Better known for hosting the Oktoberfest, Munich also hosts a grand semi-annual international textile fair. It’s where apparel manufacturers come to buy fabric for next year’s inventory, in addition to a lot of networking and trend setting in the fashion industry. The Munich show is smaller that the L.A., Paris, Milan and Hong Kong shows, but it’s the best place to find Loden wool producers, which is why I attended on Feb 1 & 2. I wanted to search out and compare the best Loden wool fabrics in the world.
The event is quite huge, (thousands of people were in attendance) and it felt like the true juncture of capitalism and international trade. As I walked down the aisles and aisles of booths filled with buyers & sellers from around the world I thought Adam Smith would have been pleased to see the raw market forces at work.
In keeping with the trends of the last 20 years, the old textile producers from Europe were on the defensive, trying to hold ground against their lower-priced Asian competitors. But I was impressed to see that for Loden producers from Austria, Germany, and Italy, there was no compromising on quality for price and very little competition from Asia. In fact I didn’t find one producer from outside those three countries producing Loden from 100% virgin wool.
If you’re new here, Loden wool fabric comes from an old Tyrolean post-weaving tradition that has helped shepherds and mountaineers survive the harsh Alpine winters for centuries. The fabric is remarkable for its durability, warmth, and comfort. These qualities result from a unique and time consuming finishing technique that uses warm water, tension, agitation, and soap to shrink the fabric in a way that interlocks the fibers. In German the process is called “walken” (pronounced “valken”).
Loden can be made from woven or knitted wool fabrics. Loden made from knitted wool fabric has the benefit of stretching a bit and it has a more casual look. It is important to note that only natural wool fibers, (as opposed to synthetic based or plant fibers) can be made into Loden, because they have tiny scales or barbs that hook onto each other during this process. In fabric genealogy, Harris Tweed is like a famous cousin of Loden, but tends to be lighter weight and not as rugged.
“Boiled wool” is a phrase often used to describe Loden and other shrunken wool fabrics, but is a misnomer. The temperature of the water Loden is processed in is only warm, it doesn’t exceed 30 Celsius. The boiling point is of course 100 Celsius.
In addition to being a marketplace for fabrics, the “Munich Fabric Start” (as the show is formally known) has networking events and symposiums featuring fashion insiders to offer insights into emerging fashion trends.
While somewhat interesting, these fashion gurus did not have much to say about enduring classic styles. It seems that fashion, especially, “fast fashion,” is the art of predicting which designs, patterns and colors will grab the most attention, then creating new garments accordingly. Such clothing items typically are thrown away in a year or two when they fall “out” of style. This wasteful pattern has created a big backlash, the so called, “slow fashion” movement, which focuses on getting the most life out of clothes and only buying clothes made to last.
The Robert W. Stolz brand supports the slow fashion movement, but we prefer the term: Loden Lifestyle,because no fabric represents sustainability and longevity better than Loden. We don’t need to buy a new wardrobe every year just to stay in style. Of course we want to look good, as most people do, but that means finding and defining our own style, not following a herd mentality.
Only if we do that will the result will be authentic and true. The Robert W. Stolz styles are inspired by the Alpine lifestyle where functionality and durability matter just as much as looking sharp. The Loden Lifestyle also has a deference for nature, and appreciates the amazing qualities of natural, sustainable and renewable fibers like wool and linen. Synthetic fibers sometimes also have a supporting role to play, but as much as possible, we prefer to keep our fabrics natural and sustainable.
Robert W. Stolz shaking hands with Herr Julius Mehler of Germany's oldest textile mill, "Gebrüder Mehler Tuchfabrik" which is over 350 years old and still family run
Checking out some of Mehler's Loden fabrics
On the right of Julius stands his son Maximilian, who will be the 11th generation to run the mill
Checking out some fine knitted Loden fabrics from the Austrian producer, "Gottstein"
Gottstein specializes in just making knitted Loden fabric, in German known as, "walkloden" and they do a fine job
Somelos Tecidos is an old Portuguese mill famous for their fine shirt fabrics like oxfords & twills
Robert W. Stolz checking out Loden samples from the Austrian weaver, "Seidra"