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Marion Strehlow arbeitet an ihrem Nähtisch, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

At home at the atelier

Mari­on Strehlow - Fash­ion de­sign­er provides a look “Be­hind the Scene”

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.?

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    Marions eignes Label strehlow, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow lehnt an ihrer gemütlichen Wohnküche, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Schreibtisch im Atelier von Marion Strehlow, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Detailaufnahme Kleiderbügel, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Marion Strehlow im Gespräch, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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?.

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Marion Strehlow ist Gewinnerin des #urbanana-Awards, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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.

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Marion Strehlow in ihrem Atelier in Düsseldorf Oberbilk, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

Be­hind the Scenes

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.

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Marion Strehlow arbeitet an ihrer Nähmaschine, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

?I only began sew­ing in or­der to be able to make my own things for my­self."

Mari­on Strehlow

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Marion näht ihr Label ein, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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.?

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    Detailaufnahme Nähtisch, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow liebt ihr modernes Zeichenbrett, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Zuschnitt eines Musters, kleine Gewichte helfen, damit nichts verrutscht, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow arbeitet an einer Bluse in ihrem Atelier, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Marion Strehlow arbeitet an ihrem Nähtisch, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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?.

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    Marc Booten bei einer Modenshow vom Label strehlow, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow und Marc Booten in seinem Salon, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow und Marc Booten im Gespräch, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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    Marion Strehlow und Marc Booten im Innenhof, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Marion Strehlow und Michael Dimitrov, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.

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.

Fa­vour­ite Spots & Tips from Mari­on


Blick entlang des Rheinufers in Düsseldorf, © Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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Düs­sel­dorf - Cul­tur­al Met­ro­pol­is

Zeche Zollverein beleuchtet, © Jochen Tack / Stiftung Zollverein
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UN­ESCO World Her­it­age Site Zollver­ein

Diersfordter Wald, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Lower Rhine

Schwebebahn Wuppertal, © WSW Wuppertaler Stadtwerke GmbH
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Won­der­ful: Wup­per­tal!

Eating #urbanana_Street Food 2, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
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Go­ing #urb­a­nana!

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Timo Köbes Lommerzheim Köln, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.
Persona Olivier Kruschinski, © Ralph Sondermann, Tourismus NRW e.V.