“I’ve always been one of the ‘creative’ kids. In high school, I had a compulsion to stand out, so I used fashion as a medium to express how different I felt from everyone else. I never considered it seriously as something I could work in. I was more interested in creative expression in general, so I tried to study fine art in Hamburg – but at age 18, I couldn’t hack the self-confidence aspect of creating something physical and putting it out there in the world.
Writing turned out to be a more permissive, quiet, speculative form of expression that suited me better. So I ended up studying philosophy in Berlin but always surrounded myself with people who were interested in fashion and art. I started to write more and helped out friends with text assignments, shoots, and production in the scene. So that’s how I got started.
I always lingered at the periphery because my background was in writing and theory, but that’s also what helped me stand out. My first fashion job was as a copy editor for Dust Magazine. I was editing interviews and writing short copy. Then I had a few modeling gigs, with Vetements and smaller brands. I wasn’t a professional model or anything, I was just out in the scene, and suddenly got invited to shows in Paris and shoots in London. That was always very flattering and exciting, although I realized over these couple of shoots I kind of loathe the whole modeling experience.
“I was in my early 20s then, so I was very social and I was a bit addicted to the feeling of opportunity. It was like there was always something new around the corner.” – Nele Ruckelshausen
Then, my good friends Tim Heyduck and Fritz Schiffers began planning to launch their own art and fashion magazine. Their background was more in creative direction, production and styling, so they asked me if I wanted to be their text editor. We launched the first online issue of Gruppe Magazine in 2017. We didn’t have access to designer pieces for the fashion part at this point, so the method was more to create and capture fashion at the moment, like art on the body. The goal was to give a platform to a current of the Berlin art and fashion scene that we felt was being tapped into by brands like Vetements, but that didn’t have its own voice yet. Later, our friend and artist Julian-Jakob Kneer joined us as our art editor and curator.
I was in my early 20s then, so I was very social and I was a bit addicted to the feeling of opportunity. It was like there was always something new around the corner. For a while, I was still studying and receiving a stipend, so I was financially secure. Later I had to take on other copywriting and translation jobs to get by and worked on Gruppe on the side. We’ve made three Gruppe issues so far, and the fourth one is coming out this month. It was always very satisfying to end up with this beautiful physical object.
But at this point, I feel like I need a break from it all. We always invested a lot of our own time and sometimes our own money to make it happen. At the same time, I’ve felt myself drifting further and further away from the high-pressure environment of art and fashion, and moving closer to my other interests, particularly sports.
“It’s so empowering to know that you can get hit in the face and be fine.” – Nele Ruckelshausen
Working out started as a mental health habit some years ago, and it has always brought me a lot of pleasure. I started bodybuilding a bit and really enjoyed the experience of changing my own body, watching my muscles grow. Then I found CrossFit, and was doing that intensely for two years. It was during the lockdown last October that I discovered boxing, and from there, other combat sports like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and finally Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, which is a combination of all of those. I was hooked from the very first second. I knew ‒ this is what I want to do. Now I’m at Spitfire Gym in Berlin, on the competition team, and the gym owner is looking to book my first amateur fight. The plan is just to see how far I can take this.
Fighting is very different from the work I usually do. Writing is very much in your head and causes a very specific, drawn-out kind of pain. The pain you get from physical fights is immediate. It’s so empowering to know that you can get hit in the face and be fine. Everything that happens is very straightforward and unfiltered, and there’s no room for subjectivity or interpretation. You get hit, you feel pain. You work out, your muscles grow. The result is there and that feels good. With creative projects, you work and work, sometimes for months, and throughout all of it, you have to believe or pretend to believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile. That’s a type of self-confidence or self-importance I have a hard time sustaining. And even if you manage to do this, you never know how your work will be received in the end. It’s so long and laborious.
“In art and fashion, it’s just this select group of people who give each other jobs.” – Nele Ruckelshausen
This feeling has gnawed at me since I was 18 and tried to study art – Who cares? Who am I doing this for? In sports, I don’t feel constantly bombarded with these existential questions, because training gives me immediate pleasure. And I’m motivated to work hard because that’s simply what it takes to not get punched in the face. It’s a much more direct relationship with your occupation or passion.
Then there’s the social aspect. In art and fashion, it’s just this select group of people who give each other jobs. I always say “art and fashion”, because in my circle in Berlin, the two fields are virtually indistinguishable. In some ways, a lot of contemporary artists treat their work as a fashion statement. They create work meant to be understood by a certain crowd, putting a selection of visual cues in their work so that select people can then say – “Yeah, I get it.”
“In a weird way, the vibe in my MMA gym is much less competitive and draining than the art and fashion world. ” – Nele Ruckelshausen
The whole “scene” aspect – who knows who, who are you hanging out with, who’s in your magazine, and all the envy and backbiting – was always very annoying to me. I want to feature and discuss interesting work, not have the “right” names or be in the “right” crowd. In a weird way, the vibe in my MMA gym is much less competitive and draining than the art and fashion world. Yes, you have to work a bit to prove yourself, especially with so much testosterone around you, but once you do, almost everyone on your team is extremely positive and supportive.
“[In fashion] You get addicted to opportunity and conditioned to think you’re successful because of all the exciting opportunities you have. But for most people, it never really happens.” – Nele Ruckelshausen
There’s this theory that some people are more dopamine-sensitive than others. Dopamine is all about desire, wanting something, being right on that edge of achieving your goals – and as soon as you do, the joy has already passed again. The fashion industry is very conducive for these kinds of people, because there’s always something new to desire, always another project on the horizon. You get very excited and you have all these ideas, but then reality always seems to fall short of expectations. You get addicted to opportunity and conditioned to think you’re successful because of all the exciting opportunities you have. You always think that the next one will lead to success and recognition. But for most people, it never really happens. It’s just a lot of hard work and energy for what remains a constant financial struggle.
With CrossFit and now with fighting, I found another activity to feed my dopamine circuit. I actually feel that training has rewired my brain. I’m no longer longing for this specific feeling of opportunity or recognition that drew me into art and fashion. Of course, I still want to win my first fight. But I don’t care who knows about it – I’m doing it to prove something to myself, although I’m not sure what. If it was possible, I’d fight in a basement with just my teammates and coaches around.
I’m not saying I never want to work in fashion or art again, and there’s still a few ongoing projects in that field. I love my friends and the magazine, and I’m sure the collaboration will continue in some form, but I’m not looking towards this world for future endeavors. I want to start training women and children in self-defense.
And now that I don’t feel so dependent on the art and fashion world anymore, it’s easy to dip in and out. Before, there was so much pressure. Now, I can afford to not care – and it’s actually working better for me.
Discover the rest of the “I used to work in fashion but…” series: