Beneath the Alsterarkaden, next to the Alster, and within a nest of trading houses built by the famous architect Alexis de Chateauneuf in 1846, sits Ladage & Oelke’s green and gold fronted shop. Its 450 square metre floor space is packed with British gear: tweed, corduroy, suiting, pea coats, wax jackets, duffle coats, blazers, woollen jumpers, and, of course, leather accessories.
The apparel of choice in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (its full title) has an unexpectedly English feel to it. “We have a strong relationship with all things British”, explains Ladage & Oelke’s Marketing Manager (and fifth generation family member), Selma Wegmann. “This is not only because of the rainy, foggy, grey weather but because of the harbour and the long-standing merchant connection between the two countries,” she adds. This connection does indeed go back centuries, and there’s no establishment where this link is so palpable than the gentleman’s outfitters, Ladage & Oelke.
The store, now something of a local institution, was originally founded as a fabric shop (dealing predominantly in British cloth) by merchants Johann Oelke and Georg Ladage in 1845. Within five years, the pair had moved the enterprise towards tailoring, boasting that they could provide anything a man might need, dress-wise, within six hours.
After the early death of Johann Oelke, his brother in law, Julius Franck, took over the business and Georg relinquished ownership. Selma is Franck’s great granddaughter, she tells us more about the company’s development from this point: “Very early on, my great-grandfather hired around 100 tailors to significantly expand the operation and began selling ready to wear garments and unusual new leisure wear, such as clothing for the first motor car drivers, and kit for skiiers and tennis players.”
One of these early ready to wear items has become a Hamburg style staple – the duffle coat. Part of the store’s ‘Originals’ collection, which also includes knickerbockers and kilts. The classic duffle (originally know as the Monty Coat, as it was a favourite garment of Field Marshal Montgomery’s during World War II) still flies off the shelves at Ladage & Oelke, even though its cut hasn’t altered in 50 years.
Following the advent of the ready to wear collections, the store, and the city, experienced both feast and famine during the 20th century, explains Selma. “In the 1950s boom time, the shop was sometimes so crowded that there was a sign put on the door, which read: “Closed due to overcrowding””, she laughs. But in 1989 the store burnt to the ground after a nearby restaurant owner set fire to his establishment in an attempted insurance coup. Ladage & Oelke’s operation had to be rebuilt from scratch.
‘“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire,”” quotes Selma, (attributing the quote to - Hamburgian composer Gustav Mahler or Benjamin Franklin). “The quote explains perfectly what we try to do every day.” After the extensive rebuild project, the store continued to prioritise quality and tradition above all else.
Ladage & Oelke now stocks certain British brands alongside their own, such as Private White, Grenfell, Turnbull & Asser and, of course, Ettinger. “We choose brands which stand for high class handicraft and a certain degree of understatement”, Selma explains. “Brands which have a long tradition, create iconic British pieces and sell goods which are worth every cent,” she adds. Ladage & Oelke’s faithful customers are increasingly interested in the provenance of their purchases and the craftsmanship involved in their creation.
And although tradition is paramount for this centuries-old Hamburgian establishment, times are (a’) changing. And for Selma’s team this means collaborating more with other brands, for example, the store recently hosted a pop-up vintage bike restoration coffee house in their store, ensuring that both the online and in-store customer experiences are second to none. The team continues to look to the future, whilst preserving a traditional approach. Selma thinks that the big growth areas over the next few years will be: made to measure (already the demand for this service is rising), knitwear (perfect for the casual home worker, who has no need for suiting), and accessories (always essential to every outfit).
But whatever the future holds, this Hamburg institution will always have its British connections and, of course, it's duffle coats.