24/10/2006

"Nix Aldi - Picaldi"

The Berlin cut-price label Picaldi has cornered the jeans market for hoodies, dolies and rappers. By Johannes Gernert

They have to get bigger, grow. Nedim Güner sits behind the mirrored door on one of the white plastic garden chairs. "You have to expand to stay alive," he says. There's a leather sofa here too, black with ripped arms. On the wall a football poster, Galatasaray Istanbul. "We keep a close an eye on the market." Güner wears jeans, straight cut. "We're entering new markets." He looks tired, it's late. "We're thinking national," he says, "national first."

This is not the Picaldi HQ, the head-office of the little immigrant fashion empire, it's the back room of a Picaldi store – the first one. Nedim Güner, head of sales, still has his work cut out here. He's reorganising all the tills. Picaldi is in the process of opening its eighth outlet. They're beyond handwritten receipts now. Güner is not getting much sleep these days, because of the growth. It is a success story, this tapered-jeans business.



Pairs of Picaldi-wearers in Kreuzberg, Berlin
photo by
Scoobay

Immigrant fashion is what they make. Picaldi Jeans. Wide at the top, tapering nicely down to the ankles. Sometimes ending up tucked into socks. 472 is the name of the cut. Yoof fashion for hoodies who call each other 'opfer' (victim) and 'spast' (spacko) and hate the sort of straight trousers Güner wears. Because they're 'schwul' (gay). What they love are rappers with lyrics full of fucking: 'Father, mother, pussies, steaks.' Rappers like Bushido and Eko Fresh (the German dream). Who sports a Picaldi top on the cover of his new album 'Hartz IV' (German welfare money). On sale, some Picaldi jeans cost the same as the CD. There's been plenty of advertising, to expand, to stay alive. With slogans like 'Nix Aldi, Picaldi.' This is not just immigrant fashion, it's Hartz-IV fashion. You just have to look at consumer behaviour around Berlin, says Güner. Where unemployment is high, "Hartz IV or whatever," Picaldi sells. "It's got a lot to do with the price," he says "even 2 or 3 euros can make the difference." Most people come when there's a sale on, Hartz-IV victim fashion.

Sezer looks like one of these hoody types, who call each other 'opfer' which is what they are to some extent, because the qualifications they leave school with at 16 won't get them far. The demographic with a tendency to spit out perpetrators, criminals, people who beat up other people, steal, relieve people of their possessions. Some end up in prison, some on stage, some go to prison first and then on stage. Sezer wears a black shirt, trainers, and the 472. His hair is shaved on the sides, gelled up on top.

As it turns out, Sezer was a troublemaker in the past, just like the Turkish kids in films like "Knallhart" No respect for the teachers, fuck school. He did in fact cause his fair share of trouble, but he doesn't want to talk about it. Things have changed radically, he has changed. "Now I'm retail salesman," Sezer says.

He works for Picaldi. It's part of a scheme, financed by the job centre. But Nedim Düner might take him on after his training. He has a chance, unlike most of his mates who somehow landed places as a car mechanics, say, but who know that they'll be thrown out when it's over. Then what? "Hartz IV," they say.

When Nedim Güner was unemployed, Hartz IV didn't even exist. That was over ten years ago. He was a trained electrician. His brother-in-law, Seki, had a bakery. Together they opened a shop selling jeans, factory rejects. That didn't get off the ground. Then they studied the cut of Diesel's "Saddler" jeans and commissioned somthing very similar from a trouser-making factory in Istanbul. That did.

People came from all over Berlin to buy the jeans. And kept coming back. At first there were just three people on the shop floor: Güner, his sister and his brother-in-law. Now there are around thirty. There are eight outlets. And franchises.

Güner opens the mirrored door and walks through this first outlet, where Sezer now works too, a basement shop in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. "All the shelves here, they all passed through my hands. Stripped them myself, sanded them myself." Jeans, sweaters, T-shirts. He points to a pile of baby-blue sweaters: "Very popular." At the till, the Hartz-IV CD by Eko Fresh is on display. Güner opens the booklet. It says "Thanks to Hamit from Picaldi."



Rapper Eko Fresh
photo courtesy his official
website

Hamit is the head of the outlet, Sezer's boss. Eko Fresh is his customer, his mate. Sometimes he asks him for advice, like the other day. He wanted his dad's name tattooed on his arm: Ali. Eko Fresh recommended a tattoo artist, he knows about stuff like that. Hamit used to work by the sea in Antalya: surfing, jet-skiing, water-skiing. The work made him brown and his upper body wide. He came to Germany because of his German girlfriend, to Kreuzberg. "Kreuzberg is like Turkey," Hamit says. Everyone speaks Turkish. His sister had a friend called Seki, he should go and stay with him, his sister said, he has a jeans shop, he's got work.

Eko Fresh lives in Cologne, but when he's in Berlin, he always drops by. Then they sit behind the mirrored door on the white chairs, on the black sofa and have a chat. Sometimes Eko Fresh rings up and asks: "Hamit, have you got new jeans?"

And Bushido buys here too. He once put them on the guest list, for a concert in the Columbiahalle: Picaldi plus ten. Hamit stood right at the back. It's not really his type of music, all that fucking. Sometimes it plays in the shop. When older people come in, it gets turned off immediately. "You've got to be mad to listen that stuff, they say." They've got a point, Hamit thinks. But Bushido, Eko, they're all right. "Fine lads," says Hamit, and laughs a little. That's the name of Bushido's sampler album: Fine Lads ("Ersguterjunge")

Sezer, another fine lad, Hamit likes him. And if they're not first-class lads they become them when they become retail salesmen, when they get jobs. Sezer works from eleven to eight, Monday to Saturday, then he hangs around with the other lads, they go to Burger King, McFit, play football in the park, look at girlz. You see that they belong together, they all wear the same jeans, with the same cut. Sascha didn't get a trainee position at first, his main concern is getting the latest music, the latest video games, the latest cell phones. The latest Picaldi jeans. He looks for them online, photographs them from the screen and shows them to Sezer. "I want these." How does he pay for all this stuff? "Hartz IV," they say.



Bushido billboard in Berlin.
photo by
just ryc

Sascha has all the Bushido albums, and the jacket, the one with the 1259. Bushido wore it which is why at Picaldi it's called the "Bushido jacket": college-style, leather sleeves with the "Picaldi Sport" written on the back. When Sascha bought his, he didn't dare wear it on the street – too valuable. Sezer doesn't own one, but he's thinking about it. It would cost him half his month's wages, around 150 euros.

In Hamit's outlet, people phone up from all over Germany and say: "I want to order the Bushido jacket." Bushido has let it be known that he doesn't want to talk about the jacket. When he first started wearing it, Picaldi was written on the back, Cordon Sport was. The 1259 jacket shows not how successful Picaldi is, but where it came from.

What d'you mean copying says head of sales Nedim Güner. It's like with cars, sometimes they're more about curves, sometimes angles, but they're all more or less the same.

"All cars all have four wheels, for sure, but they don't all look the same," says Kurtulus Aksu, head designer at Cordon, and inventor of the "Bronx" cut. "And VW would never put a Mercedes star on their cars." The Picaldi 1259 and the "Bronx" are built almost identically, even the lettering is the same. But one says "Cordon Sport" and the other says "Picaldi Sport". One costs 300 euros and the other half that. Cordon started making its own college jacket twenty years ago but it was only a decade back that Picaldi launched its tapered jeans that are more or less a direct Diesel rip-off. Aksu was one of the three Cordon founder members, also an immigrant kid, also from Kreuzberg. Cordon is now based at Ullsteinhaus – along with a number of fashion companies, Picaldi included.

"People are even copying us now," says Nedim Güner, "they're copying our strategy." Looking at what works on the market, manufacturing it, and taking a bit off the price.

But Kurtulus Aksu doesn't seem too bothered. "While they're copying our designs, we're coming up with ten new ones, " he says. Adding, "As fakes saturate the market, the value of the original increases." Cordon wants to be a quality brand, a not-so-cheap one. This is not all out label war, it's more like a freestyle rap battle. There's nothing really to fight about. Both labels are raking it in, and continuing to grow. Picaldi, the brand of the Hartz IV hoody, Cordon the label for the older, stronger market, body builders, boxers. One for the under 20s, one for the over 20s.

And by the way, Eko Fresh also wears Cordon, just not on his album cover. Cordon is not as Hartz IV as Picaldi.



*

This article originally appeared in die Tageszeitung

Johannes Gernert is a journalist at die Tageszeitung.

Translation: lp

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