Oliver Lühr and Thomas Bentz like to clothe women – and this with great success. In 2011 both of them founded the label ‘Achtland,’ which is accompanied by the roaring sound of medial euphoria. Their style, which is a colourful and rich in detail ode to the confident, worldly woman, has impacted our contemporary landscape like an atomic bomb. Their created environment offers the perfect situation for establishing the label step by step. It grows steadily in Berlin-Kreuzberg, but the idea of ‘Achtland’ was born much before. Thomas and Oliver met during their studies in London. It was obvious that these two Germans would walk along a joined path from then on – as much as professional as private.
Living and working in perfect symbiosis – perhaps this excuses the secret gravity towards the lover’s and their baby Achtland. Oliver studied at the renowned fashion college Central St.Martins, while Thomas has a degree in International Business. The creative and the economist simply complement each other. One can just see it. Both have conserved this beautiful boyish look, a warm blaze in their eyes, and a guiltless smile written on their lips; a healthy face colour. When they stand next to each other, the blonde Oliver and the dark haired Thomas seem to be incarnated materialisations of Ying and Yang: absolute Harmony.
Just like this, these two young men received us in their lofty Kreuzberg courtyard-studio, away from the exuberant Moritzplatz. During our time together we were able to look at their work process and accompany them on their daily routine for a short while. It’s obvious that the boys of Achtland need input from the outside world. A small inspirational trip to Neues Museum and a stroll through Modulor, the designers’ favourite shopping paradise, needed to be part of our refreshing rendezvous.
Thomas and Oliver, both of you founded Achtland. Why?
Thomas: When we met seven years ago Oliver was still doing his studies. We still lived in London. The idea of establishing something was abstract but decided upon very quickly. The product already existed as an idea for some time.
Oliver: We decided to found Achtland spontaneously. This is how we make decisions on other things as well: rapid and intuitive, without hesitating.
Why did you decide to base Achtland in Berlin?
Oliver: The space was quiet cheap in here – and there was definitely much more friction. Berlin is not only beautiful, but it also possesses such terrible sights in certain areas. This disturbing ugliness and incompleteness stimulates our creativity. London felt like home and we felt too comfortable. This very ‘comfort-zone’ had to be abandoned at some point.
Your studio is located in the neighborhood of Mortizplatz. Do you feel good in this area?
Thomas: This neighborhood is very important to us when it comes to infrastructure. Prinzessinnengärten, Oranienplatz, and of course Modulor are our local spots. We buy everything there that is not for eating. Modulor opened when we moved here – it was fate. Our production is also located right around the corner. We also have two colleagues here, the Berliner designers, Michael Sontag and Sissi Goetze.
Aside from Modulor, are there any other cafes or restaurants that you like to go to?
Thomas: At the moment we don’t leave Kreuzberg during the afternoon. We like the Cocolo Ramen at Paul Linke Ufer or Coco Ro at Mehringdamm. But we can mostly be found at Colddampf’s, the restaurant connected to Modulor. This way we can call kill two birds with one stone! In the evening we like to go to Da Baffi in Wedding.
You are not only business partners but a couple as well. Are you afraid of building something that later on might collapse?
Thomas: I think we would be more afraid to do it alone. We are constantly pushing each other, which is very important.
Oliver: Many think that joining up with your partner for business is like opening the gates to hell. But we think it’s great that we can experience everything together. We don’t have to explain to each other why we are getting home late. We also gain a lot by sharing happy, challenging, and difficult moments simultaneously.
You work and live together? How do you manage to have free space?
Thomas: It starts by going to the studio at different times. Oliver always comes with his sweet mini-oldtimer car. It has now become somewhat of an important ritual – especially for our shared living as it gives us a certain freedom before putting on our fashion hats.
Oliver: Talking about work is absolutely forbidden at the breakfast table. Absolutely! We have the strict rule of not bringing work home but unfortunately that does not always go to plan in reality.
Why is your label called Achtland?
Thomas: The idea was to have something abstract. Achtland tempted us because it stays in our memory. It sounds like a person and a place. And it sounds German – but it’s not. There is also a story behind it.
Oliver: Achtland is a mystical figure. She was a Celtic queen who was dissatisfied with the situation of men on earth. So she decided to leave behind her material being and marry a god. We really like this story however, the original meaning has been altered in relation to our work.
Do you hope to transform women into goddesses with you label?
Thomas: Oh god no! Achtland’s ideology has its limits. In terms of the context of mystical worlds, here women are rather reactive. This is different with our actual customers: we want the idea of self-determination and strength to be present in our work and for the wearer.
Oliver: Achtland represents an earthly woman who goes over to another world. Crossing limits is also part of our sentiment. It is mainly about confidence.
If it’s not a goddess, who wears Achtland?
Thomas: Our clients come from all over. Just recently we sold a dress to a woman who was about 60 years old. Our kind of woman seems to be in search for something new while preserving permanence. She has an interest in materials. She buys things, perhaps considering the possibility of passing the garment onto her daughter one day. Our work embodies continuity, permanence, and the feeling of a favourite-piece. Much less is bought, but the items purchased are done so with love.
How important is role distribution? Who is responsible for what?
Oliver: Ultimately both of us are the designers, as we generate the collections together. Every piece, element, and material is discussed. We have a similar taste and intuition with regards to what we consider appropriate for Achtland. I am responsible for the concrete design work. Thomas is responsible for the daily business. He is the strategist.
In terms of collections, do you also approach them strategically? Do you think about what could work within the market?
Thomas: We approach the collection quite abstractly. We mainly start with an idea that remains until the very end. We don’t have a word for word explanation about what inspired us for each collection.
Oliver: An argument starts mostly when we really dislike something. We then try to put it into another context. The result is much more organic than merely aspiring to create a trend intentionally.
How can arguments like this start?
Thomas: We like to experiment with materials, for instance silks and wool mixtures, or cashmere. We bring the materials home from fairs and are only the starting point. A lot of things get done in the studio – for instance embroideries.
Oliver: Every element of an embroidered piece is decided upon in the studio. The colors are chosen and then we send them to India.
You produce your collections in India as well?
Thomas: We produce everything here in Germany! But the embroidered pieces are special handcraft that has not survived in Europe. India is different, there is tradition. But sooner or later we will transfer our production to France, because we are able to work as delicately as we wish.
Do you feel you ever have to make compromises when it comes to quality and production?
Thomas: We only work with a small selection of suppliers and don’t make compromises when it comes to materials. We don’t approach clothing this way. We love high-quality materials that look and feel good. The initial contact and perception of our garments should speak for itself. Achtland functions very much on the surface.
What do you focus on when you go shopping for yourselves?
Oliver: It’s mainly about colors, quality, and materials. But that’s a bit due to the job. I would get so upset when buying a nice piece that would break after wearing it only three times.
Thomas: I kind of lost my pleasure for shopping once I started working in fashion. This is why at the moment I just buy small accessories, wallets, or scarves. You can see very quickly what they are made of. I make similar considerations when shopping to that of my work: Does it feel good? Will it last for a long time?
Do you travel a lot? Where do you like to go the most?
Thomas: We love to travel. Right after the production of a collection we always travel – preferably far away. For instance, to Thailand or India. We need that time away to clear our minds and reflect on something else for a while. We don’t consciously leave in order to undertake research for the upcoming season. We consider that a big luxury.
Speaking of luxury, be honest now, isn’t your fashion much too pretty and ornamental to be sold in Germany?
Thomas: Our idea is to go against that conception of German fashion and style. Often quality and frivolity are lacking in the comprehension of German fashion: the idea of buying something because it is eclectic or eccentric, as opposed to it being necessary. Let’s be honest, no one needs a ripped bomber jacket with flower prints on it. However, there is a desire that exists for it as it offers something not previously provided.
For instance attention. It requires a lot of courage to walk around with an attention-grabbing Achtland jacket through Berlin, doesn’t it?
Oliver: This is a real Berlin phenomena: the true eccentrics of the city are way over 70 and live in Charlottenburg. I hope this generation and the one following it have the courage for self-expression and frivolity; to have the courage to wear something that disturbs and teases.
What plans do you have for the future?
Oliver: It would be wonderful to be considered by our peers as an established brand in the near future. My wish is for Achtland to function and develop independently.
Thomas: I would like for the brand to broaden. I have a vision for an accessories and shoe-line. You start a label with 1000 ideas, transforming these ideas step by step is a lot of fun.
Would you ever launch a men’s collection?
Thomas: We sometimes talk about it. However I think distance is important and I don’t think it is good to design for yourself.
Oliver: It wouldn’t work under the label Achtland. For the moment this idea seems quite far off . I cannot design for men and don’t have any experience in this area.
Could you imagine expanding Achtland towards a design-object direction?
Thomas: Of course. I can imagine furniture. We look for furniture a lot. Achtland, standing as a color and idea is something that could be well transformed.
What would be the first Achtland piece of furniture?
Oliver: A beautiful sofa or chair.
Thomas: It could be made out of leather. The handcraft would be noticeable through it’s seams. The processing would need to be seen and felt. It would need to instinctively feel good and would be reduced in form – perhaps even more refined than our fashion. A partner for life. And expensive!
I can see a few personal things here!
Oliver: My office chair by Vitra was bought when I went to London. It has been my office chair ever since. I basically have lived in it and it has always accompanied me.
Thomas: My lava lamp is very important – my nephew gave it to me for relaxation. We also love candles, for instance La Durée, Dyptique oder Cire Trudon. We love to decorate the Berliner courtyard.
When is it the nicest time to be in the studio?
Thomas: It depends who is in the room!
Oliver: The big windows are the best thing about our studio. There is so much light. During the afternoon the sun shines into the office and during the evening the sun shines into the studio. This is especially wonderful as it gives a reddish tone to everything in the interior. Light is our main element when it comes to furnishing.
This portrait is the second episode of a collaboration with Elle Online. See the second part of story on their website here.
Photohgraphy: Hayley Austin
Text: Celina Plag