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Tina Lutz: Fashion luminary back home

My approach is responsible, not sustainable.

Tina Lutz, a fashion luminary, returned home a few years ago. Born in Germany and trained at ESMOD Paris, the fashion designer first worked for Issey Miyake in Paris and Tokyo before moving to New York in 1992, where she joined Calvin Klein as a senior designer - the heyday of American fashion. After further stations, she co-founded the luxury knitwear label Lutz & Patmos in 2000, which became known in particular for collaborations with Julianne Moore, Jane Birkin, Carine Roitfeld and Sofia Coppola. After years abroad, she launched Lutz Morris in 2017, a label for timeless, luxurious and environmentally conscious handbags made in Germany. A conversation about dying craftsmanship, international design promotion and


FCG: You lived in New York for many years. Why did you actually return to Germany?

Tina Lutz: We decided to move to Germany in 2015 because my parents were not well. Actually, we only wanted to stay for a year, but it quickly became clear that there wasn't enough time. My husband and son also felt more and more comfortable in Berlin, the city is becoming more international anyway. So we're still here. Fortunately, so are my parents.

FCG: Lutz Morris was launched in 2017. Did the idea grow out of the move?

Tina Lutz:The first six months in Berlin I still had brand consulting commitments in New York and flew back and forth regularly for that. In the long run, that would have been hard to do. For my first Christmas in Berlin, my husband gave me a German-made leather box to store pens. It had an attached frame construction, similar to the one I use for my bags now. Something about the casket inspired me insanely at the time, I didn't even know such a thing existed. All of a sudden I had a whole bunch of ideas for bags in my head. At first I thought I can't do that, my background is in tailoring and knitwear. The label actually found me, not the other way around.

FCG: Your bags are produced exclusively in Germany, where there is traditionally a long history of leather craftsmanship.

Tina Lutz:Nevertheless, my research here was initially very sobering and depressing. There is a lot of know-how in Germany, but hardly any support for the companies. In my search for suitable partners and production facilities, I visited many manufactories that you could see had once been much bigger - some of them you already knew would close in a few years. Because the operators are retiring and can't find any new blood.

FCG: In the end the search was successful?

Tina Lutz: Exactly. Today, 98 percent of the leather we use comes from Germany, the other two from Italy - Novelty leather, which simply doesn't exist here yet. By the way, the tannery is just around the corner from the leather factory, and the boxes for my packaging come from the same town in the Rhineland region. Everything is deliberately as close together as possible. All the chains come from the Black Forest, the frames from near Offenbach.

FCG: You also take an environmentally conscious approach with your bags.

Tina Lutz: This is an important topic for me, perhaps because I grew up in Germany. Sustainability has been taught here for decades. I moved to New York in 1992, at which time garbage was not yet separated - in Germany it was already common practice. I can still remember how much it hurt me to throw everything into the same container. I have had my own labels for 21 years. Professionally, I have always tried to think environmentally conscious.

FCG: In what way?

Tina Lutz: For me, there are three important things in this context. Firstly, supporting artisans and thereby keeping a craft alive. In the past, I have tried in particular to network and collaborate with women in developing and emerging countries and thereby support them. In this context, Macramé in Bolivia and embroidery in Kabul were created. Now I support German handicrafts.Secondly, to produce as responsibly as possible. I deliberately prefer to call my approach responsible rather than sustainable, because I believe that nothing that is produced can be sustainable - we don't really need anything. So sustainable would be not to produce at all.Third: Give something back. I've supported charities in the past. For Lutz Morris, ten dollars of every bag sold goes to Every Mother Counts, an NGO founded by my longtime friend Christy Turlington that works to improve medical care for pregnant women worldwide.

FCG: Does the question of responsible sourcing of resources as well as manufacturing actually arise all the more with materials like leather?

Tina Lutz: Of course. For me, it was a big dilemma at the beginning - should you still use leather at all? After intensive research, it's more responsible to work with certified leather than with plastic imitation leather. I work exclusively with environmentally certified factories, especially with regard to the tanneries, which is important. For me, running a responsible label also means that we recycle everything in the office, for example. Even our shipping boxes are recycled. We explain this to our customers. By the way, the topic of sustainability interests all of our buyers today, not just those from Germany.

FCG: With Lutz Morris you pursue a conscious as well as an aesthetic claim - both together were unthinkable for a long time. Why is that?

Tina Lutz: I just visited a leather trade fair in Milan, and the topic of sustainability was everywhere. However, it is always more expensive. Many manufacturers as well as consumers are therefore not yet ready to rethink. But fortunately that is changing all the time.

FCG: Commitment to the environment is rewarded today. You recently won the Sustainable Award of the Fashion Group International in New York.

Tina Lutz:

Such an award is of course an important signal for the topic of sustainability in general and an opportunity for a young label like Lutz Morris. I hope that people will see how much effort we put in every day. Prizes also encourage ideas.

FCG: Speaking of support: Since 2006 you have been a member of the CFDA, the US American fashion chamber, and recently also a member of the Fashion Council Germany. How do you experience the support of designers in the US in contrast to Germany?

Tina Lutz: Of course it's difficult to compare, after all the CFDA has been around much longer, it's much bigger. It was perhaps easier for American designers to institutionalize themselves than it is here - in the USA, at least at that time, everything fashionable was still centered in New York, here fashion is scattered all over the country. Germany also lacks Calvin Kleins, Ralph Laurens and Donna Karans.

FCG: In the CFDA, you took active roles for a number of years.

Tina Lutz: I was a member of several committees, one for sustainability and for seven years the one for the admission of new members. From the annual applications, we selected those that met the criteria - the CFDA checks whether brands really have serious intentions or whether they are just flash ideas. Young labels, for example, have to have been active for three years and have to show where they are represented in the trade. This is a form of quality assurance: The CFDA has long since become something of a brand itself.

FCG: What can Germany learn from this?

Tina Lutz: I think that an institution like a fashion chamber helps in principle. It's always important to exchange ideas and support each other. I myself taught fashion design at the Rhode Island School for four years - passing on my knowledge was very important to me. I see the same thing with the CFDA, which, for example, tests manufacturers and recommends them to others; young brands benefit from this all the more. In general, I think Germany should have more confidence in itself. There is often a mistrust of new ideas here. You can also see that in consumer behavior; labels that are still unknown often have a harder time.

FCG: Do you see that happening with Lutz Morris customers?

Tina Lutz: In fact, most of my clients are based in the USA, followed by the UK, the Middle East and then Germany. But I think that's also because after 25 years in New York, I'm simply better known there and have a larger network.

Young labels from Berlin and Germany often don't lack good ideas, but rather their commercialization. You launched your brand directly with a sales launch on Matchesfashion, and in a short time you won over retailers in various countries.

FCG: What do you do differently?

Tina Lutz: I think it helped that I first worked for other labels before I started my own business. Today, many people start their own business right after university without having any experience.

FCG: Lutz Morris is still a young label. Where do you want to go in the future?

Tina Lutz: Of course I want to be able to live from what I do. Apart from that, I want my factories to remain open in the future, to create solid jobs and to continue supporting women worldwide with Every Mother Counts. In the long term, I can also imagine expanding Lutz Morris to include other product lines. In the fall, we will start a cooperation with the eyewear label Barton Perreira, which follows similar values as we do.

FCG: What role does Berlin actually play in this?

Tina Lutz: Interestingly, the city plays a rather subordinate role for me, at least as a creative environment. What I enjoy about Berlin is how quickly I can be anywhere, whether it's London, Paris or Milan; all strategically important centers for me that are much harder to reach from the US. Although I miss New York, one thing is for sure: I don't miss the jet lag.

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