In 2010, a man finds an old shirt at a flea market. His name is Peter Plotnicki, a designer from Berlin, and the object of his desire is a batch of placket front shirts from textile company Merz, founded in 1911 by Balthasar Merz in Albstadt near Stuttgart. The region was once home to hundreds of textile businesses until cheap products flooded the market. Most gave up. Like family-run Merz, in 2008.
Plotnicki’s fingers caress the undyed cotton fabric. The shirts feature triangular inserts under the arms and carefully woven textile labels with a logo stitched in finespun rayon. What they don’t have is lateral seams, a rarity in itself. »This article of clothing enthralled me,« says Plotnicki today. He and his wife set out to look for the original manufacturer. They meet Rudolf Loder, one of the last textile manufacturers in Albstadt. Loder knows that Plotnicki’s find originated with Merz b. Schwanen. And he owns the machines that produced the shirts.
More than 30 circular knitting machines from the 1920s to 1960s are sitting on the wooden floor – unused, dusty but intact. Loder had purchased them from t he former owners and kept them for nostalgicreasons. What Plotnicki sees is not a museum; he sees an opportunity to fire up production once more. Looking back, he says: »We were just two nuts from Berlin trying to make new shirts on old machines.« But everything miraculously turns out well in the end. The company’s headquarters are moved to Berlin, the descendants of Balthasar Merz offer the brand name to Plotnicki. In January 2011, Merz b. Schwanen unveils its first new collection. And returns to life in the same year that marks the 100th anniversary of its birth.