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The 'Big Four' and their historical heritage
Fashion is synonymous with geography. Not only does it play a leading role in a city’s identity, but is firmly ingrained in its cultural trends. For most of the 20th century, the Big Four – Paris, Milan, London and New York have predominantly been influential fashion centres. Unarguably, their domination of global fashion is due to the fact that they are the principal trendsetters: hosting the most important fashion weeks and home to the biggest fashion houses and brands.
Identifying a starting point of how these cities became ‚Fashion Capitals‘ is not difficult to ascertain. Historically, Paris has undisputedly been the style capital which began with the rule of Louis XIV, and was influenced by Queen Marie Antoinette who devoted much of her time to fashion. Paris’ influence continued well into the 20th century with Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent who revived Parisian haute couture. London is also not without its fair share of fashion dominance, which began during the Elizabethan era and was later re-consolidated thanks to the expanding British empire and Charles Frederick Worth.
Although the ‚House of Worth‘ was established in Paris, Charles Frederick Worth was an Englishman in exile and is considered the father of haute couture. Together, London and Paris were the Fashion Mecca‘s: Paris for its womenswear avant-garde inventory and London for its menswear.
During the Renaissance era, Italian fashion hit its peak when city-states like Florence, Milan and Rome became Europe’s principal trendsetters. In the 1950s and 1960s Florence re-emerged as a fashion capital, while the 1980‘s saw Milan regain its position as the most important fashion capital of the world. The beginning of the twentieth century, presented the opportunity for new cities to shine and at the end of World War II, New York emerged as a new fashion capital in 1943, when it launched the world’s first organized fashion week. Originally called ‚Press Week‘, it gave American designers the opportunity to showcase their work for fashion industry insiders who were unable to travel to Paris due to the war.
New York’s success as a fashion capital was a confluence of factors associated with World War II and America‘s demand for a style independent of Paris that was fueled by nationalism.
Though the ‚Big Four‘ have remained the center for fashion even till today, in recent times, a slew of new smaller cities emerged challenging their position. While they tried to join the ranks, these new cities ended up becoming what one would call ‚Alt Fashion Capitals‘ or ‚Style Centres‘, that were beyond the so-called ‚fashion capitals‘ and sought to develop their own influence through fashion culture.
Tokyo became an influential center in the world of fashion during the 1970‘s and 1980‘s with avant-garde designers such as Issey Miyake or Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, (albeit Kawakubo presented her collections in Paris).
In the 1990‘s Antwerp became a must-stop for fashionistas due to its prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts, organised tourism and mega-cultural events.
The late 2000‘s saw Berlin gain importance and become Germany’s fashion capital after Karl-Heinz Müller staged his streetwear exhibition for Bread & Butter and the first Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week was held in the summer of 2007.
While ‚Style Centres‘ may be everywhere today, not all cities are equal when it comes to importance. Even though globalization has led to the spread of fashion markets more widely – some cities still rule the market when it comes to influence in our beloved industry.
The Global Fashion & Luxury Cities Index mointors the cities that are at the forefront of fashion and style today. We have seen how the power structure of fashion has evolved and a new lineup of rival cities have emerged in recent times. Fashion capitals change periodically and none of the ‘Big Four’ are sacrosanct as such, with each of them having to re-assert their authority from time to time.
So, while New York may be having a moment right now, the rest of the cities on this list are definitely more than a passing trend. However, in the 21st century there is a consensus among fashion scholars and professionals, that the fashion industry will move towards a ‚poly-centric‘ system of fashion cities where power rotates across cities, with each taking turns to hold the coveted number one position.
For the time being, the future of fashion cities belongs not to the biggest or fastest growing but the most influential and elite, and those with a strong historical pedigree which raises the bar for the rest that wish to break into this elite club.
"BIG FOUR" - RELATIVE DEVELOPMENT TO THEMSELF (24M)Our mapping of the world’s leading fashion cities illustrates that while North America may have the biggest fashion metropolitan in the world, which is New York, Europe has by far the most densely populated fashion market with an average of over 60% of the global market, owing to cities such as Paris, Milan, London, Madrid, Stockholm and Barcelona to name a few.
Leading Cities by Key Factor
A global segmentation into our key factors shows that the "Big Four" lead the respective markets for brands, magazines and agencies. Although their dominance appears to be more challenged due to emerging new fashion capitals like Tokyo and Madrid (magazines) or Hamburg and Barcelona (agencies).
Full Report Inquiry
The Global Fashion & Luxury Cities Index monitors over 1000 fashion cities and delivers insights into the geographical dynamics and segement developments.
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