Marion Strehlow never planned her life as a fashion designer. “It just happened like that”, the 46-year-old says. Then she lowers her head and thinks for a moment, and then adds: “But how it actually happened, I don’t know any more”. One thing just led to another: Abitur (school leaving examination), training as a dressmaker, fashion school - and then I had already taken the leap into being self-employed. Over 18 years ago, this confident woman founded her own strehlow label and has continued to develop her collection since then. Without ever being finished. “Because a collection is always a snapshot of where we are right now.”
It is still cold and grey outside when DeinNRW visits Marion Strehlow at her atelier in the Oberbilk city district of Düsseldorf for the first time. An inconspicuous ground floor apartment in one of the many generous old buildings here. First of all tea to warm up. A dozen varieties with names like “Be Happy”, “Good Morning”, “Keep Calm” and lemon and ginger are lined up on the narrow shelf above the little kitchen unit. Or would you prefer coffee? But not from the machine. Marion brews it fresh. We have the choice before we sit down in her cosy kitchen living room between the four large clothes stands with the unusual trousers, blouses and coats. At first glance, everything here seems a bit improvised. No. Wrong. Uncomplicated is more accurate. And above all heartfelt. Just like Marion Strehlow herself.
At the moment, the woman dressed entirely in black is a little excited. It is to be decided in the next few days whether “The NRW Design Issue” (TNRWDI) will continue next year and still funded by the state. “That would be a huge opportunity for us”, says Marion Strehlow, and you can see in her alert eyes how passionately she fights for her industry. At the end of January, TNRWDI gave six designers from North Rhine-Westphalia the opportunity to present their collections to a broad public. The native of Düsseldorf was one of them. And she would like to see “more happening in this direction and better support for the next generation”. Because after all, that is working very well in the art scene whereas “hardly any [of the graduates of the fashion school] stay in the country”.
Winner of the #urbanana-Awards
Strehlow, who more or less had to become self-employed after finishing fashion school, has now become more active herself since she won an advancement prize at the Igedo Fashion Fair in Düsseldorf and simply needed a trading licence. In summer, the first “Behind the Scene” city tour took place, where visitors interested in fashion were “given the opportunity to gain intimate insights into the industry”, as the designer explains. Moreover, tourists are to be given the chance to talk to locals. Because that is exactly what Marion was missing when she went on holiday to Los Angeles a while back. “As a lonely tourist”, she says with a smile. Instead of just leafing through a tour guide and “ticking off” sights, she would have preferred to visit local designers or simply got to know interesting people. What makes the city tick? What does it look like behind the dazzling façades? Music, trends, trendy neighbourhoods – Marion would have liked to have experienced more of life in the pulsating metropolis. Back home in Düsseldorf, she developed the idea for “Behind the Scene” with her partner Michael - and hit a contemporary nerve. Even before the first tour of the Düsseldorf fashion ateliers, which was booked out months in advance, Marion had already won the first #urbanana-Award for combining the creative and the tourism industries in an exemplary manner.
On our first visit, it really bubbles out of her. She was thinking out loud about what the tour might be like. Which of her colleagues who had recently set up shop in the city with their small, fine fashion labels could be part of it and open their ateliers to the guests? “There is a really fantastic hat designer in Düsseldorf. That would definitely be a great address”, she realises quite spontaneously. They know each other well and like each other. Because there is great solidarity in the scene (“unfortunately there are only a few designers with their own labels in Düsseldorf“), there is a warm sense of interacting rather than competing with each other.
“Behind the Scene” is therefore not just an experiment for all involved but also a great opportunity.
Which is why Marion also has an unusual place in mind for the evening dinner already. “Perhaps we could also take in an exhibition as part of the programme.” And on it goes. The plan develops – right up until it is really about to be implemented for the first time in just a few moments. Successfully. Because from the very beginning, the most important thing for the busy native of Düsseldorf was that people get to know her craft and that she could pass a little of her own enthusiasm for her profession on to others. And, almost as an aside: Anyone who spontaneously falls in love with a designer piece can of course buy it there and then and take it home with them. And that’s exactly what happened.
This path in life was never planned like this, so to speak. After school, Marion Strehlow herself did not want to train as a dressmaker but rather her then boyfriend did. “I only began sewing in order to be able to make my own things for myself, the born Mönchengladbach native remembers with a twinkle in her eye.
“Because my parents did not buy me everything I wanted...”
Earning a living as a dressmaker once she had finished her training was not an option for the young woman back them. “No way. What did I want? I wanted to make my own cuts”. So she applied to the fashion school and, during her three years there, she learned not only how to create cutting patterns but also about drawing, costumes and materials. No sooner said, and the quirky woman jumps up immediately to present her latest technical achievement: a modern drawing board on which she can draw her designs by hand and then immediately send them to her tablet, where they can be further developed and coloured. “Crazy, wasn’t it? I think it’s wonderful.”
Marion lives for her profession. You can feel this immense enthusiasm she applies to her work at her atelier in every sentence. On the big cutting table in the workshop where bales of fabric roll around and seemingly disorganised cutting patterns and designs lie around, she remembers her beginnings. During her studies, she was already given the opportunity to sell her collection at ELA selected (“an international luminary”) in Düsseldorf.
“Back then, I almost earned more money than today” she says and has to laugh. Because suddenly she remembers the face of a customer she met back then in a shoe shop who absolutely had to have the dress Strehlow was wearing herself. “But this only happened once” she says in amusement at how she panicked back then. I had no idea what to say.” She simply named a price (a pretty high one for her at the time) - and the customer paid. The lady has remained loyal to Strehlow to this day. As do most customers who come to one of her fashion shows or visit her at the ladies’ salon that take place “with irregular regularity” at her atelier. “It’s a bit like a birthday party”, Marion gushes. And it is not difficult to imagine how a a small gathering in her cosy kitchen living room surrounded by clothes stands and sewing machines might end up chatting, opening a bottle of champagne or two and unceremoniously converting the small hallway into a changing room.
One who is always there when Marion Strehlow is not presenting her fashion at her studio but rather at public appearances, most recently at Plattform Fashion Düsseldorf as part of TNRWDI_CATWALK, is her best friend. The good-looking hairdresser Marc Booten models for her then. “Because male models are not usually booked for the shows”, the designer says with regret; her collection consists mainly of unisex pieces. Like the high-cut, black-brown trousers with double cuffs, which is currently Marion’s absolute favourite piece. Overalls, dresses with playful ruffles and blouses with innovative tailoring techniques and dark, earthy colours are also part of the strehlow label, which meets the highest standards of its namesake herself. Therefore, the pieces from her collection must not only be wearable but also wearable often and for a long time. That is why no trousers, blouse, coat or bag leaves the atelier in Oberbilk if the designer has not already worn her design herself. But how does such a design come about? “That usually goes quite quickly at the beginning”, says Marion and then points to here drawings again. Then the cutting pattern has to be prepared and fabric cut, before the trained dressmaker sits down at the sewing machine and is happy to have someone looking over her shoulder as she does so. “Behind the Scene”.
Three questions for Marion
Fashion Designer - with all of her heart
Marion, you have 48 hours of free time. What would you definitely do with this time in NRW?
Marion: I would definitely go back to my home in the Lower Rhine region. I grew up in Elmpt, just a short distance from the Dutch border, in the district of Viersen. There, I would go on an excursion to the lakes, Elfenmeer and Venekotensee. The heath landscape there is simply beautiful. As a child, I didn’t appreciate it, but now I do. Then, if I still had time, I would like to finally see Zeche Zollverein in Essen. I have never been there.
Which place in NRW did you most recently discover for the first time?
A city that I rediscover time and time again is in fact Wuppertal. I am here a lot to purchase fabric, and every time the Bergisch city impressed me yet again. I think Essen is quite cool too, and in Dortmund I always meet interesting, good people who make wonderful things.
Your personal favourite place in NRW.
Definitely Düsseldorf. This is my favourite place to be. One of the most beautiful places in the city for me is definitely the Volksgarten.