It was a degree in geography that first saw Herbert Hofmann leave the mountain town of Landeck, Austria to live in Innsbruck and then Stockholm. Then, chasing something more creative, Herbert landed in Berlin for a PR internship in fashion. Early in the game, he decided to ignore hype and support designers who were innovative and genuine. Flash forward a decade and Herbert is one of Europe’s – and arguably the world’s – most astute fashion buyers. After years traversing the globe’s runways and showrooms buying for Berlin’s Voo Store, Herbert is now the creative director of e-commerce for Highsnobiety. We chat to him about finding happiness in new cultures, using travel as a catalyst for creativity and where he recommends visiting while in Berlin and Milan.
On creating a happy life, wherever you call home
I grew up in a small mountain town where there wasn’t much to do other than hike in the summer and ski in the winter. It was normal to want to earn money as soon as possible so you could build a house, find a wife, have kids, buy a car. I was one of the first ones in my family to leave and seek a higher education. Now in Berlin, I do have some of those things. I’ve got a husband, a flat and a bike. It’s a life we built naturally for us, without spending beyond our means or buying things we didn’t need. When you remove the materialistic drives and stop thinking commercially, you assess what’s important and land with a life that makes you happy, wherever you may be.
On finding style even in a small town
When I was a teenager living in the mountains I didn’t have cool shops around me or the internet. I always remembered great combinations like a guy wearing a yellow hat with a crisp white t-shirt and a blue pair of jeans. I’d note people whose outfits were significant or used great colour. It’s about shapes and materials.
On your international journey to find fashion in Berlin
I studied geography at university in Austria. It helped me to understand why people live in certain places, why they visit certain parks and not others, how climate change is affecting us. Then I moved to Stockholm for a year to focus on human geography. After graduating I moved to Berlin and decided to do something completely different for a while so got a job at a PR agency that represented Scandinavian designers. That short internship then became a three-year-long education. I then met Yasin Müjdeci who wanted to open Voo Store and I became the creative director and buyer.
On leaving home
I found moving away from home overwhelming and scary at times, but I loved the ability to not only meet new people but also to learn new things. It felt like I threw my education away in order to follow creativity and my new interests, but it was worth it. I’m sure I have arrived at a new place – in terms of state of mind and self confidence – but many things will never change. Being in the mountains, surrounded by old friends and speaking the Tyrolean dialect gives me with a warm heart.
When you remove the materialistic drives and stop thinking commercially, you assess what’s important and land with a life that makes you happy, wherever you may be.
On finding your community in Berlin
I learned to be open-minded and willing to meet new people, however that does not mean that I try to be everyone’s darling. I have two handfuls of close friends who became family. Friendships need time. But there’s also a bigger circle of people I love to hang out with and it’s comforting how connected and small the city feels. There’s a strong feeling of ‘belonging’ in Berlin. Many people moved here for the freedom of not feeling pressured to earn lots in order to survive. You can especially feel this in the easy outfits and sneakers that are accepted everywhere, from high end restaurants to clubs.
On wearing clothes that make you comfortable
When I first started buying for Voo Store I went to a showroom wearing my geography student-cross-Austrian hiker outfit which was combined with a certain Berlin secondhand vibe. I didn’t feel great in this environment because buyers usually wear the craziest of crazy fashion, with limited edition pieces and big colours. So my solution was to go and buy a lot of clothing so that I felt part of this culture in time for the next buying season. But I realised I still felt uncomfortable. The problem was I lacked the confidence to wear what made me feel comfortable. We then integrated this knowledge into Voo Store. We didn’t want to buy based on what people expected us to wear, or what was in fashion. We wanted to be our own filter with our own unique lens on the fashion and design world.
On travelling to spark creative thinking
Traveling allows me to see things outside of the box. Sometimes you have to remove yourself from your usual surroundings to get inspiration and see things in a different light. Leaving the city and heading to the mountains allows me to see hiking clothes, traditional European outfits or I might travel somewhere that’s not ‘trendy’ and see someone wearing a super thin penny loafer. That’s when I have moments of ‘that looks quite fresh’. Removing yourself from a place where you see a repeat of the same thing allows you to think creatively on what could work in the future.
Sometimes you have to remove yourself from your usual surroundings to get inspiration and see things in a different light.
On falling in love with Berlin
Berlin is a melting pot of people and incredibly open-minded. And even though it should probably be one of the most expensive capitals in Europe, it remains as one of the cheapest. Neighbourhoods are a mix of people from different backgrounds and whether you’re rich or poor you all do your shopping at the same small grocer. It’s a good place to stay woke.
On your favourite places in Berlin
For fashion, head to Voo Store and Andreas Murkudis. For sunsets, try your best to hang out on a roof in summer. It’s the best experience of Berlin and you will connect with others on different roofs. It’s beautiful how the city is being used in all ways and how much public or shared space there is.
On exploring Berlin’s modern history
Boros Bunker Art Collection is a great spot to start a journey through Berlin. It was originally a Nazi air-raid shelter, then when the Wall went up the building was used for banana storage. After Reunification it became a gay techno club and now it’s home to a contemporary art collection owned by the wealthy Christian Boros who has his apartment on top. This one building shows a snapshot of how modern Berlin evolved. I also love the old airport Tempelhof. Once upon a time it was the biggest building in the world – until the Pentagon was built. Hitler constructed it with the intention of Berlin becoming the centre of global travel. Standing in front of the airport and feeling the brutality behind it is very humbling and emotional. In 2010 there was no money to do anything with the space, so they put a sign up in front of the airfield that said ‘Park’ – this is so typical of Berlin. Now, people barbecue, hang out, and use the airstrip for cycling or skating, and Syrian refugees use the building for shelter. It’s a space for fun and diversity, we’re using it in a way that Hitler would have hated.
There’s a strong feeling of ‘belonging’ in Berlin. Many people moved here for the freedom of not feeling pressured to earn lots in order to survive.
On now identifying as a proud Berliner
When Angela Merkel made the decision to let the Syrian refugees in it was such a beautiful moment, it made me proud to live in Germany. There’s a big myth that Austrians don’t like Germans, but I was very happy to be paying my taxes in a place where social policy is so strong. Berlin has always been a place where things have happened – good and bad. Walking the streets gives you a daily reminder of what’s good and what should never be forgotten.
On finding inspiration in Milan, always
I’m incredibly in love with Milan. It’s very close to the vibe we have in Berlin in terms of seeing that the city has an uglier physical side – which I say as a compliment – and yet its people are fun and beautiful. You get the sense the Milanese have lived their lives and everyone is comfortable enough to find their own sense of style. It’s inspiring. Then there’s the positive side of seeing well-known brands be worn without pretension – like spotting Milanese young or old in head-to-toe Versace. It harks back to a time when brands really stood for something. I really appreciate that the people of Milan invest in quality, and then look their best even when simply going for a cappuccino.
On understanding Milan’s beauty
I love to go to the contemporary gallery Fondazione Prada, or just walk the streets and stumble on neighbourhood restaurants with amazing pasta or pizza. The Duomo is mind blowing. In fact, I recommend that everyone travelling to Milan watches “Io sono l’amore” (I Am Love) starring Tilda Swinton, then you will know what Milan is about. It’s delicious and sexy.
There’s currently too much hype-driven content around on platforms that are just about clicks and what Kim Kardashian is wearing. At Highsnobiety we’re finding it incredibly rewarding to have an opinion.
On being a buyer who doesn’t like buying
I don’t want to hear the phrases ‘best seller’ or ‘must haves’. We likely have enough clothes in our closets to last a lifetime. We get used to this unnecessary terminology and pleasing ourselves by buying something to wear once. But how great is it to be able to filter our wardrobe by making decisions based on something that brings you joy, makes you feel confident and supports a young designer or a sustainable company? Travel to a new place and see the different silhouettes people are wearing there. Then, buy one piece that might change your look for a long time.
On which brands are catching your eye right now
There’s a New York-based brand called Bode. When I first saw the images on social media I had this instant feeling of wow, this is new and genuine. It’s simple yet strong. Emily Bode who is behind the brand does a lot of upcycling of old fabrics. The pieces are timeless and fun and you could wear it now or in many years’ time and people would still ask you about it. Christina Seewald from Austria also immediately caught my attention. Her knitwear and patchwork has a strong vibe, she knows what she’s doing and I immediately wanted to wear it. It’s both an empowering and sustainable approach to fashion.
On making a career change
I took a walk with Yasin Müjdeci, Voo’s owner and said ‘I’ve been living in Berlin for nine years. Had the same boyfriend for more than eight, and the same job for seven years. Something has to change. And it’s not my boyfriend, and it’s not the city.’ He understood and was very supportive.
I had a few conversations with David Fischer, the founder of Highsnobiety, who wanted to go on a new journey with his platform. He wanted to connect high fashion and streetwear and establish both an online store and Highsnobiety as a label. I’m happy I’ve been part of this journey the past two years.
It’s worth giving confidence to diversity and creating discussion and I’m proud we are calling out outdated views.
On building a brand’s global following
Highsnobiety has definitely gone in a more opinionated direction, which we owe our readers and followers (around 3.6m on the main channel). We don’t post about every sneaker that exists, instead we do selected posts and editorials. We’re etching a space to have an opinion again. There’s currently too much hype-driven content around on platforms that are just about clicks and what Kim Kardashian is wearing. So at Highsnobiety we’re finding it incredibly rewarding to have an opinion.
On taking a risk to say what you believe in
We did a post about the Tom of Finland exhibition in Berlin and what a trailblazer he was for gay culture at a time when homosexuality was forbidden. It was one of our most liked posts in recent times and also one of our most controversial posts since I started working there. Many followers were posting comments such as ‘What is this gay shit’, ‘Unfollow’, and ‘We don’t want this gay stuff in our face’.
It’s worth giving confidence to diversity and creating discussion and I’m proud we are calling out outdated views. All of the staff, especially the ones who are gay, lesbian and queer in our company were very proud that we published this post. We could have simply not done it and moved on with no editorial edge. It really was an empowering step.
On joining a global fight for equality
There was no diversity where I grew up. Everything about diversity that I learned was through TV, and even then on Austrian TV there were only two channels. I’m gay and part of a minority that can be discriminated against. But at the same time, I can choose to not look queer, and go into a supermarket and nobody would look twice. Yet some people are being discriminated against solely because of the colour of their skin. They can’t hide that. And I think the white majority are downplaying the facts of how you are actually perceived and prejudiced when you have different coloured skin. Therefore, I’m proud to work with colleagues and a company that cares and tries to make a difference.
On a window or an aisle seat
Clearly a window. I want to be able to see if the engine is burning and where will go down in an emergency.
On Berlin in one word
need to know