You Just Have to Be Self-Confident: Anita Tillmann

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It’s like being in a beehive–beautiful, fashionable women fly through the rooms. There is a quiet hum of activity with quite a lot going on. Anita Tillmann, the petite woman behind the weighty Premium, snatches a quick coffee, dashes back into her office one more time and then devotes herself to us. In the big conference room at Luckenwalder Straße, at the large table where 20 people would fit, she does not seem to be lost, all the same. She is alert, has a strong presence and is eloquent. And gets going at once.

Premium has long been a successful trade fair company. To gain its independence, in 2007 it bought the premises, Station-Berlin, and recently organized the Berlin Cycling Show there, which was also a success. Is Premium on the lookout for alternatives to fashion, so that it can use the area all year, or did the bicycle lovers seek you out?

We founded Premium Exhibitions GmbH in 2002 in order to organize the Premium Fashion Trade Fair. That was our first trade fair format, which concentrated on the market for exclusive, expensive products. By now Premium is established as an international trade fair. It works, is very successful and is growing–both qualitatively and quantitatively. In the course of our development we bought the property at Gleisdreieck at the end of 2007 and restored it. We invested everything we had earned in this property. A second company, Station 10963 GmbH, emerged from this. The company was broken down into two divisions, with one renting to other organizers’ events–thus we are a perfectly normal event organizer in central Berlin. Then there is the second division, which develops new formats. Not necessarily to rent out space, which at the end of the day is our core business to be sure, but because we enjoy developing new things. This is how the Berliner Fahrrad Schau came into existence, which is being very well received now in its fifth year and has developed from a Berlin event to an insider event for bicycle fans and professionals known well beyond the capital.

What other events are conceivable?

For example, right now we are working on an event related to animals, have just had a meeting on a film project and are planning something in the food area.

Getting back to the Premium–what is its greatest challenge?

The biggest challenge is to find the highest common denominator for the needs of everybody involved–brands, agents and buyers. We are in very close dialog with retailers, with salespeople, marketing people who, even when they are working in the same company often have different needs. My goal is that buyers spend more time at the trade fair and focus even more intensively on what’s on offer, place their orders and do business. Every season we collect and present a new a mix of brands unparalleled in quantity and quality.

Is it difficult as a businessperson to strike a balance between Premium, which clearly stands for a particular orientation, and the needs out there?
I have a certain gut feeling. But a lot of analytical input as well. We carry on dialog with our international competition, have many years of experience and a worldwide network–and there is a lively exchange with industry and retail. I myself have been in the business for well over 20 years. You simply have to know you can handle things. You may not always be right, perhaps, but you have to keep going. The dissonance area is certainly an area that doesn’t suit everybody’s taste but is relevant for fashion and sets the tone. I regard it as important and right to give this niche a platform. The fundamental question is: Do I invest long-term–in ideas, money, employees, etc.–or do I do business in the short term? Those are the two areas you have to decide between. I believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Is Fashion Week with its shows a valuable contribution or irrelevant to what goes on? This has to be looked at in a more differentiated way. Basically it can be said of the location: We can show different market segments at the same time–large-scale trade fair formats and small niche formats. That ladies, gentlemen, shoes, accessories, denim and the catwalks take place at the same time is huge USP for Berlin. We have been getting that established for ten years and have been successful with it for a decade, and have gained incredible market strength in Germany and Europe. We can see from the behavior of other fashion cities that they are working hard to arrive at the point where we are. Because doing it any other way is old hat. What is important is that every trade fair format functions well. Within the overall framework of a Berlin Fashion Week, one weak spot weakens everybody, or the strongest makes all the others stronger. That is why it’s important to strive for balance and to support one other.

But how can it be that something takes place here in Berlin which is at least as good as elsewhere in terms of quality, but is perceived differently by the international press?

We certainly do not have a Marc Jacobs in Germany. Louis Vuitton even had to buy Marc Jacobs, because the French themselves had nobody. But, quite without looking at countries–there are only a few superstars, and I believe that if anything can happen in Germany, then it will be here, coming from Berlin, because the creativity is available here. Lala Berlin is one of my favorite examples. Who would have thought that one of the most important designers started out as an MTV stylist who knits legwarmers? She is the only German designer the British press love. Or Michael Michalsky, who, when he came from Adidas, everybody said had only ever made sneakers. Not only does he create great collections– I think his men’s collection is very good–but also interior design and homewear. The fact is other fashion cities invest in fashion. There are budgets for flying in the most important buyers and journalists from all over the world. The motivation to come at your own expense is low. It is about showing appreciation for people and about a certain attitude.

Change of topic: what was the excursion into retail with your F95 store like that closed its doors last year?

The good thing was that we were able to see what sells in retail. With us in F95 only high fashion worked. And anything that was different in one way or other and you couldn’t get anywhere else sold well. But the time it required wasn’t in proportion to our core business of developing trade fair concepts–for fashion and for other industry sectors. As a next step we would have had to take our business online, because nothing works without online nowadays. And then you are talking an investment volume which I can’t just do on the side. I’m not a retail business, I focus on what I’m able to do best. And so, we got rid of the store, Düsseldorf too [the order platform Premium Order Düsseldorf, editor’s note], devoted our attention to Berlin as an international hot spot and then three or four weeks later the sales platform in Munich, renting out space at Station-Berlin and developing
new trade fair formats.

Concentration–is this advice for retail, too?

It’s difficult to give advice. But if I regard myself as a consumer–I’ve got everything in my wardrobe and yet I still buy myself jeans, leather pants, sneakers and high heels. And don’t forget all those handbags and at least one leather jacket each season. This shows there are consumers out there who want to buy. But in my opinion the products have to be special. As a retailer you have to be self-confident and really believe in what you do. Playing it safe doesn’t work anymore.

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