by Juliette Eleuterio
5 min
Anne Imhof and Eliza Douglas©, Pan Daijing©, MJ Harper©, Amnesia Scanner©, Die Hässlichen Vögel©, GmbH©
Reference Festival is a one-of-a-kind 3-day event showcasing talent within the fashion industry. A place for like-minded people to connect, this year’s Reference Festival took place from January 21 to 23 and explored the theme of ‘Navigating Parallel Realities’. The event, in part, took place physically in Berlin’s Zeiss Major Planetarium and was extended online to a global crowd of over 28,000 people. Sculptures by Tobias Spichtig for Balenciaga were showcased in the Reference Studios gallery space, which hosted a multidisciplinary exhibition that was also expanded on

Now an official part of Berlin Fashion Week, the festival saw contributions from 032c, acte, COLRS by Zec Eli-Meirié, Chapel Petrassi x Mowalola, GmbH and many more. 

We caught up with Mumi Haiati, the founder of Reference Studios – the force behind Reference Festival.


Tell us, in your own words, what the ethos behind Reference Festival is? 

The festival is a celebration of creativity and progress through innovation. It’s a platform for visionary thinkers with radical approaches. While interdisciplinary, it puts a strong focus on fashion, our key expertise. It’s ultimately a place for special projects. 


How did the idea for Reference Festival originally come about?

We wanted to create something based on the spirit of the city, a sort of carte blanche for unrealised projects. There was a space for a truly fluid platform – we find it exciting to present artists with a blank canvas and by that, encourage works across disciplines as it makes for the most interesting outcome. It carries a notion of free expression. Industry wise, fashion always seeks to position itself in the art context if you think of Art Basel, Frieze etc. At Reference, that happens in an organic way. We put a focus on the in-between.


How did you guys feel Reference Festival 2, ‘Navigating Parallel Realities’ went? Anything you loved, or hope to do differently?

We wanted to push emotion and create a feeling of community as we did in the inaugural edition. Initially we were a bit nervous how we’d achieve that in times like these – by means of a new virtual platform. In the end, feedback throughout the press, from participants and via live chat on the platform – has been super positive. It seems we have succeeded.


Thousands of people have tuned in so far. What has been your most engaged age demographic?

As expected, Millennials were the most engaged.


Tell us a bit more about the ‘Phygital’ format for Reference Festival 2? 

All content that became an experience on Reference Realities was created on very specific sites in Berlin, namely the Zeiss Major Planetarium and our own space at the heart of West-Berlin’s cultural hub. The creation became an experience itself, without a crowd, but expanded into virtual space to give access to tens of thousands of people all over the world.


Reference Festival 2 featured a whole host of creatives. Why was it important for you to not only include fashion designers and garment exhibitions but also other forms of art like ‘The Ugly Birds’ and ‘Lost Souls of Saturn’? (Concert and Audio virtual experience)

Music and the arts inform fashion, and vice versa. As a platform, Reference Festival becomes a Gesamtkunstwerk in the shape of a mosaic of contemporary culture.


You recently announced the launch of the ‘Reference Prize’. Could you tell us a bit about how that came out, and why you chose to be so open with the application requirements?

It all started as a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist nearly 2 years ago, and since then has constantly taken more shape. It is our mission to discover raw talent and give access to the most exciting talent who can’t even afford it. For me it is also a personal matter as my background is very much underrepresented in the industry and media.


In your opinion, how do you think Reference Festival has evolved from its 2019 debut? 

After the inaugural edition, we got to partner with new clients. Browns commissioned us to conceive an experiential retail pop-up in Berlin shortly after. It all came as an affirmation of a progressive idea, which also includes the support of Berlin’s Senate Department for Energy, Economics and Public Enterprises. Besides that, the festival has evolved from a purely physical form into digital spheres, which gave it a different level of reach.


Do you think, in the future or rather soon, we might see a sort of ‘digital fatigue’ in the fashion world?

We are already past it. Which is why we all need to give the “digital format” more emotion, focus on creating an experience, and allow it to become an extension of the physical.


What can we expect from Reference Festival in a post-pandemic world?

We don’t like to think in these terms but rather go with the times. Currently we are exploring a new duality, and new dynamics. If we just look at the GmbH runway show that for the first time was recorded in Berlin and then premiered on Reference Realities as part of the Paris Fashion Week schedule.


What are your future plans for Reference Festival?

Unexpected collaborations and partnerships taking things to the next level.

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