Dressing Up with Veronika Heilbrunner
The Berlin Fashion Editor Tries on Looks from SSENSE and Explains Why the Things We Hate Will Always Come Back in Style
- Interview: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
- Photography: Veronika Heilbrunner
“Interesting things always happen when there is a remix,” explains Veronika Heilbrunner over coffee in Berlin, “People always need something that disturbs the eye a little bit.” Known for her jagged approach to womenswear, the European street style fixture has gone from being a model, to serving as the fashion editor of German Harper’s Bazaar, to starting the online fashion platform hey woman!. In a selfie story for SSENSE, Heilbrunner tries on looks by Miu Miu, Thom Browne, and Wales Bonner and speaks with Zoma Crum-Tesfa about Berlin style and her obsessions with whales and Gothic churches.
Going from being a model to an editor at a major publication like Harper’s Bazaar seems like it would be a dream come true. But now you are running your own online platform. How did this journey start for you?
I started as a model, but really it is because of my interest in clothing that I created a career for myself in fashion. I started working at supermarkets and flower shops when I was 13—literally trying everything just to make enough money to buy the clothes I wanted. And it was important for me not to explain myself, so I didn’t bother asking my parents for money.
When did you first realize you had an interest in fashion?
Oh my god! [laughs] Like from childhood. Like from forever! I was always obsessed with dressing up and getting dressed in general. I was a very quiet and dreamy child. I would live in my imagination, and just make up my own stories in my head. And the main thing my stories started with was: “What would I wear?”
So it was all a play.
It was. I was always reading and reading my mother’s fashion magazines. You know, it’s the classic story.
What was modeling like?
It was exciting. After school, I was modeling for one full year. I was going to places like South Africa and Milan. I enjoyed working with like-minded people and getting to know the world and all of that, but I wasn’t so into it because I was like—I was very, very tall, and a little insecure.
Yes! But then I discovered through modeling the job of a fashion editor. I would always shoot questions towards editors: How did you get here? How do I become what you do? What are you doing every day? I applied for internships and took the first one I got. I wanted to grow.
Did they have you clean the closets?
Of course! I loved it. And I just worked and worked until I worked my way up.
What led you to start hey woman! ?
I was already working for like eight years—starting as an assistant editor, then editor, and then I went to My Theresa to do the productions for the website, which was quite a changing moment because it was my first contact with retail. Because as an editor, you make up dreams, you don’t actually have to sell clothes. Then I also found online very exciting, because everything I did was then up like a few days later. Then Bazaar asked me to be their style editor—which I know is a pretty cool thing to be—but when I went there for the job, I was already like, “Do I really want to be at a monthly magazine again?” I think newspapers are great, and then those magazines that come out twice a year like 032c that are like a book with real opinion and direction. But I think the classic monthly shopping magazines are a bit tricky. Bazaar was a dream job, but I was already somewhere else. So I quit on a Friday, and on a Saturday I was invited to dinner at a friend’s place and met my partner Julia.
Something that strikes me about the website is that its categories are so fluid. It’s almost like a remix of a classic fashion glossy.
That’s what I like about fashion: Interesting things always happen when there is a remix, or when different things clash. Or when something at first sight feels a little wrong, and then on second sight, you’re like, “Actually, this is super cool.” I think that there’s a beauty in something that is not perfect.
Totally. The status quo is maintained by pure categories. And if you believe in creating new things, you always have to destroy the purity of those categories.
You have to! Because everything already exists! There is nothing that you can really invent in fashion. You can bring new material, but there are so many beautiful things that you have to give it a new direction or a new thought. And you can only do that by somehow breaking it and not trying to do some perfect replica.
Are there any things you’ve tried to bring into this remix that just won’t come back? Like, I remember a time in L.A. when you could wear an Ugg boot to the supermarket! But now it’s like, you could never.
But I bet at some point it’s going to be cool again. It’s so funny, from when I was like 12 to 25, I was literally only wearing sneakers. I didn’t have any other shoes. That’s all I wore, even when I was in a dress. And then when I was around 25, I was like, “I hate sneakers! Who wants to wear sneakers?” Well, now I’m wearing sneakers again. It’s interesting, because when you love something, you always surround yourself with it, and then you just get tired of it. But then something you find quite awful starts to somehow become pretty. People always need something that disturbs the eye a little bit. I would really like to understand why that is.
I think people develop a certain attraction to the things they hate.
Berlin is a great example! You know those ugly 50s and 60s Neubau buildings? They’re brutalist, but not the cool ones—the ugly ones.
I know. I live in one.
Everybody used to hate them, and now they’re cool!
And so they’re all getting renovated. But the whole attraction was that they were trashy.
For example, look at Vetements. They basically take all those things that people hate and make them super cool. And what’s even more funny is how people react to that. Some love it. Some hate it. Some are confused by it. It’s funny how serious people take stuff.
I think there’s definitely a playful quality to the way you dress on Instagram—especially in pictures with your boyfriend, Justin O’Shea, who is now the creative director of Brioni. Do you think that menswear influences some of your own choices?
Well, I was always more of a tomboy. And of course, when you have a boyfriend on your side who has cool jackets, coats, pants, whatever, you can borrow pieces and wear them. And I love that. I’m not overly feminine, but I still wouldn’t wear a full men’s look. Especially not when I’m with my boyfriend. We don’t want to look like twins!
Brioni has these great cashmere sweaters. I wish they made them for women.
His first show actually had eight women’s looks, all couture and made to order. But then again, isn’t there a beauty to having to buy the men’s sweater?
You guys both live in Berlin, which is an unlikely home base for a fashion couple. Is the city a source of inspiration for you?
Berlin is basically what everyone is looking for. There’s old beauty. There’s new trash. There’s so much youth. When that Gucci campaign came out that was shot here, I had so many interviews, especially with English magazines that wanted to know about Berlin style. And I was like, “I don’t know!” One of my favorite books is We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, which is about heroin junkies in Berlin in the 70s, and it was actually turned into a movie with a soundtrack by David Bowie. It’s quite a terrible story, but when you look at the aesthetic of the whole look, it’s basically a Saint Laurent show! And then Gucci made this campaign that basically took the sites of that movie and made them into glamorous ads. The one thing I find a little sad about Berlin is that there’s so much happening in art, music, parties, but there’s no fashion brand that reflects that. Or not yet, maybe. I’m a little sad that Vetements is based in Paris, because that is the Berlin look basically.
What are some other places you like to visit frequently?
I always love to go to the other big cities—London, L.A. I’m really into Scandinavian cities. I’m going tomorrow to Oslo, then next week Copenhagen, then Stockholm, then Oslo again. In general, I’m really into visiting churches and castles. That’s a hobby of mine. Whenever I pass a church, I have to go inside no matter what.
What’s your favorite period of church?
I’m very fond of Eastern Orthodox churches. Like, obsessed with them.
You’re right! The ones in Russia are beautiful.
Tell me about the clothes you chose from SSENSE. What were you most excited about?
These Miu Miu velvet ballerinas. I have them already in normal leather, but when the velvet came out, I was like, “No! I want the velvet too!” I also got this tracksuit from Grace Wales Bonner, and this whale jumper from Thom Browne. I love whales. They’re my favorite animals.
What’s your favorite whale? I love orcas.
I like the biggest. The blue whale.
- Interview: Zoma Crum-Tesfa
- Photography: Veronika Heilbrunner