The Moment: Fashion designers are competitive. So are fashion capitals.
For as long as editors and retailers have traveled around the world on the hunt for great runway shows, cities have jockeyed to attract them. Even New York, London, Milan, and Paris, the dominant fashion weeks of the last four decades, still vie for supremacy (New York is reviving a dedicated men’s event in July, trying to catch up with London’s buzzy showcase). And there are dozens of other cities that host fashion weeks around the world, in Berlin, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, and pretty much everywhere else that people wear clothes.
The proliferation of these events is also the unlikely subject of an exhibition called “Global Fashion Capitals” that opened this month at the Museum at FIT, showcasing a few designers from each of 16 cities. About a decade ago, the rise of these events reached a tipping point when it became possible that on any given day of the year, a fashion show was happening some place in the world. This was partly driven by the recognition by hundreds of cities that the runways draw international press and create an image of a creative environment, but though many have tried, few have managed to become real contenders.
As a result, “Global Fashion Capitals” is as much of a map of where fashion has been created, as it is a timeline of when cities have held sway. Antwerp, for example, has long had a thriving fashion scene, but its influence was more broadly felt in the late 1980s, and is represented in the exhibition by three of its greatest exports, Martin Margiela (pictured, above left), Ann Demeulemeester, and Walter Van Beirendonck (pictured, above right). The rise of Japanese designers, Yohji Yamamoto (pictured, below left), Issey Miyake, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, preceded the Belgians by a few years. In the 1990s, there was more interest Brazilian designers like Alexandre Herchovitch (pictured, below right), and in recent years, those from Beijing and Seoul have been more in the global spotlight.
But walking through the exhibition, what also becomes evident is just how much regional boundaries have blurred when it comes to high fashion. Part of the reason is that many of the international designers still come to Paris or New York to show their collections, and another factor is that fashion capitals are already global melting pots of designers who, let’s not forget, were probably born some place else. (Saint Laurent was born in Algeria, Balenciaga was from Spain.)
Why It’s a Wow: The main question raised by “Global Fashion Capitals” is whether other cities stand a chance of someday replacing Paris or New York in terms of importance. The answer has as much to do with homegrown talent and aggressive marketing as it does to proximity to great design schools, manufacturing, and media.
Technology has made it possible for designers to create world-class products from anywhere on the planet, and also be heard by consumers everywhere. But as a result, the location of shows has actually become less important to their success, as have the shows themselves. Besides, it may take decades to create another fashion capital with staying power, and by then, will fashion weeks even matter?
Learn More: Browse some of the looks from “Global Fashion Capitals,” on view at the Museum at FIT through Nov. 14.