A fashion capital is a city which has a major influence on international fashion trends and in which the design, production and retailing of fashion products – plus events such as fashion weeks, awards and trade fairs – generate significant economic output. The cities considered the Big Four fashion capitals of the world are: Paris, Milan, London and New York.
Definition of a fashion capital
Fashion capitals usually have a broad mix of business, financial, entertainment, cultural and leisure activities and are internationally recognised for having a unique and strong identity. It has also been noted that the status of a fashion capital has become increasingly linked to a city's domestic and international profile. Fashion capitals are also likely be part of a wider design scene, with design schools, fashion magazines and a local market of affluent consumers.
Often the term fashion capital is used to describe the cities that hold fashion weeks, most prominently Paris, Milan, London and New York, to showcase their industry. Also various other cities host notable fashion events and are influential in global fashion.
Historically, several cities have been, in turn, fashion capitals. During the Renaissance era, different city-states in what would become modern-day Italy were Europe's main trendsetters, due to the cultural power they exerted in that period of time; this includes cities such as Florence, Milan, Rome, Naples, Genoa, and Venice.
Progressing into the late-16th century, with influence of the English Royal Court, London became a major city in European fashion. Similarly, due to the power of Spain at the period, the Spanish court started to influence fashion, making it a major centre. In the 17th century, as the Renaissance started to fade away, with the power of the French court under Louis XIV, Paris established itself as Europe's main fashion centre.
During the 19th century, with the powerful British Empire and a young Queen Victoria on the throne (from 1837), London once again became a major fashion leader. However, it continued to look to Paris for stylistic inspiration, and the British 'father of haute couture' Charles Frederick Worth relocated to Paris in 1846 to perfect and then commercialise his craft, also holding the first fashion shows and launching the concept of fashion labels there.
20th century and beyond
Throughout the 20th century – but particularly after World War II – New York City rose in stature as a fashion capital, challenging the dominance of Paris with a different approach, especially in its development and popularisation of sportswear as fashion during the 1940s and '50s.
During the 1950s Italy rose in prominence again. Florence re-emerged as a leading city in haute couture, although focus shifted to Milan from the 1970s on as leading design houses moved to the city.
In the 1980s, Tokyo claimed its place as a fashion capital with a new generation of avant-garde designers, including Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons gaining worldwide attention, even if the fashion show were all in Paris. The fashion was radically different in both its use of textiles and in the way designers cut and draped.
More recently, new fashion hubs have emerged worldwide, and the old order has faced challenges from all corners of the globe, including Africa, Australasia and South America. Since 2007, Berlin has again been highlighted as an increasingly important centre for global fashion trends.
A 2011 issue of Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body and Culture explored the move away from the traditional dominance of five key cities (London, Milan, New York, Paris, Tokyo), with co-editor Lise Skov suggesting what she described as a "poly-centric" fashion industry developing in the 21st century.
Annual fashion capital rankings
An annual ranking of the leading fashion capitals is produced by Global Language Monitor, a US-based company that tracks trends through language use worldwide. The 2015 top-twenty five fashion capitals, according to its rankings, are listed below.
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- The big four fashion capitals of the world
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