Vienna is not the first fashion capital that comes to ones mind. However, it is certainly a city in which fashion has its firm roots. Fashion has been a part of the city’s aesthetic ever since the age of Hapsburg monarchy when the famed ballerina Fanny Ellsler determined new trends with her bold stage costumes, or when Maria Theresa portrayed all the magical perks of living in Viennese Court by strutting her luxurious, cashmere scarves. Alongside Berliner Chic, there was another related movement that was being established in Vienna- Wiener Chic- whose last chapter was written by great Helmut Lang. But, there is a name that is unfairly unattended and almost forgotten in the context of procreation of high fashion- haute couture– and its development on the European ground, especially in Austria. The most famous Austrian couturier was born in 1909 in Nürnberg, as a child of a German caterer, carrying a heavy family burden to continue with his father’s business. This professional chef soon realized that catering business is not really his cup of tea and decided to move to Vienna, the center of Austria’s cultural and artistic life.
In September this year, Austria will mark 28 years since the passing of Fred Adlmüller, the eccentric fashion designer who brought Austrian fashion under the global fashion spotlight and marked several decades of fashion design in Austria. His book of order included names such as Romy Schneider, Eva Bartok, Zarah Leander, Hildegard Knef, princess Soraya, Margaret, the Queen of Denmark and Frederika, the Queen of Greece. One time he ‘robbed’ Christian Dior for a Grand Prix for the best hostess uniform at the Expo Fair in Brussels. So, what exactly made this designer so recognizable, unique and wanted?
Soon after he came to Vienna, Adlmüller met Ladislav Czettel, a controversial Hungarian Jew who was at the time the most wanted theater costume designer in Austria. Czettel, who took over the costume department of Vienna State Opera in 1930, introduced Adlmüller to the magic of costume design and thought him how to combine standard clothing design and costume design into one unique artistic expression. Ever since the age of Gilbert Adrian and Prada, costume and fashion designers worked closely together to create unique pieces that brought a touch of fantasy to their clients. Adlmüller soon began working for a luxurious department store Zwieback & Co. in Kartner street where he became the most known style adviser for elite clientele. A couple of years later, he moved to a tailoring studio Stone & Blyth, where he finally began working on his independant collections. Owners of the studio, a Jewish couple Sass, emigrated to the UK in 1939, leaving Adlmüller as the head accountant. Upon his return to Austria, Ignaz Sass established a new company with Adlmüller that in 1956 changed its name to ‘W.F. Adlmüller’ and became his eponymous label. The letter ‘W’ stands for his first name Wilhelm, which he despised since the early childhood.
Due to his impeccable aesthetic, he became the most wanted designer in Vienna, and abroad. With a style that resembled trends that, at the time, ruled Paris and with the help of variety of prints and colors he used, Adlmüller profiled himself as a couturier that knows fashion to its deepest core. He was the first Austrian designer to organize a haute couture show in his luxurious home, and became famous for high profile gatherings where he presented his newest work to devoted customers. Fred Adlmüller was different from the other designers of that time. He never wanted to dictate fashion, but to make women feel and look beautiful. During his entire life, he emphasized how he finds it difficult to understand why ‘fashion became such industry’, alluding to the fact that fashion was being used only to create high income. He who lived for colors and fabrics, stated how it pains him to see ‘wrongly dressed women’. This bearer of the Austrian Golden order for merits and honor, never learned how to sew, not even how to attach buttons. Still, some of the most gorgeous gowns of all time were brought to life by his ideas. On his 80th birthday, Adlmüller stated how fashion always came first in his life. Then came fashion, and then fashion… again! From 1973 to 1979 he lead fashion master class at the Vienna University of Applied Arts. As a person who believed in his students, in his will he ordered the establishment of a foundation that would support young fashion talents. The ‘Fred Adlmüller Foundation’ was established in 1993 and, since that year, it has been supporting six prominent students annually in amount of 6000 Euros. The foundation has helped young designer such as Uta Ploier and Valerie Lange to successfully start their own careers. Adlmüller also worked as a costume designer for several movies, out of which we most remember No Orchids for Lulu from 1962, Fregola from 1948 and Trees are Blossoming in Vienna from 1958. Aside from the movies, he designed costumes for numerous productions of Vienna State Opera.
Fred Adlmüller passed away in 1989 in Vienna, in a city that dedicated him an honorary tomb. Although an immigrant, he was very well accepted by the city that made him an even more ‘passionate and typical Viennese’, as he was described once by a former mayor of Vienna Helmut Zilk. His boutique in Viennese palace Esterhazy in Kartner street no. 41 existed a full decade after his death. The attempt of Palmers brand to save its doors from being closed was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, today you can find very little information about his life and his work. However, if in Vienna and if in search for a dash of old glamour, make sure to visit Gretl’s Exclusive Fashion in Paninglgasse 18-20. There you can find some of his early works, as well as his latest creations.
Cover Photo Credit: Margarete Prinzhorn Fashion