At Sportalm the wearer is always at the focus of attention. Wrapped in finest materials and clad in the best cuts she can be herself and try new things at the same time. The company from Kitzbühel has been flourishing since 1953 and it manages to reflect the city’s joie de vivre like no other – which is probably why it finds so many fans all over the world. In 21 countries, fans of the brand already enjoy the modern design, the innovative functional materials and the passion for detail. La Loupe spoke with the creative director, Ulrike Ehrlich, about the highlights of Berlin Fashion Week, good taste on the slopes and the family-run business’ characteristics.
L.L. / Let’s start with the highlight of 2016: Sportalm presented its latest collection at Berlin Fashion Week. Was that a dream come true?
U.E. / It definitely was a dream you have as a designer, to be able to present one’s collection on an international catwalk. Berlin is closer to our market which is why the city was a perfect choice – and because we generally like the German metropolis, it’s very vibrant and creative. It gave me goosebumps when the show started.
Being at Berlin Fashion Week was a spontaneous decision we only took at the beginning of December. The team and I had all but five weeks until the event. The next show on January 18, 2017 is sure to run more smoothly for us, now we know what to expect. We’re also looking forward to the new location, the tent by Brandenburg Gate has been exchanged for an empty building, which is typical for Berlin. I’m sure it’ll make the event even more special.
L.L. / How does one get the chance to present collections at the Fashion Week? What is the selection procedure like?
U.E. / You have to apply and fit the portfolio. At the beginning the organisers were concerned Sportalm might be too sporty. But then they were quite surprised by the wide range the collection offers. And in the end we filled the entire tent that held more than 700 people. The atmosphere was unique.
L.L. / How was the show received? Were you present in the media, too?
U.E. / The Fashion Week is a media spectacle and the German press immediately reported on everything that was going on. Bild-Zeitung even did a half page on us. That made us very happy. And the feedback from the customers, which is the actual point, was extremely good. For many it was the first time that they saw Sportalm up close. We were able to show that we’re not just good in sports but in fashion, too. Because of the short planning phase, we had no special catwalk-pieces, we had to work with what we had on the racks. And that was very well received and we were able to position ourselves quite well.
L.L. / Is there a highlight from the show you remember most fondly?
U.E. / We had a bit of fun that went through all the media. We went on the catwalk with a baby because we wanted to promote our children’ ski collection. The little boy made it into all the newspapers. That was something completely new!
L.L. / The Sportalm company history dates back all the way to 1953. Back then Willi Kruetschnigg founded the company in Kitzbühel – initially it only did embroidery. What facets reflect tradition in your fashion?
U.E. / Nowadays we don’t do embroidery or knitting anymore. The second owner focused on traditional costume. Those are our actual roots that we like to think back to and that we cultivate. With the third owner, Franz Kneissl, skiing fashion was added in the 1970s. Tradition, whether in terms of craft or origin, is very important to us – which is why Kitzbühel is the ideal location. The people are happy when you tell them you’re from Kitzbühel. And then when you can actually order products that are connected to the region that’s a great advantage. And all this influences the collections at all time – natural materials and a good feel are what we focus on.
L.L. / Where do the basic materials you use in your collections come from?
U.E. / Almost everything we use for our traditional costume comes from Austria, the classic companies that are specialised in this kind of fashion are located here. When it comes to fashion a lot comes from Italy and ski fashion is almost exclusively made in Japan. They are really good in terms of technology and highly functional textiles. They have the best moisture-stopping fabrics.
L.L. / Classical craft, longstanding tradition and a strong family bond are essential for Sportalm. Do you feel like these values are generally being neglected nowadays, especially in the fashion industry?
U.E. / Yes, many companies are no longer family-run. In many cases companies are motivated by short-term success and sustainability is neglected. In family-run businesses that is not the case because you think in generations and tend to take smaller steps that are more healthy in the long run. In family-run businesses one is connected to tradition more closely. Fortunately though, this short-term thinking is becoming less prominent in customers, too. They increasingly develop a sense for quality and are willing to spend more money on good products. Of course, that’s something we profit from.
L.L. / Is there a particular Sportalm piece one should invest in?
U.E. / That makes me immediately think of down coats. They are timeless, particularly when it comes to colours and cuts. And a simple dirndl also has a timeless elegance. And in this area especially the origin does play an important role.
L.L. / The company headquarters of Sportalm is still situated in Kitzbühel. And your collection reflects the special lifestyle of the ‘city of the chamois’. What makes the spirit of the place so special and how is it reflected in your collections?
U.E. / On the one hand Kitzbühel is a city known for sports, on the other it’s also very glamorous. Both components influence our collections. This symbiosis in combination with a wonderful location in the nature is what our international customers love, too. Our fashion, aside from the traditional costume, can be worn everywhere. Kitzbühel is very present in our brand and in our logo. Ultimately, we also advertise the region. And we also like to communicate that our brand comes from the city of the chamois. A classic win-win situation. Which is why we also host events in cooperation with the tourism association, such as press conferences and fashion shows.
L.L. / Sportalm is making authentic traditional fashion with that little something. It feels like dirndl & co are seeing a bit of a renaissance today. How easy is it to integrate this type of fashion into everyday life?
U.E. / Today it’s absolutely possible to combine traditional jackets with jeans, for example. Or dirndl shirts can be worn with cardigans, vests and dresses. Fashionistas also like to wear their dirndl’s petticoat. So, depending on one’s sense of adventure there are many possibilities. And for men lederhosen have become a garment they can wear in everyday life. And there are more and more events where many people wear traditional costume – weddings, for example.
L.L. / How popular are dirndl abroad?
U.E. / To be honest, not at all. We have international customers who like to buy colourful, elaborate Sportalm dresses – but I don’t think they actually wear them at home. In China dirndl are sold, too, which are then worn at the Oktoberfest there. But they are of such bad quality they are more fancy dress than anything else. Traditional costume really is limited to the alpine region: Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland and South Tyrol.
L.L. / Your current dirndl collection has high-cut blouses and cut sleeves. What direction will the development of traditional fashion take in the coming season?
U.E. / Colours are becoming more muted, materials more compact and natural. Somehow the collections seem like they’re out of grandmother’s closet, with rippled skirts. I really like it! But I also liked the phase with colourful and short dirndl, it was important to attract young women. That way they’ve lost their reservations regarding the more traditional models. A dirndl simply looks good on any woman! Vivienne Westwood once said: ‘If every woman wore a dirndl, the world would be a more beautiful place.’
L.L. / In winter Sportalm’s fashion collection captivates with athletic and lean silhouettes, interesting layering and Nordic influences. What is your favourite piece from the current collection?
U.E. / I usually have more than one favourite piece, this year it’s the between-seasons coat Kharashin. You can simply throw in on over everything, it’s quite voluminous and has a lot of space underneath. The top material is made from velour, the inner material is velvet that’s soft and cosy. The model looks elegant and goes with everything.
L.L. / What criteria are important when you design your collections?
U.E. / Comfort is an important factor, as is maintenance. We make sure the pieces are easy to clean. But still, they always have a bit of an attitude.
L.L. / Sportalm ski fashion does not only impress with its designs, it’s also made from innovative functional materials. What does the Sportalm lady of 2016 wear on the slopes?
U.E. / There are several trends in the collection. One is somewhat retro and reminds us of the sixties. The jackets are slim and elastic. On the other hand, you increasingly see hip, colourful prints inspired by the 1980s. And neon colours have a great effect on the slopes.
Of course, we don’t want to give up good taste on the slopes. Many sport outfits look very technical but we prove: A woman can still look like a woman on the slopes. And we’re here for these ladies!
L.L. / What do you always have with you when you ski?
U.E. / Lipbalm (laughs).
L.L. / In 2016 the company Sportalm celebrates its 63rd birthday. What plans and visions are there for the future?
U.E. / We see a lot of potential in our collections. We are now listed at Harrods in London and they’ve let us know that our pieces are popular with an international clientele. So, there are markets we can still tap into. We’ve been present in the USA for three years and see a lot of growth there. We also have new ideas for children’s and active collections, too. And that’s something we want to work with.
But Sportalm is not just popular internationally, in Austrian winter sports destinations we are bought a lot, too. We get a lot of positive feedback from our partners in the alpine region.
I would like to design this kind of garment one day: there’s nothing more beautiful than a dirndl.
Sneakers and dirndl…why not?
My father taught me…to think like a businesswoman.
Slope or après ski? The hut on the slopes.
My power place in Kitzbühel: My home.
For me ‘Made in Austria’ means…an obligation.
I find inspiration…everywhere.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, Ulrike Ehrlich has been supporting her father, Wilhelm Ehrlich, who took over Sportalm in 1980. As creative director, she used her personal touch to lend the company a dynamic character and her collections enchant customers all over the world. The company is active in 21 countries worldwide but the company headquarters has been in Kitzbühel for 63 years. The special pieces made by Sportalm combine international flair and local traditions – while still remaining typical for Kitzbühel. Today the collection contains traditional costume, ski and everyday fashion.