Tailored Destinations: Lessons from Fashion Capitals

You are what you wear. With the number of cities hosting Fashion Weeks phenomenally rising, it’s safe to say Governments are taking this to heart. Acknowledging the power of fashion, they’re using this industry to re-brand their cities to not only be acknowledged as creative influences, but also to attract global attention. That includes internationally recognised designers and increased fashion tourism. Sure, the ‘Big Four’ remain THE Fashion Capitals of the world; there are cities with emerging fashion scenes that are challenging their exclusivity. Some of these cities in the running include Kiev, Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid and our very own Lagos and Johannesburg. While it may look like an effortless affair, as fashion should always appear, the triumph of a fashion city is contingent upon a delicate balance of social, cultural and economic factors. What lessons can we learn from these established and emerging fashion destinations?

Fashion Weeks are unavoidable

[Image: Courtesy of FIT/ Sue Williamson]
[Yohji Yamamoto, corset, fall 1991. Image: Courtesy of FIT/ Sue Williamson]
Emerging or established, these cities all have their fashion calendars in order. They may have smaller shows here and there but they have at least one show that is the city’s mecca of Fashion Weeks that showcases the top talent of the country. The Big Four will have two a year and each has developed its own reputation. For example, Paris is known for haute couture while Milan takes pride in exquisite tailoring and grand textiles. It’s very clear that this is the official Fashion Week of the city that is strategically marketed in advance. Anyone who comes to the show, be it a local or a traveller, will get a real sense of the fashion industry in that particular country.

They can seriously name drop

Over ten years ago, London didn’t have designer-based companies that made the international arena sit up and take notice. Now they have powerhouses such as Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith to mention a few. In fact, every city that has become a fashion destination has birthed designers that are easily recognisable, even if you call them by their last name or acronym. This is important as it builds and adds to the credibility of the city as a fashion capital. And this not only attracts buyers to the shows and fashion hubs, but it also makes other fashion houses insist on basing their studios there too.

David Tlale and the Interns [Image: Simon Deiner]
David Tlale and the Interns [Image: Simon Deiner]
Most importantly, these cities market their star power and well. When the city is hosting its Fashion Week they try as much as possible to have their superstars around. However, if they are pulled to the Big Four Shows, it’s always good to have exciting new talent being groomed to fill that void. Think how David Tlale in South Africa showcases in both New York and S.A but is heavily involved in ‘The Intern’ project priming the new generation of designers.

Political Support

St Petersburg representation at Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT/ Sue Williamson]
St Petersburg representation at Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT/ Sue Williamson]
You can have all the inspiration, well-crafted products and publicity but those are only solid enough for initial success. For considerable financial and cultural success in the fashion realm, inclusive political and economic support is required. It could be as simple as Michele Obama wearing a young, new designer’s creation to a state’s visit. Take for example Russia. It has two fashion capitals already established, namely Moscow and St Petersburg. Yekaterinburg vied to join as the third fashion capital however without the necessary political will, and with limited private sector support, it’s fashion week quickly shutdown.

Entering fashion zones

From Left: Milan, New York, Paris and London displays at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
From Left: Milan, New York, Paris and London displays at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
The cities will evidently reflect the fashion culture in the street style and ateliers available, but most of these cities have headquarters of fashion. This is an area of the city completely dedicated to all things fashion and where fashion brands are located. Paris has the Golden Triangle – a shopping district dedicated to high fashion – where you’ll find brands such as Dior, Givenchy, Chanel, Donna Karan and Hermès. Milan’s main fashion district is ‘quadrilatero Della moda’ (also known as Via Montenapoleone), and New York has 5th avenue; what would Kenya’s main fashion district be?

World Class Media Exposure

Madrid representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Madrid representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
New Delhi representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
New Delhi representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
With the world being bombarded with thousands of adverts and tones of information a minute, your city has to invest in thriving media, marketing and public relations in order to raise the overall visibility of its fashion. Investing in the skill sets of global marketing agencies to put your agenda in front of the right audiences is one step. Then there’s the supporting aid of your local top publication to get the word out internally and in the environs. New York, for example, has major publications such as GQ, Vogue and Elle to promote their Fashion Weeks and designers in print and online.

Fashion education hubs

Another marker of a fashion capital is their strength in fashion education. London, for example, attracts top fashion designers. It is the quality of designers that graduate from their systems that reflect creativity and innovation. And it’s not only the designers that come in, but an influx of students looking to gain the best with great resources for their money’s worth. Most of these graduates such as success stories Richard Nicoll (Australian), Peter Pilotto (Belgian), Roksanda Ilincic (Serbian), and Mary Katrantzou (Greek), chose to stay and set up businesses, which has shown to contribute not only to London’s global reputation, but also to the British economy.

Antwerp representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Antwerp representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Lagos representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Lagos representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Seoul representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
Seoul representation at the Global fashion capitals museum at FIT exhibition [Image: Courtesy of FIT]
 They embrace their culture

There’s no room to play it safe or copy what the next city is doing. People want to be inspired and what is really in vogue is embracing ones culture and traditional skills into fashion reaction. Coco Chanel is known for changing the fashion industry at the time by discarding the corset and started the trend of loose free-flowing designs. Also known as the ‘flapper style.’ Kiev , which has always been Ukraine’s cultural and economic capital, became a global fashion magnet through its interpretation of contemporary fashion. Using its rich artisanal traditions, they’ve not only grown their fashion credibility but also acted as muses for luxury brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Valentino.

[Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion]
[Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion]
One thing is for sure, if you want the world to book that ticket, shop in your stores, and go for your shows, you have to give them a product worth travelling for. These capitals pride themselves in quality and organisation. Whereas they demonstrate their individuality in their own ways, they work together to put out a proud persona that is a stamp of approval; declaring that if it’s from this city, it’s as good as gold.

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