95 Gallery/Nort: A Taste of New York
Simon Schaefer has been paying attention to fashion since he was a hip-hop obsessed pre-teen wilding in the streets of West Berlin. He vividly remembers the divide between the underground-savvy Charlottenburg crew and the youth who grew up in the GDR. "Kids would come in from the East and they were [visibly] identifiable: white as white could be, almost see-through, and their pants and jackets were about 10 years too late," he reminisces. "Can you imagine what it would be like to not be exposed to marketing culture? What a gap to leap! When the Wall came down, East Germans got 100 Deutschmarks from the German government and they would [come to the West] and spend it on bananas–there were huge queues in front of the supermarkets!"
Nearly 17 years since that the Wall fell, shit is still bananas–figuratively speaking. A mere five months ago, East Berlin saw its first sneaker line outside Nort Berlin, the Nike-only store Schaefer and partner Marley co-own with Recon NYC man Stash. Though the shop has been around since 1995, the queue is a sign that the city's youth have finally succumbed to the global fiending for limited-edition kicks, with the store joining the ranks of Patta, UNDFTD, and Dave's Quality Meats in serving up the secret goods.
Doing more for the international street art monoculture is Nort's spin-off, www.95 Gallery. Located down an alley to the right of the Mitte storefront, 95 Gallery is a skate/streetwear shop by day and a gallery by night. Curated with input from Lodown publisher Marok and Positive-Inc's Bianca Richter, the sleek, white rectangle has hosted the spray-can nozzle art of London's Nick Walker and the launch of KR's It's All in My Head book, wherein the space was adorned with floor-to-ceiling graffiti pieces and a tagged old-school Porsche. The main goal of the gallery is to provide a space where international visitors and the Berlin street art/culture scene can interact, and Schaefer is quick to point out that they're still growing a local audience for what they're doing.
The city has a few great places to buy sneakers–including West Berlin's mind-bending Solebox, its Mitte counterpart Trainer, and Charlottenburg's Mad Flavor–but the biggest difference between Berlin and Tokyo or New York is that everyone coexists peacefully. "I don't care about competition," shrugs Schaefer. "Over here [the market] is so small there's not millions to be made. Marley and I have other jobs, but this is a labor of love."