PHOTO BY ATTILA HENNING
If you’re planning to attend Oktoberfest in Munich this month, there’s a good chance you’ve already done some online shopping for a traditional outfit. Now, thanks to some intrepid designers, you may end up with a fashionable garment you can wear long after the festival ends.
For generations, dirndls (figure-hugging dresses) and lederhosen (leather breeches)—collectively known as tracht—have embodied local pride in Bavaria and other German-speaking parts of the Alps. These peasant styles date to the 18th century, with a complicated history that includes being co-opted by the Nazis. Unsurprisingly, their popularity saw a postwar dip, and they were rarely seen outside rural villages. In today’s multicultural Germany, however, dirndls have been revived as a globalized contemporary trend by couturiers such as Lola Paltinger, whose designs have been worn by Katy Perry and Salma Hayek.
“It doesn’t mean a kind of nationalism anymore,” says Paltinger, who notes that among German millennials dirndls have become staples at weddings and festivals, and even in the office.
“But it is nice to be connected and to live the tradition.”
“It is not a costume—it respects tradition, but it’s really a mix,” adds Rahmée Wetterich, one of two Bavarian-Cameroonian sisters who launched the dirndl boutique Noh Nee in Munich in 2011. Noh Nee means “gift of God” in Swahili, and the sisters morph the dress into a “Dirndl à l’Africaine” (pictured). Their designs retain the standard low-cut bodice but modernize by adding side pockets, using kente cloth patterns and handmade wax prints from West Africa, and eliminating what Wetterich calls the “little woman in the kitchen” apron.
To pull a full Cinderella and move the dirndl from the kitchen to the ballroom, several designers are making tracht-inspired formalwear. Lena Hoschek offers evening and wedding gowns at her three stores in Austria and at many retailers in Bavaria (she also regularly hosts pop-ups in Munich), while Astrid Söll, from the Bavarian city of Regensburg, is known for her dirndl-esque
modern wedding dresses. With these garments, a bride can give a nod to local heritage while she’s walking down the aisle, without risking St. Pauli Girl jokes at the reception.