strategist investigates

Why Does Every Fashionable Person in Berlin Wear Their Phones Around Their Neck?

Photo: 2019 Matthew Sperzel

The first time I spotted a handykette (which translates to “mobile-phone chain”) was at the Barn coffee in Berlin near Maybachufer (where you can always find freelance UX designers and app developers pitching ideas over gourmet beans). Soon, I noticed handykettes all along the U8 subway line, going right from Rosenthaler Platz to Hermannstrasse, in all textures and colours. Sometimes, it was a woven piece of leather, or it might be a neon piece of bungee cord with some ring loops attached to a phone case. I once saw someone in my local Rewe supermarket grabbing oat milk who had coordinated her biscuit-coloured handykette with her camel coat. I spotted them again on some party goths in all black, headed out late in Neukölln.

I wanted in. I asked my friend Chris Schenk, event manager at minimal Scandi brand Weekday, where he got his black woven phone necklace. He pointed me toward a Berlin-based brand with a strong tie to the local techno scene: Ring My Bell.

However, the first brand to lean into handykettes was Blue and True, early in 2015.

The original handykette brand.

Berlin fashion stylist Samja Schroeder explains down the phone from her studio in Bologna, Italy. “I always need my phone close to hand, if I’m coordinating with a client, taking notes on a fitting and taking pictures on location”. Frustrated with the lack of options, Schroeder made a phone necklace out of leather. A friend who runs yoga retreats and who used to work in the electronic-music scene saw Schroeder wearing it and asked her to make a vegan cotton version (N*008). Another of Schroeder’s friends asked for one (N*003), another model created with leather. She made one for her husband (N*006), a simpler black leather hippy-edition model inspired by Ibiza. Now, Shroeder has paused her styling career and runs Blue and True full time, with almost 30 models and established stockists like the Mitte store and brand, LaLaBerlin. Blue and True handykettes are chosen by people who “want something special, handcrafted and exclusive,” according to Schroeder. It’s the Prenzlauer Berg of Handykettes.

Then, in 2016 XouXou appeared on the phone-necklace market with a more minimal style. Their necklaces were first worn in the start-up scene in Mitte and Kreuzberg and slowly spread into the fashion, creative, and events scenes in Berlin.

A fashion scene favourite from XouXou.

Over the past two years, Jessica Hannan, former fashion director at Sleek Magazine, began to spot Handykettes more and more at Berlin Fashion Week. She saw teams from both Premium Berlin and Bread & Butter running their shows with phones hanging around their necks. “I thought it was some sort of Jacquemus tiny bag thing but for phones,” she told me. By 2018, over 100,000 XouXou handykettes had been sold.

A white handykette at Berlin fashion week. Photo: 2019 Jeremy Moeller

Today, you’ll probably spot Xou Xou’s handykettes worn by people working at fashion retailer Zalando, or in fashion PR, opting for minimal silicone cases paired with terrazzo cables.

Meanwhile, clubbers tend to favour Ring My Bell’s (founded 2018) industrial style (complete with an aluminum-engraved square on the cases.) Canan Coen, CEO and Founder at Ring My Bell, says the clubbing disruptors from Holzmarkt group “nearly all wear one.” If you get tired of your chosen handykette, you can change the cables out for different styles and can get a new base for your phone. Coen says that with their brand they wanted to provide people with more options to mix and match different materials while running around. She organises Garbicz, a techno-music festival, as well as her label. “It’s really practical while running around working, and it looks good with your festival dresses.” And when you go out, you can pair it with just short shorts, according to Schenk. “When I’m going to Berghain, I don’t need anything to stop me from dancing.”

The black handykette from Ring My Bell that clubbers favour.

Some other Strategist-approved handykettes

An entry-level handykette via Amazon.

A leather option, from Kreuzberg Korean concept store Knok.

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Fashion People Are Wearing This Phone Necklace to Berghain