New York, Paris, Milan and London are by default the world’s FASHION capitals, but with designers moving collections to cities off the RADAR, is the traditional fashion map set for an overhaul?
The fashion calendar has remained as it is — a rotation of New York, Paris, Milan and London — since the post-WW2 era. Not only did this create a structure and pattern for an otherwise hectic time for consumers, buyers and other industry insiders, but it established and gave legitimacy to, those designers who showed their collections in the four time-hallowed cities. Each city has its own aesthetic, and raison d’être for being considered a fashion capital. New York is the home of young designers with their own singular visions; Paris is imbued with its couture houses and the historical weight of names like Chanel and Dior; Milano is the extravagant and flashy sister; from London arise the quirky and eccentric types. You better belong to one of the above, or else, consider yourself outside of the club.
Yet, on the sidelines, cities like Tokyo, LA, Sydney, Berlin and Beijing have been brewing with anticipation; if you thought designers were from fashion capitals, think again. They may have relocated there for logistical reasons, but most of the talent is foreign. The Antwerp Six, along with Raf Simons and Martin Margiela, are now comfortably at home in their own labels, or as creative directors of historic fashion houses. From Tokyo came some of the avant-garde designers, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. If they had stayed in their home-countries and worked to establish a network of talent there, maybe things would be different and the aforementioned locations would be dubbed ‘the sleeping giants’, much like China and Japan in the field of politics and economics.
Fashion is an industry deeply stuck in its ways. Despite the periphery constantly generating new trends, pushing forward ideas, and acting as a continuous source of inspiration for designers (see Yves Saint Laurent’s obsession with Marrakech and St. Petersburg, and Karl Lagerfeld’s collections inspired by Texas and Bombay) the status of cities has remained intact. Why, then, are resort/cruise and pre-fall collections suddenly set in far-flung locations, in relation to the fashion capitals that is, like Louis Vuitton in Palm Springs and Dior in Tokyo?
Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel arguably started the trend with the resort and pre-fall shows first inspired by, and then staged at, different cities around the world. The Métiers d’Art became less about showing clothes and more about staging a fashion spectacle for customers. While the ultimate objective is to display the artistry of the “petits mains,” the finesse of an intricate embroidery or the art of a hem, this could have been done in Paris with a little imagination (which is definitely not lacking in Chanel’s arsenal). As the elaborateness of the event increased, to the point of flying attendees in and providing the complete Chanel treatment, other luxurious fashion houses realised its potential. Dior soon flew people into New York and Japan for a full weekend of establishing a dialogue between the house’s heritage and future aspirations. Louis Vuitton followed suit, having staged two of its most recent Resort collections in Monaco and Palm Springs.
The reason? Media exposure, with the fashion crowd relentlessly Instagramming the Dior lunch in Cannes complete with luxurious goodie bags, Dior ice-cream, and a Dior boat ride to the location, or oozing over the location, gifts and invitation at Chanel’s Tyrol-inspired Métiers d’Art collection. Aesthetic appeal plays a a big role in the amount of press coverage, while the luxurious and exclusive treatment to the attendees reinforces the relative standing of the brand. Brand heritage matters too; fashion week shows last a fleeting twenty minutes, and the show cards are the only way of being let into the mind and inspirations of the designer. An hour later, the fashion crowd will all flock to another corner of whatever city this week’s shows happen to be staged at, to live through a similar 20-minute show. That is not to say the shows are monotonous — their aim is to showcase clothing, after all, and every designer is different — but for many of the larger fashion houses, whose clients demand a special and personal treatment, it may not be enough. A weekend set aside to familiarise everyone with the collection while simultaneously providing an unforgettable luxurious experience will make the clothes ones to be remembered.
In view of the title of this article, let me explain the relevancy. If a successful collection is one that envelops the client into the world of the label, in a far-flung location away from all of its competitors, do fashion capitals matter? During couture fashion week, Valentino staged its show in Rome, forcing arduous flights, train rides, and road trips – an inconvenience of all sorts, you may think. Yet, after seeing secret locations in Rome transformed into a Valentino museum, and that afternoon, the breathtaking Roman Empire-inspired collection set in the Piazza Mignanelli, all was forgotten. Instead, my Instagram feed was overflowing with photos and videos from the show, with the attendees seemingly relaxed and enjoying themselves.
Having seen how successful the move away from fashion capitals is, is this likely to become a new trend? Perhaps embracing the emerging markets – with the largest one being China – will bring fashion houses more bang for their buck. A large chunk of their clients are based there, after all, not in Europe or the US. We must consider the fashion calendar though; it’s not only about the client, but it also includes fashion journalists, buyers, and individuals from the business side of the industry, who have logistics to think of. Their schedules would undoubtedly crumble if every one of the more established fashion houses began staging their shows in a different continent. Perhaps this phenomenon is giving us cues to look at the fashion scene of the emerging markets themselves. There are numerous brands outside of the Big Four that are seeking for a way in, and maybe their location shouldn’t be a downside to development, but instead an advantage. Are we too immersed into watching the more established brands, rather than embracing the newer ones that don’t necessarily fit the mould? Or are we being pushed into reimagining the whole conception of a fashion show, and finding innovative and relevant ways of showcasing designers from Mexico City to Lagos? Regardless of how this occurrence develops, it will undoubtedly be an interesting one to watch.