Aenne Burda’s Story, the Humble Housewife Who Turned Her Husband’s Failing Business Into an Emporium
Fashion is a changing world. That’s why the media in charge of reporting on new trends have been in the market for years: there’s always something new to write about. Among these, Burda Style’s revolutionary proposal stands out not only for the quality of its work but also for the beautiful story behind its success. Aenne Burda, a woman who sought her desired independence through art in each new volume that was printed, led the publication and left a legacy that remains today.
Aenne (on the right) together with her parents and siblings.
Aenne Burda, nee Anna Magdalene Lemminger, was born on July 28, 1909, in the city of Offenburg, Germany. Her father was a train driver, and her mother was a housewife. As a result, the family lived quite humbly. From an early age, Aenne realized that she did not want to replicate her mother’s fate: she did not want to be a housewife. She wanted something else, something more rewarding for someone like her.
Anna loved to stand out from the crowd. When she was young, she got a bold bob cut while all the other girls wore the now-classic braids. Almost at the same time, she changed her name to Aenne, after the heroine of her favorite song, Ännchen von Tharau.
After graduating from a nuns’ school and studying at the university, Aenne got a job as a cashier in an electric company. One day, a rather lovely young man came to pay his electric bill: it was Franz Burda. He owned a small printing shop. They immediately liked each other, and a year later, they married.
For almost 20 years, Aenne diligently performed the role of an exemplary wife and mother. She took care of the household and gave birth to 3 sons: Franz, Frieder, and Hubert. Her husband’s publishing business was doing well, and anybody would think that she had hit the jackpot. However, Aenne felt that something was missing: her active and creative nature wanted to change things.
Sometimes fate can be strange and has strange ways of pushing us to fulfill our dreams. As it turned out, for many years, her husband had financed an unprofitable publishing house, Elfi-Moden, which belonged to Elfriede Breuer, a former secretary with whom he had an affair. Aenne was 40 years old when she learned of her husband’s deception.
However, after discovering that her husband’s ex-secretary had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Aenne did not ask for a divorce but forced her husband to refuse to finance Elfi-Moden and asked for his support to register the publishing house under her name.
In 1949, she became head of the publishing house, which had 48 employees at the time. She soon launched Favorit, a fashion magazine that, from 1950 onward, became Burda Moden. Incidentally, Aenne and Franz were still married, but the nature of their relationship changed: they were now mostly business partners. In addition, she hired assistants to help her with household chores and take care of the children at a time when this wasn’t common.
Of course, it was not easy to start a new life at 40, especially since Aenne did not know how to sew or publish magazines. On the other hand, she knew exactly what she wanted: to be self-sufficient and successful and help other women look fashionable.
The new owner of the company immersed herself completely in her work. She looked for dressmakers and photographers and chose the best models and photographs. At the same time, Aenne enrolled in a publishing course, developed a new design for her fashion magazine, and met designers. She spent 10 to 12 hours in the office every day.
The main innovation she introduced to the market was pattern sheets. She started including them in all magazine issues since 1952. Thanks to them, anybody could sew garments that models on catwalks wore. While clothes from other magazines remained inaccessible to most readers, Aenne created a publication that allowed many women to dress elegantly and tastefully without spending much money on it since they could make the clothes themselves.
Aenne’s idea worked like a charm because she knew exactly what women needed. Little ready-made clothing was available at the time, and if you could find it, it was often very expensive. However, fabric was more affordable, and many women knew how to sew very well. Unsurprisingly, Burda Moden was soon sold across Germany and in many other countries, too.
After her husband’s death, Aenne completed a new milestone in her career: Burda Moden became the first Western magazine published in the Soviet Union. She then succeeded in erasing not only cultural but also political borders.
At the age of 77, Aenne Burda held a presentation of her magazine and a fashion show at the House of Trade Unions in Moscow. It was a true cultural revolution. Everyone received a gift bag with a written phrase: “Fashion knows no borders.” In addition, inside, you could find a copy of a new magazine and a never-before-seen cosmetics kit.
Aenne ruled her empire for 45 years, and every month she addressed readers from the magazine’s pages in the form of a letter. When he turned 85, she passed the publishing house on to his 3 sons. However, Frieder and Franz sold their shares to their brother, Hubert Burda, who decided to take over the business.
- During her well-deserved retirement, Aenne finally decided to spend more time on her favorite hobby: painting. In addition, ever since she was a child, she was a fan of luxury sports cars, so she had a great collection.
- Aenne Burda also founded several charitable organizations. She contributed to developing culture and art, cared for the elderly, and supported vulnerable people in her hometown of Offenburg.
- The legendary woman passed away in 2005 at the age of 96. But her business is still strong: today, the magazine bears the name Burda Style and is published in 17 languages in more than 100 countries.
In 2018, in honor of Aenne’s 110th birthday, the German television channel ARD released a two-part film that tells the success story of this incredibly energetic and talented woman. Against all odds, she managed to create a solid empire.
What did you find inspiring about Aenne Burda’s life? What other fashion icons do you look up to?