Trachten (which will here be loosely translated as a term describing German traditional dress) today seemingly only move into the fashion spotlight once a year during the month of October. During this time, two events draw the world’s attention to them: the Oktoberfest (Wiesn) in Munich, where Dirndl and Lederhosen make an appearance all over the city, and Halloween, during which “German Beer Maid” costumes are suddenly advertised widely on the internet, readily available for purchase.
However, both events only highlight very limited facets of the rich variety of Trachten in Germany today- and at that only in a mediated form. The Halloween costumes remove any serious aspects of German traditional heritage, replacing it rather with an overt sexualisation of form by shortening of the skirt and addition of thigh high stockings. Similarly, Lederhosen and Dirndl, mostly associated with Bavaria, are not the only version of traditional dress and are also not as full of the age-old tradition as is widely assumed. Rather, this particular Tracht stemmed from the 19th Century, and is in fact linked to the savviness of Wittelsbacher noble family who used it as a type of branding or marketing strategy to further the feeling of a Bavarian identity.
German fashion photographer Gregor Hohenberg has helped to change this rather one-sided representation of traditional dress by producing a marvellous photographic work. It is entitled simply Trachten in German and Traditional Couture in English. Indeed, the English title seems nearly more apt for the role the book takes on: it presents Trachten as high fashion or haute couture. Printed in a large coffee-table-book format, the photographs of the garments shown within the book are made to be coveted and admired; the visual effect of each dress stands in the foreground. Many shots are taken in front of a black background, highlighting the details of stitching, material and fabric. Were the clothes not contextualised in the book with descriptive texts, detailing the history and make-up of each Tracht, the photographs might as well be, to give just one example, of John Galliano’s 2004 Ready-to-Wear collection. The glossy pages and accessibility of the layout, which divides the books into regional chapters, make this book an aesthetically pleasing page-turner.
Yet, vitally, it manages to strike the balance between that often contested dichotomy of traditional versus modern. For example, Hohenberg chose not to use professional models for the shoot. Rather, the actual owners of each dress wear it in the photographs. Some, are further shown in front of houses, farms or walking up mountain paths. This helps to situate the clothes on a more personal level and raises questions of (regional) identity and representation of the individual. Similarly, the inside of the front and the back cover is formed by a landscape shot. The dresses are therefore framed by nature and land itself, and associations with the rural and local still given. Hohenberg thus achieves a remarkable feat; he manages to present the Tracht as current and fashionable, while still maintaining its cultural values and meanings.
Hohenberg, Gregor, and Annett Hohenberg, Gestalten (eds.). Trachten. Berlin: Gestalten, 2015.