Lederhosen return and all Bavarians simply must have a pair

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The Independent Online
"When I started going down to the villages looking for this stuff, the locals thought I was cuckoo. Now they come to me to buy some of it back," says Herbert Lipah. The "stuff" gathered in his shop in a Munich cul-de-sac is Bavarian history with knobs on; a "technological feat"; science, art and culture rolled into one. "Once you try them on, your life will never be the same again," he enthuses.

Mr Lipah, in case you haven't guessed, is seriously into lederhosen. He has been buying them for 20 years, stocks 3,500 pairs in his Royal Bavarian Lederhosen-Madness shop, and tends his own "antique" collection of lederhosen cornucopia with loving care. "Look at this stitching," he sighs, fingering the chamois underpants which had once belonged to Kaiser Franz Josef's chief forester.

He stocks the shoes, the braces, felt hats, linen shirts and the silverware that go with lederhosen. The old lederhosen that are beyond repair are recycled, to his design, into waistcoats, with the help of 19th-century flour sacks. In Munich Mr Lipah is known as the "Versace of lederhosen". Yes, he admits, it's something of an obsession, but cuckoo he is not.

"We are witnessing the renaissance of lederhosen," he says. Today's Bavarians are rediscovering the traditions of old, down to the dark brown ale drunk by their grandfathers. The young feel drawn again to the music of the Alps - with or without the yodelling - and even to the clothes worn by their ancestors. In this cultural milieu, lederhosen have become chic, de rigueur for glitterati and politicians alike.

But not just any old lederhosen. When Lothar Matthaus, the captain of Bayern Munich, turned up for last year's Oktoberfest in his brand new Bavarian outfit, he might just as well have been wearing a shell suit. Virgin leather is naff, he was informed by his mates, before being bundled into a taxi heading for Mr Lipah's shop.

This is the only place to get the fashionable greasy garments. At Mr Lipah's there is a sign displayed in the window boasting that it is "the last lederhosen shop before the autobahn". That is where the footballer got his, or where the two male models who flanked Cindy Crawford at the opening of the Munich branch of Planet Hollywood were kitted out earlier this month.

Mr Lipah's business has taken off. He sells a pair of lederhosen with that worn-in look for anything up to DM2,000 (pounds 700). A full kit, with hat and all, will fetch about DM12,000 (pounds 4,256). The price depends on the age of the garment, the decorations, the origins and the material. Pigskin is rare, because it is practically unwearable. At the bottom end of the market is cowhide, worn by peasants. The middle class go for elk skin, which is thick but soft. The Mercedes of lederhosen are made from deerskin.

The embroidered silk motifs identify the village of origin, and design has varied slightly down the ages. Short lederhosen, for instance, are invariably post-war.

But all good lederhosen have what Mr Lipah describes is the "Bavarian air-conditioning" effect. "They keep you warm when it's cold, and cool when it's hot." The garment's high back protects the kidneys, the grease repels water. They last for ever, and they are very practical. "You don't need to clean them, or at least no more than once every two or three years."

There is no way of assessing that claim, but the Independent on Sunday nevertheless submitted a pair, which were 80 years old and made in the village of Tegernsee, to rigorous tests. Here are the findings, with marks out of 10:

Design: 8. Great entertainment value.

Comfort: 7. Damp, cold and a little rough on the crotch

Convenience: 4. Can be a bit tricky to peel off in haste