes to craftsmanship. I’m fighting with my assistants over every millimeter or top stitching. We discuss and fight over the thickness of a thread.”
Working with select U.S. retailers on a few exclusive signature designs appeals to him. “I want to make more pieces of desire than have 50 of my skirts hanging there in all colors and all sizes,” Ollendiek said.
Aside from a few short business trips, the designer plans to visit Angkor Wat for 10 days — anything longer would make him miss his work and his dog. Referring to his multidimensional approach, he said that working on the level he does is like trying to never sit on one chair. “It’s much more thrilling to sit between the chairs, which is much more loony maybe. But it’s much more fun,” he said.