Presentation of 44 LABEL GROUP, the missing link between clubwear & couture

The signs of urban gentrification are usually revealing: unbearably pretentious organic bakeries; sans serif fonts; daddy-cap wearing underdogs dressed as a Mac DeMarco support number. All of this is true in Neukölln, Berlin, but despite its relatively recent crowning of the city’s “hipster”, it’s a place that still retains a charming brutal flavor. If you find yourself in the German capital and need some questionable drugs, a cheap doner, or, uh, a Blockbuster rental shop, hop on line U8 and head to Hermannstraße.

If anyone is familiar with Neukölln’s changing face, it’s Max Kobosil. A child of die Wende, the techno producer grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there. These days, the former Berghain resident is having a great time, playing shows from Miami to Madrid in any given month. It’s a notoriously taxing lifestyle, but one that has brought him to meet people from all over the world – Italian fashion entrepreneur Claudio Antonioli being one of them.

For some time now, high fashion brands have been trying their hand at all the clubwear schtick, but with varying degrees of success. What they often lack is authenticity; can you really transfer the spirit of Panorama Bar into clothes if you’ve never been around with watery eyes and chewing your face up close on a Sunday night? Or, to paraphrase Bane in The dark knight rises, some only adopted techno, Kobosil was born from it.

It was this reality that prompted Antonioli, a nightlife lover, to sign Kobosil’s 44 LABEL GROUP merchandise label in his Dreamers Factory incubator. The idea is to make the kind of rave gear that has never been seen before. Stuff that can stand up to a hardcore party weekend, but built with the kind of fabrics you’ll find on Parisian catwalks. It’s a mutual bond: a bond forged both by a love of electronic music and equally cool clothing.

Ahead of the Spring / Summer 22 full-scale release, featuring stills and videos shot by the inimitable Matt Lambert, I sat down with Kobosil to find out more about the project so far. Read below and shop the collection here.

When did you start DJing at Berghain?

I became a resident there when I was 22. The fashion part was a happy accident. I started releasing my merchandise in 2018 because I wanted the community to have something that binds us together on the dance floor. We were selling so much on every outing that my friends and I were constantly working at my mom’s house packing and shipping the orders every week.

Around the same time, I met Claudio [Antonioli] and we immediately clicked. We had the same tastes in music but also in art.

So it was almost like a DIY merch project at first?

Yeah, but I was really obsessed with quality. It wasn’t your regular merchandise that is printed on generic shirts. I went to many vendors before I found the quality that I liked and wanted to wear on my own. This process never actually ended, and with every drop I have strived to improve and change things in terms of shapes and quality. It’s visible in T-shirts if you have one with every drop.

Basically, I wanted to create a t-shirt that would last “forever”, but also get old. I found a technique called “discharge printing” where you bleach the fabric instead of just printing on it. By doing this, the print will not naturally peel or fade, only the fabric of the black T-shirt it is printed on. I think of it like a scar. The body changes but the scar remains forever.

So you were thinking about all of these things before you even met Claudio?

Exactly. Now I am able to produce advanced stuff like cargo pants, bombers, coats, bags, etc. which wouldn’t have been possible before. I needed a larger and more professional team to make it a full-fledged fashion brand.

The term “clubwear” interests me a lot because it is constantly evolving and changing; how would you define it in 2021?

For me, clubwear is fluid, sweaty, sexy, rough and functional. I had my first club experience when I was 14 and since then I have dressed specially for the nightlife. A lot of brands use this subculture for inspiration, but the difference is that I came from it natively. There is nothing else I know better than techno, clubs and nightlife. This is my first real love.

How has the Berlin club scene changed for you in recent years?

Berlin in general has changed a lot, especially the neighborhood [Neukölln] where I was born, where I grew up and where I still live. At the beginning, there were not so many visitors, the atmosphere was more tense. It was multicultural and I loved it. That a lot of people come and settle in Berlin is a good thing, although there are notable drawbacks: higher rents, for example.

If I imagined a club full of real Berliners, that would be boring. It’s great to have people from all over the world meeting in these places because there are so many interesting stories and so many unique ideas being exchanged.

Have you always been a fan of luxury fashion?

I spent a large chunk of my initial DJ fees on clothes. I loved fashion and always thought about what I wanted to wear. When I look back I think it was almost like an investment. I got to explore and learn about the materials and construction, what country they came from etc. I also compared different clothes from different brands and figured out what I liked the most. It really opened my eyes to the art of fashion.

Today I see a lot of big traditional fashion brands inspired and influenced by rave culture or clubbing. What we do is reverse the game. I grew up in this culture and I want to show my vision of it mixed with that of my childhood in Berlin to the fashion scene and to the world.

Your graphics are wild!

I do them myself. I work with run-level designers to help finalize the artwork into print-ready files, but the creative direction and output comes from me. Both for 44 LABEL GROUP and for my label, R Label Group.

I work a lot with my hands. My sister is a dentist and I wanted to do something with the teeth, so I asked her to get some real human teeth and bring them to me. When I got them, I arranged them in smiley faces on a black cloth and took pictures. I also made a unique pattern for an all-over print. You can see the result in our recent SS22 collection. For FW22, I used my hands again to create patterns.

How did it go with Matt Lambert?

It was super nice. Matt is grounded and a true artist. It’s a great honor for sure. He is closely linked to the club scene and has a lot of experience; the ideal partner to visually convey the spirit of 44 LABEL GROUP. The cast of the video is 100% authentic. It was important to me that we included real ravers, friends and other techno artists. One of them, Aiden, is releasing an EP on my label next year. She is an incredibly talented professional producer and model.

Another talent seen in the video is Raven which I discovered through mutual friends. She released an EP on the label of Amélie Lens, a close friend for over 10 years.

What’s next then?

We have just released the capsule with our exclusive partner in Berlin GATE194. Everything sold out in just two days. We did not expect that! 70 percent had already left at the Berlin release event, which really made me proud.

At the moment, we are already working hard on our FW22 collection. In terms of distribution, the brand is now more established. We are in key stores in key global markets and we will also be doing another presentation at Milan Fashion Week in January 2022. I look forward to that.

What could be more fun, being a DJ or a designer?

Both worlds have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s just as important for me because I get inspired a lot by visiting different clubs and countries. I travel all over the world, and it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration that I use for my fashion brand.

I’m in New York one day, visiting stores during the day, and DJing at night. The next day, I am already elsewhere and drawn into the energy of this metropolis. It really goes hand in hand.

What I underestimated a bit is that I also have a double workload. When I had free time during the week, I am now in Milan and I work during the day in my design office. I had 17 concerts last month and sometimes I don’t come back to Berlin for weeks. But I’m not complaining. I do what I love and have my family, my friends and my health, and on the weekends today I don’t just try out new music, but also new clothes!


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About Michael S. Montanez

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