It was just over four years ago that photographer Benjamin Alexander Huseby and fashion designer Serhat Isik founded GmbH. After meeting through mutual friends on a Berlin dance floor in 2015 , the pair immediately connected, and the brand—named after the German acronym for corporation and/or company (or the same abbreviation as the English for “Ltd.’”)—followed soon after. Far from being as bureaucratic and stiff as the real Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, however, GmbH the fashion label has prided itself on pushing boundaries and questioning society’s conventions surrounding race, age, sex, and gender.
Reinterpretation is at the heart of GmbH’s identity. Their first collection, titled Collection ZERO, took influence from traditional workwear, including classic German carpenter pants, re-fitted it using vintage or deadstock from a high-end factory in Milan—their response to the overconsumption and current climate of the fashion industry. And while GmbH’s founders cite clubwear as an important influence, it’s something they actively choose to not exploit. “For us, the club scene in Berlin is so untouchable. We are always protective of the club scene. We are in no way interested in capitalizing on or commercializing the club culture in any way,” explains Serhet, continuing, “I’ve lived in London and seen how the club culture there has been totally destroyed. Berlin is on a tipping point and currently not taking COVID19 into consideration at all. It’s already getting very commercialized, but I truly believe club culture can exist as an underground and capitalist rebellion.”
Coming from photography, Huseby was already acquainted with the fashion industry, having featured in publications like Dazed & Confused, Dust, and Fantastic Man. Isik had also already carved out a career in fashion design through his eponymous label, which he founded after earning an MA in menswear at Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin. The first collection from Isik (which was actually stolen from the showroom it was being shown in) laid the foundation for an one important element that Isik and Huseby have showcased in their collections with GmbH: Islamic thought and customs reinterpreted for Western audiences. Huseby is half-Norwegian, half-Pakistani, and Isik was born in Germany to Turkish parents. Though they avoid appropriating Middle Eastern culture in their collections, re-interpretations of Arabian and Turkish cuts find their way onto the runway during their shows, and in their Spring/Summer 2020 collection, they used the “evil eye” as a recurring motif.
The duo have also used their label as a platform for models and creatives from different backgrounds and walks of life, and representing the multiculturalism in their own backgrounds and surroundings has always been a key aspect of their collections. But the most prominent influence in the pair’s creations is the community that surrounds them. “Our approach to gender has more to do with our connection to the LGBTQ+ community, the non-binary and trans communities,” states Benjamin. This influence has been clear from the start, with their early garments showing a clear nod to the queer club kids of Berlin. Latex pants, fitted tank tops, and other piece are fluid enough to be worn by all wanting to invest in GmbH’s vision—an aspect that won over friends of the brand like Honey Dijon, M.J. Harper, and Stefano Pilati, formerly of Yves Saint Laurent.
Raising awareness for these communities is important for both of the brand’s creators. And while fashion has recently begun to take a “less neutral” approach to politics, GmbH has always placed their political views front and center, championing immigrants, BIPOC models, and other marginalized people that are rarely represented in the fashion industry. “I think when we started mixing politics and fashion (back then), it seemed obscene to a lot of people, and I think now, especially this last year, it has become kind of more accepted that big magazines take on this sort of “representation civil rights movement” as a thing to champion, which is very new,” recalls Benjamin. “When we did it, everyone said, ‘Oh, you can’t run a business and be political.’ We just cared about being honest.”
While COVID-19 has halted many of the world’s creative industries, it has also given many the inspiration to refocus on their work and create new perspectives of meaning. This was no different for GmbH, who recently explored ways to present their new collections through virtual projects, culminating in the release of two short films that explore GmbH’s (and fashion’s) role as a progressive force for change. The first short film, directed by Francisco Sendino and titled Guest On Earth, explores the everyday occurrances of ordinary people’s lives as an invisible being, perhaps an angel, passes them while listening in on their innermost thoughts. The 4-minute piece was filmed in their neighborhood in Berlin as part of Rituals of Resistance (and the brand noted that on a night they were filming, neo-nazis had attacked a Syrian family business in the same Kiez neighborhood).
The second project included is a film directed by Lars Laumann titled Season of Migration to the North. The film recounts a fashion show held by Sudanese architect and refugee Eddie Esmal, which he staged in Sudan before he was arrested and forced to flee to Norway. “It just felt like serendipity. We have been in love with this film for a very long time. Eddie’s experience shows how fashion can truly be a political act. For us it was clear that our slot at Paris digital fashion week was the perfect occasion to amplify this message,” says Serhat.
The final third part of the project was a lookbook of garments that the pair worked on while in quarantine. They decided to focus their Spring 2021 collection on their most memorable motifs from past seasons, and stand out garments like their signature double-front-zipped trousers and shorts in vegan leather, ribbed athleisure knits with strategic slits, and vests featuring built in harnessing make it one of their most creative collections to date.
While pulling from a myriad of influences to create their collections, ultimately what unites GmbH and its audience is the spirit of a progressive community. “We have a beautiful kind of family we were lucky to grow since the brand started, from day one,” says Benjamin. “It’s really a blessing. Truly, I think a lot of people have found a family in GmbH.”
Sam Kavanagh is a writer based in Berlin, he is currently managing editor of Numero Berlin. Find him on Instagram.
Published October 01, 2020. Words by Sam Kavanagh.