Global Fashion’s Expanding Spheres of Influence

From the core four to the trendy twenty: while Paris, New York, Milan and London still serve as major centers of fashion, in recent years they’ve been joined by several international cities that also hold sway over the latest trends.

That’s according to “Global Fashion Capitals,” the Museum at FIT’s new exhibit in New York that traces the geographic evolution of the industry. While the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s latest exhibit extensively focuses on China, the FIT’s smaller scale show, containing 80 outfits, spans every continent.

The FIT survey emphasizes how governments worldwide have sought to rebrand their cities as creative centers, and are promoting fashion as part of that plan. While leading a tour of the show, curatorial assistant Elizabeth Way also pointed out that selected designers have transcended their country of origin, thanks to publicity. For example, the Spanish shoe brand Manolo Blahnik rose to international fame largely due to the U.S. TV series Sex and the City.

Global Fashion Capitals MadridAn annual timeline of fashion weeks taking place throughout the year is on display, and it appears that attendees could spend 12 months nearly non-stop as a runway spectator. Since seasonality varies worldwide, the shows aren’t limited to spring and fall. For those wanting a change of pace in the winter months, there are fashion weeks in January in Berlin, Stockholm and Copenhagen, and in February in Barcelona.

Way outlined how the 4 most renowned fashion centers rose to prominence and highlighted the essence of each. Paris, naturally, is about haute couture and luxury, New York is known for ready-to-wear and casual sportswear, London is about youth-oriented fashions and urban street styles and Milan is known for designer entrepreneurs and finely crafted garments.

Two capitals, Tokyo and Antwerp, have served as important fashion hubs for many years, Way said. Tokyo has been a source of avant-garde fashion, as designers made Japanese traditions more contemporary. In Belgium a group of designers with a conceptual approach became known as the Antwerp 6 because Parisian editors couldn’t pronounce their names.

What do Psy (Gangnam style video), Neymar (soccer star) and the pop rock band Abba have in common? They each hail from countries or cities that are influential newcomers on the scene. The expanded list isn’t limited to metropolises with sophisticated fashion tastes, like Moscow, Shanghai and Beijing. Other urban centers have made their marks based on a variety of factors.

Global Fashion Capitals SeoulGovernment promotion

Among the cities that have undertaken the most concerted efforts to promote their fashion credentials: Berlin, with its Create Berlin movement, and Seoul, which has invested heavily in making fashion exports (and KPop) a priority (pictured at right). Scandinavian cities Stockholm and Copenhagen are experts in marketing and PR, while in Barcelona, the iconic 080 catwalk has helped to put the Spanish city on the fashion map.

Political unrest

Emerging fashion cities that have been shaped by current or past political upheaval include Johannesburg, South Africa impacted by apartheid, and Kiev in the Ukraine. The ongoing turmoil there led to the cutoff of fabric supplies, so designers have used recycled materials.

Global Fashion Capitals LagosCultural influences

The new style capitals where local cultural references most inform fashion are Istanbul, Sydney and Melbourne. The contemporary art scene has clearly inspired Turkish designers. In Australia, the continent’s rugged interior, or Outback region, and the vast coastline have led to sportswear like bush clothing and surfwear.

Local craftsmanship

Other fashion-forward locales incorporate artisan’s works. Mexico City clothing and accessory items often utilize intricate beading, even on sneakers. Designers in Lagos, Nigeria use colorful local fabrics and interwoven patterns. (pictured at right) Those in Mumbai, India add embroidered elements, and in New Delhi they integrate Bollywood images.

Global Fashion Capitals Sao PauloUrban streetwear

Urban street culture has long exerted a strong influence on fashion trends worldwide. This was the case in Madrid during its counter-culture movement. In Sao Paulo, the Brazilian capital’s grittier side is evident in an outfit where razor blade patterns were sewn into the fabric. (pictured at right)

Cutting edge designs

Among the most innovative new fashion entrants are St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Copenhagen. St. Petersburg lays claim to more avant-garde fashions, while the northern European cities are known for edgy designs that are “Scandi-cool.”