Zehnle Von Langsdorff, Berlin Interview with Yvonne Von Langsdorff
What are you doing here?
I make tailor-made pants. We are specialized in making pants, only pants. When a woman comes into our shop I show them from our collection and they try and then I see their shape, size, figure, their behavior, their wishes. Then we make a commitment and then I make a new pair of pants for them, in which they feel comfortable and very accurate dressed.
I give the knowledge about lines to people about their bodies, to make them more attractive. I figure out what I have to do so that they are walking along comfortable with themselves.
If you’re unhappy with your figure, I’m running for you. Others tell you you look good even if you don’t. If it does not look good, I tell you.
I try to give them the tension of the body back. Usually we are losing tension in our body when we get older. Tension is what is attractive, and that’s what we lose when we get older.
In the last 16 years we measured 5000 women. From that research we found many new results which usually fashion schools and teachers are not teaching. They don’t know. Usually they teach what they know and transfer what other people knew before. Not many people search. They see no reason. What else can I do about pants? Why should I do research? It’s always been done that way.
We are freaks. We were looking for 16 years differently on every pants. The anatomy… Why does the body work like this? What does the body do about walking? The material … How can I get the material to do this? Maybe I turn the pattern on the fabric.
The pants show the body. It should be a nice picture and painting. We want to make that possible. That was our purpose. We’ve never been satisfied by anything that is half.
Our pants have three pattern, not just front and back, but also a side pattern. This came from the observation that the side seam makes people look wider. So we always have the seams in front and back with a side panel. It’s three dimensional.
Also the inseam is not straight. Straight doesn’t fall on the anatomical natural line.
The anatomical natural line is very interesting and tanzful.
Industrial pants have nothing to do with the shape of the body.
Tell me about the work
I don’t get tired of it because I feel mastery. I can feel and see exactly what people need. When they come in, I learn a lot. Every day I learn more. I’m not a fashion lady. I do fashion, but I’m very professionalized in how I do that.
It’s not only a looking thing, it’s also a feeling thing. We are giving with our pants feelings back. It’s not only how we make you look.
I’m connected to you when you come in the shop.
I want you to be happy, and I want you to feel proper served if you come along. If I didn’t I say excuse me and ask for the reason what happened. One out of 100 sales, the people complain. Then I try to solve it and be nice to them. “I’m sorry, we did something wrong.” This is not how it’s done in Germany.
In between I organize. I do lots of different things.
I’m not sewing because I’m too slow. I’m just making the prototypes. There are two tailors. I make the patterns and cuttings. Finishing pants. I put button holes and buttons, cleaning up.
See what we need, order new materials. I organize new nice material. Every day is discovering something new, what I can do with new fabric.
I look what’s happening outside and what kind of style we should make. I talk to customers. I write the contracts with the customers and manage the orders and control the quality.
Make ads and photos. What we have to do next.
That’s the main work. I do this 4-6 hours per day. I don’t like to work all day long as an artist. So I like to have half a day.
In between I paint. It’s my passion. I’m a realistic painter. That’s why I opened up the shop. I didn’t want to depend on selling paintings. I wanted to have that for my own pleasure. In former times I thought it might be nice to be an artist, but I couldn’t get along because I needed money.
About one time per month I travel and show our collection and take orders from women wherever they join or see us. We are visiting another place in Germany or Austria.
I work with my partner. She does exactly the same. And our two colleagues, the tailors, are producing and finishing the pants.
I didn’t want to separate the making from the buying. The tailors work in the showroom. They are offering their lifetimes for making pants. Why should I lock them in some back room? The customers can recognize immediately this is value, because they can see and feel that a person is giving their life to make it.
It should cost €300 or more euros.
Together we are sort of a family, we meet every day and we discuss everything.
How did you start the business?
After fashion school I didn’t want to go to this superficial business. I was working in other companies and always I observed in the fashion business.
I could never imagine myself being in a company, stressing for another company’s economical success. It’s useless. I can’t do that.
But I observed that what I never found was good trousers. People were suffering how could they find good pants? So I thought you might have a good idea to do something not everybody else is doing to have success on the market. I made a business plan.
I won’t do it alone. I met Tina years ago. I asked her “well do you want to come with me and open your own shop?” She was like “are you crazy?” And then we started and she had a baby and not much time.
I knew I am a difficult person. I asked Tina to go with me to a psychologist to make clear that whenever we have a conflict that we will get help to solve problems. That saves us. It’s a good thing that I did that. Otherwise she would have left me.
I had no money at all at the beginning to open a business. I had 2k debts on a bank account.
We were sewing at home. This tiny room upstairs was our first shop. Then the owner came and offered me the shop but I had no money except to rent for €1 and utilities. We had 170m2 for €200.
I put in every light myself. For every pair of pants we sold then we put the floor or a table. So we solved from everyday money our problems. It went quite well. After 3 years through a sad reason, Tina received some money from her family. Then it went better. But it was hard at first. We realized there is a need for a certain amount of money to open your own business which we had not done before.
At first we thought it might be too little just to do pants, so we started with pants and skirts for the first 5 years. The customers were so amazing and encouraged us to do blouses and coats. But we realized that it’s too much. We were not getting any knowledge any more. Too many extras. Not economical. It does not lead anywhere that we could see this makes more effort than what we get back. So we thought it over and we decided to stop with other items and to specialize in trousers. This is what people need. You can get everything else somewhere else.
Moneywise it was a disaster the first 10 years because we made so many changes to make the pants better. Through this work we experienced a lot so nowadays we have a treasure here. Every person sees themselves as a problem because industrial wear is not serving them. I not only can help them, I can make them happy in a nice and valued way.
Tell me about the math
It’s easier for me to copy and do pants, than doing a painting. What I put in to a painting is something that I cannot produce serially. And I don’t like to beg people for buying it. There is no value for it. It depends on the person who is going to buy it if I’m going to sell it. But if you need money for living, you can’t do it like this.
The money is not the focus.
The last value is the money. We have to take money, so that we can get other stuff. The first thing I would say is it’s very sensible. It’s full of content. That makes it It’s so rich, without money. And it makes so much value for my life.
People are searching in their lives for ways they want to go. They want to feel themselves and their life have meaning. This is has so much meaning, it makes us very happy and it gives us the money we need to live. We are so happy here so we don’t need so much money.
Nowadays we have no money problem. If Tina needs money she takes it. And the same for me. We are not counting or controlling each other. If one takes more or less. We are together because we have fun, not because we want to have a justifying thing.
We pay our people properly. The tailors get more than we do. The ethic for me is – I never thought of it.
Sometimes I have money. Sometimes I have nothing. I deal with it. When I have money I can buy something, when I don’t I do less. But it’s enough. And if I have to ask someone to loan me, I do. It’s no longer very important to me. For others it’s very important. This has no content for me. Money is just a thing for use. It makes me free.
I saved my apartment building from being sold to a bad investment group. Through my work here I could do that. I was the only person from the building to employ lawyers and saved a whole Berlin place (Zossener48.de). I made a company who is owning the building for itself, so nobody can make anyhow for 100 years any profit. I found a foundation who lent €3m to protect the house….We still rent, we don’t own our flats personally. But i made a company and complicated structure so nobody can sell this house on the market. It can never be part again of a speculation.
This store will move to the same building.
If I had a job I wouldn’t have had time for that. Now I need to raise money to do the rooftop. I love learning about this process, raising the money to fix up the house. Otherwise they would have put me out. At the end of the day I try to live the whole thing. That’s why I’m doing all this different stuff. This is my aim. I have so many interests, and like a little child I’m happy to try everything. For a minute I tried to buy a pottery wheel.
Tell me about your materials.
We use high-quality material and fabrics. I don’t put in my time with rubbish material. It’s my lifetime. What I do for you is with my lifetime, so why should I work with rubbish?
I go to a fair twice a year. I also go to many different countries, Italy, little companies in Germany. I have a certain feeling for material. For pants it has to be stable and robust. We have super soft wool, 200, and rough things like corduroy.
I have no principles or rules. I’m not going to say this has to be a story with ecological perfection. lI don’t observe the companies if they produce without toxic things. In fact, based on the quality of the material. I realize what happened in the back. There’s a big Italian company where we order, and I cannot tell what they do.
This denim comes from Turkey. The biological denim is not giving the quality i’m looking for. If you pay 300 for pants you want them to last longer. Also I have to also pay attention what does it look like? Some bio denim didn’t look good. If it doesn’t look like that you will not want it, regardless how much I’m telling you that we caught it at night by moon.
Sometimes the quality and the production ethics comes both together.
The way I’m doing it already is the right path, to put in ethics. I try to do the rest of it correctly, the production. Nobody is producing for us. We do every single pant by ourself.
Why do people buy from you?
I’m always very tied to the customer. I’m a very high in my expectations as a customer, so I want to give you as a customer that. Just to make pants is useless. You need something in the pants. It sounds exclusive, because you pay 2 or 3x more than for industrial pants.
When they purchased before, they come back because they are fully satisfied. 99% come back. Not immediately. Yesterday there was a lady who bought a pair 10 years ago. She’s still using them, but now she’s ready for a new pair.
New customers are looking for pants because they are unsatisfied with what is available and unsatisfied with their shape. Or they have special imaginations about what they need, what they’d like to have. And they look to see if I can meet their needs.
“I heard from you 3 patterns. I want to know and try.”
“I saw you in another city and now, visiting Berlin, the first thing I want to do is visit you.”
Nowadays after 16 years they also come because they see the pants on other women’s bodies. They ask other women where did you get these nice pants? We hear that so often. “I saw the pants on my friend. She was looking so gorgeous. I finally managed to come here.” They are ready to be positively surprised, because they are already surprised that pants on their friends can have this look.
They are not coming around because I am known as an artist. They have a need which they like to have fulfilled. Later, they come to see me, the pants maker. They have a personal need.
I produce something which you need.
After 16 years it goes by itself. We don’t have to make any more ads.
Are you connected to other artisans?
I enjoy to go once a month to the fairs and see what other people do with their hands. It’s very enriching.
Where else can I meet arty people? I enjoy art. Artisans are different. This is also a very rich world. I didn’t see why to separate all the time. Some art people are snuffy to artisans.
When we are on fairs we meet lots of other artisans. The knitting lady and leather jacket man, and glass blower, and jewelry makers. We all have the same problems. The fair markets go badly when people just look and don’t buy. How to get a market where I can sell my things properly.
I bought a really nice big wooden chair. It was like a Bauhaus chair that was metal. I met an artisan who made it in wood. I had to save money for months because it was very expensive, but I was very excited.
I bought a sculpture for 700 euros, but I know the work that goes into it. I know about values. People no longer have any connection to what values are. It’s slacking it down, underestimating, and soulless.