Past Perfect: Honey-Suckle Company

For decades, the Honey-Suckle Company has worked in the creative fields of fashion, music, and art. On a free and unconditional way of life

A photo book has been lying on my desk for a few days, and it’s a heavy one. Honey-Suckle Company is written up at the top of the cover, finely printed in black letters on a mint green background. Underneath there’s a picture: five interwoven heads, recognizable as such only by hair and ears, the bodies wrapped in sheets of white. The picture is removed from the world, wholly fitting the subtitle underneath: Spiritus. A book so rich in language, the zeitgeist, and the power of images that I don’t even know where to start to answer the question of who was, and who is, the Honey-Suckle Company?

Every metropolis certainly has its characteristic icons, these sensitive spirits that find themselves in the position to sense, capture, and help create the vibe of the city in which they live. For Berlin in the 90s and 2000s, that was clearly the Honey-Suckle Company. As a collective of artists, musicians, and fashion designers – and a spiritual community – they lived for more than a decade by their own conceptions, independent and unconventional.

Berlin 1995: an electro city, cold and discouraged, that came across like an unaesthetic techno desert to the freshly transplanted, founding members of the HSC. Instead of David Bowie, all they found here were Buffalo-wearing ravers that rocked an AstroTurf pony hair kind of look. What the scene was missing, they were going to have to do for themselves: its own fashion, its own music, and that means its own youth movement. The collective was born, and it joined together punk, pop, and the avant garde.

“Tape your own identity” was the battle cry of the first collection, which apparently joined the punk and electro aesthetics by loading winter hats with fur ear flaps up with circuit boards and 10-second samplers. It should also be mentioned that this example already pinpoints the potential fashion influence of the Honey-Suckle Company, because just a year later the first fur wigs went down the runway at Maison Margiela and then just this year those playful manga-esque hats like you can see in the Honey-Suckle Company’s first Polaroids popped up at Gucci. Maybe it’s all a coincidence, but still the inherent genius of the collective shouldn’t be overlooked.

They lived and worked together, at the start still located in an apartment in Friedrichshain. “Occupy, register with the electric company, live” was the motto. Each member of the group had his or her own field of duty: photography, performance, music, dance, installation, fashion, architecture, nutritional science, alternative medicine – without propagating a concept, a clear order prevailed when it came to inside operations.

At astounding speed, the group produced fashion collections, art installations, and music all at the same time. From electro-punk it went to a Bauhaus aesthetic, and they made dresses in a worker’s look inspired by Gudrun Ensslin and the prison clothes of RAF members. An unprecedented breach of taboos, the goal cleverly formulated across content-driven and aesthetic planes: the curse of the RAF prison look needed to be demystified, worker’s clothing given back its dignity. A fashion statement drawn from deconstructivism came out of it. But because the Honey-Suckle Company, either as an artistic fashion group or a fashionable art group, were never really recognized in either discipline, their ideas and concepts remain disastrously underappreciated.

By 2000, they had already created the Percentage Dress (Prozentekleid) as a reaction to designer Jil Sander leaving her eponymous fashion label. Sander, who had sold her majority share to the Prada Group, was pushed from co-owner to concession in production in design. After that, the Honey-Suckles tailored a dress in a bricolage fashion that reflected different original elements of every fashion house that Prada held in addition to Jil Sander. A clever commentary on monopoly in the fashion business, it gives a small glimpse into the wide spectrum of the Honey-Suckle Company. They were always unconventional and unorthodox, and never pursued their visions and goals as an exercise in emotional mining. 

However, it’s clear from this small selection of the collective’s works that they have something of their own presence about them that seems to be missing in today’s art and fashion business: the innovative genius that creates with delicate sensitivity – and without looking at reproduction and marketing opportunities. The Honey-Suckle Company still exists today, their last show with the name Materia Prima taking place at Harburger Bahnhof in 2007. Currently, a retrospective of their photography is on view at the Galerie für Moderne Fotografie in Berlin.

Impressions from the book ‘spiritus’:

The exhibition to “Honey-Suckle Company – The Book” is on from now until 30.07.2016 at the ‘Galerie für Moderne Fotografie’ in Berlin. You can also buy the book here.

© Honey-Suckle Company, spiritus, 2016 Künstlerpublikation, 21 x 28,5 cm, 272 Pages Courtesy Honey-Suckle Company
Author: Anneli Botz
Translation: Melissa Frost