‘Someone who knows who she is’: the staunch, subtle style of Angela Merkel

Since 2015, the outgoing German chancellor has largely relied on a sole Hamburg designer for her wardrobe

A four-storey house set a discreet distance away from Neuer Wall, Hamburg’s luxury designer strip, holds the secrets to Angela Merkel’s successful sartorial style.

Except that fashion designer Bettina Schoenbach, who has her studio here on ABC Strasse, has taken something of a vow of silence over her association with Merkel, who became her client after winning the 2005 election.

On her website, Schoenbach describes her philosophy. “Style is an expression of personal choices made many times over,” she states, adding that she is “dedicated to helping customers take strategic control of their image”. It is a remark that could be straight out of the lexicon of the pragmatic Merkel. Thanks to Schoenbach, Merkel has throughout her chancellorship, now drawing to a close, been able to open her wardrobe daily and assemble her outfit with two or three flicks of the wrist: the dream of many a working woman.

The designer does not talk to the media, but that is probably how she has retained her role as the creator of Merkel’s signature “uniform”, as it is often called: a jacket and a pair of dark-hued wide slacks, matched with a necklace, flat black shoes and a roomy Longchamp bag.

Merkel set out with the aim of avoiding drawing attention to her outward appearance, and the trademark blazer did the job, not unlike a doctor’s white coat. It is now synonymous with her political style: concrete, constant, without embellishment, but never dull. With a bell-like form, to fit what the late Karl Lagerfeld once referred to as her “special proportions”, the blazer typically has three or four buttons, always done up, and a round neckline, allowing space for the necklace. Sometimes with a collar and lapel, or pockets, sometimes without, Merkel is believed to have amassed several hundreds of the jackets over the years, in linen, silk, velvet and wool, mostly from Italian cloth, according to Germany’s fashion press. They have come in all shades of the rainbow, from soft pastels to flaming purples and oranges, and were made for every season and occasion – the duller colours such as white and beige reportedly reserved for the less spectacular meetings with dark-suited business leaders. Lavender, it has been suggested, was worn ahead of difficult meetings, perhaps with the intention of contributing to a relaxed mood.

In one of the few remarks she has made about her style, Merkel told the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2015: “There are occasions on which I have to wear dark colours, then sometimes I’m informed that I will be standing in front of a white background, and for that the blazer has to have a lighter colour. And sometimes I’m simply in the mood to wear something bright and colourful.”

She has rarely worn patterns, and dresses were only ever seen when she made her annual trip to the opera in Bayreuth. The headlines that followed her appearance in 2008, when she wore a low-cut taffeta dress to the opening of Oslo’s Opera House, are said to have irritated her so much that she never repeated the experiment. Her spokesperson was confronted the following morning with the question as to who had designed the distinctive creation, to which he sputtered the reply that it was a “new composition from her existing wardrobe” (it was designed by Anna von Griesheim). In a 2013 TV debate, she wore a necklace in the colours of the German flag, which sparked such a heated debate about expressing national pride that she was never seen wearing it again.

Like her wardrobe in the days before Schoenbach came along, Merkel’s apparent lack of concern for her hair also drew scornful remarks early on, until a celebrity Berlin hairdresser taught how to blow-dry it, prompting the august Frankfurter Allgemeine to reveal the news that “Merkel no longer leaves her hair to dry naturally; she blow-dries it”. It wasn’t the first time a chancellor’s hair had made headlines. Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder dyed his, a media outlet dared to suggest, triggering a lawsuit from him and the forced withdrawal of the claim.

“I like the fact she has a recognisable style,” Anna Wintour, the editor of US Vogue told German media recently. “She appears to me like someone who knows who she is. I don’t have the impression she is trying to disguise herself.”


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
16 years in 16 words: the sayings that sum up Merkel’s Germany
Refugees, Russian sympathisers and half-dressed footballers: Germany’s forever chancellor had words for them all

Philip Oltermann and Kate Connolly

22, Sep, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
The sorrowful dominatrix: cartoonists Steve Bell and Martin Rowson on drawing Angela Merkel
With her generous features and a dolorous countenance, the German chancellor has been an artist’s dream, say Steve Bell and Martin Rowson of the Guardian

Steve Bell and Martin Rowson

24, Sep, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Europe is losing its moral compass – how will it find its way without Merkel? | Marion Van Renterghem
The pragmatic chancellor’s departure will be a turning point not only for Germany but also the EU, says the author and director Marion Van Renterghem

Marion Van Renterghem

27, Sep, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Blazers out, nail varnish in: as Merkel steps down, so does star doppelganger
Ursula Wanecki’s second life as an impersonator started almost by accident. Sixteen years later, she is hanging up the blazers

Kate Connolly in Berlin

12, Nov, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘She defined modern Germany’: Blair, Barroso and Prodi on Angela Merkel
When she first took office her fellow leaders included Blair, Chirac and Bush. Three of those at her first G8 summit look back on her legacy

Philip Oltermann

30, Nov, 2021 @10:37 AM

Article image
'For Europe to survive, its economy needs to survive': Angela Merkel interview in full
The transcript of the German chancellor discussing Covid-19, Brexit and global challenges

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

26, Jun, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
'Not sad to do this job': the Merkel ally leading EU's Brexit team
German politician David McAllister got married in a kilt. His Scottish roots will help shape the bloc’s relationship with UK

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

17, Mar, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
The crisis manager: Angela Merkel’s double-edged European legacy
Across a decade of rolling threats, from the eurozone to Brexit and Covid, Germany’s outgoing chancellor focused on holding the EU together

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

23, Sep, 2021 @3:19 PM

Article image
How the refugee crisis created two myths of Angela Merkel | Daniel Trilling
The right says the German chancellor undermined EU security; Liberals say it was a triumph, writes Daniel Trilling, author of Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe

Daniel Trilling

21, Sep, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
‘Time to take sides’: post-Merkel era needs radical new direction, says study
German chancellor’s consensus-building approach no longer sustainable in crisis-hit Europe, report says

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

14, Sep, 2021 @5:00 AM