In Conversation with Steffen Grap of Champagne Towers
Recognised for his analogue photography and DIY design style, Berlin based model and designer Steffen Grap has been dubbed as an up and coming figure within the streetwear industry. Gaining a taste for skateboarding aged 13, his experiences around the German capital continue to shape his creative pursuits which include launching two brands with his girlfriend Karo Rose in addition to collaborative projects with the likes of R.T.CO eyewear, fashion house Gucci and Berlin illustrator KOGAN.
The second collection from his latest project Champagne Towers has arrived at Flatspot, so we thought we’d get in contact with Steffen to learn more about his creative process, favourite spots around Berlin and thoughts on city life.
Flatspot: Tell us how you started Champagne Towers, we stocked your first label (030) - what made you change direction and begin working on something new?
Steffen: (030) was the first streetwear project Karo and I were working on in 2015. We started printing hoodies and t-shirts for ourselves and friends and realized that a lot of people were interested in buying the clothes too, so we started to produce more.
After a couple of months selling (030), a Berlin based magazine with the same name and all rights came to us and told us we need to stop selling our stuff because of an infringement of the law. They are the only ones who are allowed to print and use (030) on clothes and use it as a name, it’s super sad… So we started thinking about what we should do next and after a couple months we came up with the idea for Champagne Towers, inspired by a building complex named after this in Märkisches Viertel/Berlin in the suburbs close to where I grew up. That was in early 2017 and since then we’ve continued doing small drops of collections, special releases, collabs and stuff we like to work on and share with the world.
"We want to inspire ourselves to inspire others."
Flatspot: That sucks about (030) but we’re glad to hear it didn’t put too much of a downer on your creativity - you’ve developed a unique design style that incorporates experimental analogue photography, music and fashion with a distinctive feel of youthfulness... is this a conscious push against over processed imagery? What has influenced your use of certain mediums over others?
Steffen: The designs we are producing are based on the ideas of Karo and me, which most of the time are really instinctive. Things we see in the streets, stuff we get inspired by from magazines or places we visit. We often use photos or graphics we made by ourself to show people our visions of design and the way we see things. We want to inspire ourselves to inspire others. What I don’t like about a lot of streetwear brands these days is that the personal background is often missing - you don’t know the people behind the brand and what it stands for. All you see is good quality with nice prints, that’s it. We never really check the latest collection of other designers or brands because we want to create our own aesthetic rather than following someone else’s wave.
"We started everything without any help or knowledge and just did it - learning by doing and still do it like this."
Flatspot: It’s cool that you want to open up the creative process to fans and in turn influence others to get involved with their own projects, this ties into your printed t-shirts allowing a wider audience to view and support your photographic work, instead of it being kept online or in galleries. What does your creative timeline look like? Do you have any go-to guys within your community that hook you up with printing, processing etc?
Steffen: We just see the production of clothes as another opportunity as well as doing exhibitions, magazines, videos or any other form of creative output. We started everything without any help or knowledge and just did it - learning by doing and still do it like this. What we continuously work on is to improve the production in terms of quality etc.
There already have been a bunch of people offering us help or asking to be a part of Champagne Towers but we want to do as much as possible on our own and keep it 100% personal. Also, I don’t want to make someone else responsible for a mistake which I could have done by myself.
"But Berlin definitely doesn’t give me the feeling of surveillance, it’s more the opposite of that. I feel totally free, I can do almost whatever I want and let my creativity run free."
Flatspot: The DIY aspect brings more of an authentic spirit for sure - tell us about city life, you’ve expressed how Berlin can be a sensory overload in the Converse Cons Berlin Bound video. “Towers of Champagne” gives a feeling of surveillance - does this resonate with your feelings of being in the city, particularly when skating? How has your time in Paris compared with living in Berlin?
Steffen: I think after being in the same place for a long time it’s always a sensory overload, especially in a big city like Berlin. I love to travel and discover new places and collect new experiences, so I get bored really fast and always need changes. But Berlin definitely doesn’t give me the feeling of surveillance, it’s more the opposite of that. I feel totally free, I can do almost whatever I want and let my creativity run free. This also counts for skateboarding in Berlin, you have a lot of good spots everywhere which you can reach easily by bike.
About my relationship with Paris. Berlin is my heart, but Paris is my love. Karo has been living there for almost two years, so I always visit her there and she’s visiting me in Berlin. The scene in Paris for art, fashion, skateboarding and photography is bigger and you have more opportunities, but it’s pretty expensive to live in Paris compared to Berlin. In Berlin everything is cheaper but it feels like you are in a bubble and a lot of people there are in their comfort zone, so I’m thinking about moving to Paris and to start working from there. Paris would definitely be my next favorite city to live in Europe except Berlin.