When SOTO opened its doors in Berlin’s Mitte district in April 2010, it offered a distinct take on menswear that effortlessly fused high-end designers like Thom Browne and Band of Outsiders with a well-edited streetwear-minded offering from the likes of Nike and Norse Projects. By catering to the way that so many modern men dress today, SOTO – which is short for South of Torstrasse – had introduced something new and original to the Berlin retail landscape. Founders Philip Gaedicke, Omer Ben-Michael and David Fischer had all worked in the fashion industry prior to opening the shop, but SOTO put them on the map as a retail force to be reckoned with. Their influence extends beyond Berlin, as well; it’s one of the reasons why brands as diverse as Marcelo Burlon and Barbour have lined up to collaborate on special projects with the store, and why industry powerhouses like Calvin Klein and adidas handpick SOTO to carry special, limited edition product. Today, after a 2012 expansion into the space next door and a roster that has grown to include Kenzo, Dries Van Noten and Nanamica, SOTO is stronger than ever.
Wecaught up with Fischer to look back at five years of SOTO, and to get a glimpse at what’s next.
Congratulations on five years of SOTO! How does it feel to reach this milestone?
Time has gone by so fast. I can almost not believe it has already been five years.
If you had to boil down your formula for success into one key idea, what do you think it would be?
It’s always really hard to put something like that into words, because much of what we do is not really planned, but rather a natural progression that we go through. SOTO is a destination store and I believe we stayed true to the values that we set into place the day we started with this project. Still today, the store is very much a reflection of our personal tastes and an eclectic mix of brands that in our mind represents a modern way for men to dress. We are open minded, global, but have a clear idea of what we want our look to be.
What do you think sets SOTO apart from other shops in Berlin specifically?
To be honest not that much has happened in the last few years in Berlin in terms of new retail. There are a few interesting new stores, but in the end of the day, we still believe that we have the strongest pure menswear offering. From top to bottom, you can get whatever you need as a guy at SOTO for any occasion. We make sure that we cater specifically to men and have a well-rounded assortment for that customer. We want to be trendy, but also timeless, and that combination is always our goal. That also means that we do not jump on every new trend, but make sure that it suits our store and our look.
You’ve also mastered the art of the high-low brand assortment in a way that speaks to how most guys dress today. Was this something you set out to do, or did it happen organically based on your own tastes?
That has been part of the SOTO DNA from the first day. Opening Ceremony, Band of Outsiders and Thom Browne were really early on in the store next to Nike, Norse Projects and others. We always felt like that represented a modern menswear wardrobe and as such, was nothing new to us.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to any designers you’ve had in the store?
There are always surprises. We are still surprised today of how well we are doing with a brand such as Thom Browne in a city like Berlin, where buying power is rather limited. Of course sneakers have taken off these last few years. They were never gone, but it still feels like they are stronger than ever before. We see certain brands win with specific items for the most part.
You’ve had some really great collaborations exclusive to the shop as well, from Barbour to Maison Kitsuné to Gitman Brothers. What is the process like for you when you decide to collaborate with a designer?
Collaborations have also always been part of SOTO and are something we enjoy doing very much. We can offer something special to our customer and fuse our style with the look of some of our favorite brands. We have been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic brands over the years. The process is usually quite natural. We work mostly with brands that have been in the store for a while and are part of the SOTO look, so to speak. We are not fashion designers, so it is really more about adding small interesting twists to classics and smart details that catch the eyes of our knowledgeable and picky customers.
Are there any young designers or new brands who have you particularly excited right now?
Every season we come across a few new designers that excite us. Sometimes we pick them up right away, other times we wait and see how they develop. Proper Gang from New York is new to SOTO this coming season. Hender Scheme is new since SS15 and has been doing great too.
Finally, what’s next for SOTO?
We are celebrating our 5th anniversary with an exciting collaboration with Levi's. We were among the lucky ones, allowed to design our own 501. Without any doubt one of the most exciting projects we have been allowed to work on in SOTO history and we cannot wait to launch it in the coming weeks!
SOTO, Torstrasse 72, 10119 Berlin, Germany, www.sotostore.com