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Claudia Skoda: The rockstar of knitwear

Delve into the Berlin it-girl’s underground world of fashion, friendship and photography at this multimedia retrospective at the Kulturforum.

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An icon of West Berlin’s underground scene during the 1970s and 1980s, Claudia Skoda was known as the “queen of texture”. Photo: © Estate of Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

An icon of West Berlin’s underground scene during the 1970s and 1980s, Claudia Skoda was known as the “queen of texture”. Now you can witness how this rockstar of knitwear was born at the first solo exhibition dedicated entirely to her work, showing at the Kulturforum until the end of the month.

Claudia Skoda: Dressed to Thrill consists of items from the designer’s private archives as well as vintage photographs and digitised Super-8 videos. Each of Skoda’s knitted pieces are handmade and limited edition, worn by the likes of Donna Summer and Cher. Skoda’s residential and working space, fabrikneu, was a gathering place for Berlin’s bohemian it-crowd during the 1970s. David Bowie and Iggy Pop would sit in the front row of her earliest Kreuzberg fashion shows. 

Colourful knitted gowns occupy the main space of the exhibition floor but it is Skoda’s life and personality that are central to the show, which is divided into seven sections. From the designer’s first German TV interviews, in which she talks shyly about her knitwear, to short films of her mid-1970s avant-garde fashion shows, Skoda’s message remains the same: clothing is about more than fashion, it is about liberating yourself from anonymity and conformity.

Large-scale footage of Skoda’s first Kreuzberg show reveals laid-back models shimmying around with a swing in their hips. “The motive was a fondness for the female figure, but also sexual liberation. It was a question of showing off the body, of asserting that nothing should be forbidden,” Skoda says today. 

Rather than having her œuvre captured by regular fashion photographers, Skoda chose art photographers such as Silke Grossmann and Tina Winkhaus to immortalise her knitwear. The result is an aesthetic concept rather than a sales pitch.

Female friendships run through Skoda’s work, which is often modelled by her close companions, such as 1980s punk icon Tabea Blumenschein and Jenny Capitain, muse to fashion photographer Helmut Newton. Occasionally, Skoda would model the designs herself. There’s an intimacy to these Berlin subculture stills, probably thanks to the fact that photographers tended to be friends or lovers of the people they were photographing. Trawling through the memories of Skoda and her companions, the exhibition takes you on a journey through the golden days of Berlin fashion.

The exhibition is displayed in English and German, but some video clips have German audio only. 

Claudia Skoda: Dressed to Thrill. Through August 29, 2021. Kulturforum, Exhibition Hall.