Anyone with an appreciation for artistically ambitious lingerie was likely saddened this summer to learn about the closing of Wundervoll.
The German label, which modestly described itself as “luxury underwear”, was a genuinely fashion-forward brand that was adored by critics, stylists, photographers and, of course, ultra-hip fashionistas. And its eventual closing is a chilling reminder of the difficulties faced by progressive independents in the fashion world.
Launched during Berlin Fashion Week in 2008, Wundervoll made an immediate impression with its tailored looks and silhouettes unlike anything in the industry. Over the next five years it produced a series of 10 visionary collections that incorporated new eco-fabrics, unconventional color palettes and experimental construction (like the Safari bra, above, from its last collection).
At the bottom of this article we’ve reprinted a series of the most memorable pieces from Wundervoll‘s short history, in reverse chronological order. If some of these looks seem familiar today, it’s because Wundervoll was also closely watched by industry insiders for future style inspirations.
Lingerie Talk spoke to Wundervoll founder Matthias Jaschke, who conceived the label while working for his family business, the European textile brand Formesse. In the article below, he reflects on his experience and the lessons learned from being a lingerie industry trailblazer.
By Matthias Jaschke
It seemed like all the requirements for my underwear label Wundervoll were in order. My family has been in the textile business for generations and I studied marketing, so I had enough knowledge and start-up capital to build a label with an exceptional collection and a clear brand message.
And yet I’ve decided, after five years of intense work, to “bury” a label which has been praised by the press, followed by important buyers and gratefully accepted by many people as an alternative to existing brands in the marketplace.
As you might imagine, though, what you see on the outside is only half the story. Because of its presence in the press, its professional market profile and sales success in prominent stores like Barney’s, Le Bon Marché, Asos and Journelle, Wundervoll was seen by many in the industry as an independent label that had come a long way and had a bright future.
Of course I’m proud of what I have achieved with Wundervoll, but I had to recognize that an article in the New York Times doesn’t mean a commercial breakthrough. I had to learn that stores like Barney’s or Le Bon Marché view new independent labels perhaps as only a temporary supplement to their standard ranges, without necessarily being interested in a long-term relationship. And I also had to learn that the effort and cost of creating a professional brand presentation and a high-quality collection are a lot higher than I could imagine —especially in the fashion business, where the market demands something new season after season.
You don’t start a label like Wundervoll because you want to quickly make money. However, after a build-up phase, which is typically characterized by self-exploitation, an entrepreneur must eventually answer honestly if the business model works or not. I had to answer this question with a heavy heart in the negative.
Looking back, the decision to close was made mainly for the following reasons:
The vision may be too ambitious
With Wundervoll I wanted to create a truly innovative underwear label. I managed to realize that and I also got a lot of attention in the professional scene. But the novelty was also a problem. Many buyers seemed so overwhelmed because they didn’t know how to appraise Wundervoll because it was new, unique and special and not comparable to any existing brand. This meant that mostly smaller, progressive lingerie boutiques placed orders, while for many other buyers the risk was too great.
It is a tough market
When I started with Wundervoll, I was repeatedly warned that this was a “tough industry.” “What industry nowadays is simple and easy to start in?” I thought to myself at that time. Now I know as well: there are certainly some that are easier. Clothing retailers are battling declines in consumer spending, large chain stores and vertical fashion concepts. The classic response is to create a “risk-free” shopping strategy. All the young labels therefore fight for the attention of a few brave, creative and innovative buyers.
A good concept is just the beginning
Sure, if you don’t have a good concept you shouldn’t ever begin developing a new label. But implementing your concept is by far the hardest part. This is especially true if the concept is based, like Wundervoll, on a product of exceptionally high quality. There is a complex interaction of suppliers, producers, engineers, designers and … an eternal battle for cost, minimum quantities, delivery dates and quality problems.
An important lesson I gained from it: it’s better to invest some money to get started with a few sewing machines and a small private studio, than trying to find the right manufacturer for my product. This saves a lot of nerves, time and money.
Few independent labels are commercially successful
It’s a daunting realization, but in many conversations with other label-founders, I have come to recognize that commercial success can be a very long time in coming. There are some young labels with great collections, good marketing and impressive dealer connections. And yet hardly any of these labels can manage to overcome this time of self-exploitation and actually get successful making serious money. They simply cannot earn enough money to pay employees and owners for their own valuable time.
As long as it’s fun and the life circumstances permit, however, a new business doesn’t necessarily have to be successful in a commercial sense. It’s also about fulfilling a dream that represents your own values.
Anyone who starts a label with big ambitions should make themselves aware of this truth before starting: Many find progressive design, quality materials and fair and sustainable production conditions a great thing, but that does not mean that everyone is willing to pay the price.
NOTE: Matthias and his wife Sonja continue to work for the family business, Formesse, which was founded by his grandparents in 1947. Formesse produces high-quality bedsheets and other premium bedroom textiles. Check the Wundervoll website for information on where to find remaining pieces from their collections through online vendors.