Do you obsessively collect Vogue magazines and daydream about strutting down the catwalk? Do you have Google alerts set up for your favourite designers and spend your weekends rummaging through bargain bins at vintage shops? Do your top travel destinations read like a list of the fashion capitals of the world? If you’re dreaming about dressing your passport up in the finest collection of stamps, check out the most renowned, exciting and up-and-coming cosmopolitan cities in the world.
1. Live. Laugh. Luxe: Paris is calling you
There’s a reason there is no English translation for the words: à la mode.
Paris is the home of some of the greatest fashion designers in the world, including Coco Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Jean Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (or Eiffel?) when it comes to French fashion.
Check out Paris Fashion Week – the hottest ticket in town
Bust out your calendrier, because there’s no greater fashion capital in the world than Paris, and no better time to go than during Paris Fashion Week. Originally a form of guerilla marketing for couture designers to display their latest trends, it has now become the trend-setting event of the year. Drawing fashion buyers, the media and the glitterati from around the world, Paris Fashion Week hones in on the looks that will define the world of fashion for the season ahead. Though tickets are some of the most elusive and sought-after commodities in the fashion world, the opportunity to attend even the side events that take place during this time make Paris an incomparable destination.
The designers that feature in Paris Fashion Week range from the well-established household names such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and John Galliano, to rising stars such as Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize.
For those of you who missed an entire generation’s crash course in high style courtesy of the “The Devil Wears Prada”, Paris Fashion Week is the biggest event of the Parisian year – aside from perhaps Bastille Day, which starts to get a little paradoxical if you think about it too much. The dates of this grand affair are set by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, which necessitates planning ahead… and offers a fun tongue-twister to practice while you’re scanning for flights for the spring/summer and autumn/winter events. Keep in mind that dates are subject to change annually, so make sure you keep up with when the next event is scheduled!
If you’re worried about how the state of the world might hamper the launch of new collections, fear not! Neither rain, hail nor pandemics will stop the wheels of high fashion from turning, so to see how the fashion elite are avoiding a “Let them eat cake” moment, check out this insightful article from Vogue about the trends of Fall 2020 Paris Fashion Week.
Fashion museums and fashion exhibitions in Paris
Architectural wonders meet the history of French fashion at Palais Galliera, one of Paris’ foremost fashion museums. Housed in the palace of the Duchess of Galliera, Palais Galliera teems with the finest garments of the last 200 years. Don’t miss the sumptuous permanent exhibition The Gabrielle Chanel Rooms, made possible through the museum’s exclusivity agreement with the eponymous fashion house.
The Yves Saint Laurent Museum is another must-see fashion museum in Paris. Showcasing the designer’s significant body of work, retrospective displays and temporary thematic exhibitions in the very space in which he designed some of his most memorable works, a trip to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is an immersive and powerful experience.
Where to shop in Paris
If you’d rather skip the spectacle and jump straight to the fitting room, Paris abounds with spots to nourish your fantasy fashion holiday. The Champs-Élysées is a busy street (per that one insanely viral song that it was impossible to avoid in Australia for a couple of years), but it’s also one of the best places to shop ‘til you drop. Linking the Arc de Triomphe with La Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Élysées is one of the world’s most famous commercial streets, hosting the world’s most recognisable designers.
If the 1.2-mile long stretch leaves you yearning for more, or you like your shopping trip with a little more edge (three of them, to be exact), take a couple of extra right-angles to walk the Golden Triangle: The holy trinity of between the George V, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Alma-Marceau metro stations. This is where the Grand Couturiers such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Hermes and Christian Dior house their flagship stores – perhaps you’ve heard of them?
If you’re more into upcycling and sustainable fashion, Paris abounds with vintage shops that will reward a scrupulous thrift shopper with a rare treat or ten. Stalk the aisles of Fanny Miami to stumble across your next affordable treasure – be it cowboy boots, coats or flirty lingerie – and check out Episode to encounter one of the most superbly-organised vintage store collections you could imagine.
Hot tip: Sale season in Paris sales takes place in both January and July. Time to start squirrelling away for your next visit, no?
2. So fashion-forward, it’s practically the future: Tokyo
When you think of fashion capitals of the world, your mind probably leaps instantly to the Big Four (they’re all in this article but hey – no spoilers!). But as soon as you hear the words: “Japanese fashion”, it’s impossible not to visualise the lustrous aesthetics that so iconically come from this country… and only this country.
Tokyo style is characterised by quirkiness, above all else. Kitsch is not a bad thing, and for Japanese designers, the freedom to be playful with couture is liberating. Thinking about pairing goth platform boots with a tutu and John Lennon glasses? Go hard – who’s gonna tell you not to? Maybe slip on some socks under a pair of flip-flops – it’s not a faux pas, it’s subversive. And it looks great with an Indian kurta and your hair tied in two Street Fighter buns with glittery bobble elastics. Trust us: In Tokyo, anything you can think of is already A Thing.
While cancel culture hasn’t been kind to Gwen Stefani for her Harajuku Girl entourage in the early 2000s (but spared her any grief over her lifelong devotion to Scottish tartan – what’s up with that?), the neighbourhood after which the trend was named is still hopping. The odds are high that you’ll stumble across a fashionista splayed across the Harajuku Bridge, adorned in the signature straight-from-a-Victorian-themed-anime look. But don’t think that this is the only look Harajuku, and by extension, Tokyo has to offer: Walk down just about any street and you’ll find yourself surrounded by would-be covergirls vying for best-dressed!
Streetwear in Tokyo
Though the twice-annual Tokyo Fashion Week (Spring and Fall) are the obvious places to see the elite looks of the season, Tokyo’s penchant for rocking the latest looks on the streets mean that fashion in Japan is somewhat more democratised… And unpredictable! Regular fashion parades take place across Tokyo, but you likely won’t find any prior warning that one is about to take place. If there’s one thing best gleaned from films such as Lost in Translation or the entire collection of Studio Ghibli, it’s that there is a beautiful complexity to Japanese culture. Which, at a more practical level, means you’re most likely to stumble across a Tokyo fashion parade when you’re meandering down some stray alleyway in pursuit of ramen. Since moments like that are impossible to manufacture, when you experience one, take the time to drink in the sight of unicorn-themed princesses cavorting arm-in-arm with the baddest streetwear trend-setters, adorned from head-to-toe in the threads you’re going to be desperately yearning for… next season.
Fashion museums and fashion exhibitions in Tokyo
You’ll be hard-pressed to find more original and exciting fashion exhibitions anywhere in the world than Tokyo. A city that is as sprawling as it is sky-high, the best place to find the real fashion museums is right inside the dressmaking and design universities, academies and institutes. Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, based in the Bunka Fashion University, features a sumptuous spread of garments and textiles from cultures around the world, so gorgeous you’ll reckon with your self-control impulses to stop from reaching out and touching.
The Sugino Gakuen Costume Museum, arguably the first clothing museum in Japan, was founded by Yoshiko Sugino in 1957 to document the changing trends as western influence began to permeate Japanese style. This fashion museum features a strong assortment of Western garments, alongside Japanese kimonos, Heinan-era servant uniforms, fashion designs, and Asian and European folk costumes.
An honourable mention is owed to the city of Kobe, where the Kobe Fashion Museum also claims to be the first clothing museum in Japan. With one of the most brazen of nods to the sci-fi influences within, the entire building resembles an Unidentified Flying Object descending into an innocuous city plaza. Talk about a futuristic fashion wonderland.
3. Turning contemporary art into fashion aesthetic: Berlin
To paint a picture of the fashion capitals of the world: The old guard are a quartet of elegant, stylish supermodels with perfect manicures and every hair in place – as easy to recall as they are to justify a visit to. But they’re not the only cities of note in the rankings. Among the rising stars, it would be foolish not to acknowledge Berlin, the forgotten younger cousin. She may have had a slightly tumultuous adolescence, but she’s now squarely in the midst of a glow-up – and she’s doing it her way.
If you’ve never been and aren’t familiar with its vibe, Berlin is punky, playful and carries a certain je ne sais quoi. Its thriving art and cultural scene mean there’s no shortage of exhibitions, installations or immersive experiences – and this edgy appreciation for high art translates captivatingly into emerging trends.
Many fashionistas have struggled to explain exactly why it is that Berlin, in atmosphere, energy and aesthetic, feels so much like a homecoming. Perhaps it’s the timelessness and the quality of the garments, and the liberal invitation to each and everyone to come as you are. The streets are the fashion exhibition – the passersby are the city’s models. So if the only thing you’ve ever yearned for from the Addams Family more than Morticia and Gomez’s relationship is their wardrobes, Berlin may well be your dream destination. Dress head-to-toe in black if you want. Nobody will judge you, dahling – it’s not morbid, it’s in vogue.
Vintage shopping in Berlin
If Coco Chanel can be thanked for the Little Black Dress, the city of Berlin deserves credit for the Jacket Over Everything. With long woolen trenches in the winter and biker leather jackets every other season, you’re never fully dressed in Berlin without a coordinated coat. And there are few better places to hunt down your new signature look.
Though most of the globally-renowned designers can be found in Berlin, the city abounds with independent and local designers that more than warrant attention. With an array of short- and medium-term pop-up stores, concept shopping mall Bikini Berlin offers an ever-changing landscape of daring concepts, quality garments and limited releases. Spend a few hours browsing for the Next Big Name before retiring to the rooftop to enjoy some light refreshment, with bonus views of the Berlin Zoo.
The Die Fesche Lotte outdoor market takes place on the second Saturday of every month, and is one of Berlin’s best days out. Check out fashion from local designers and vintage resellers, nab a snack from a street food stand and find yourself a rare treat.
Street fashion and fashion museums in Berlin
Though there is no dedicated museum to fashion in Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum (also known as the Museum of Decorative Arts) does maintain a permanent collection of150 years of fashion history, featuring garments from the likes of Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior.
If you’d prefer to take your passion for fashion right to the streets, then there’s no better place to go than Kreuzberg. Once the epicentre of counter-cultural movements and West Berlin’s famous punk aesthetic, Kreuzberg has become one of Berlin’s most popular hipster neighbourhoods – but still more than maintains its edge. Grab yourself a coffee at one of the streetside cafes and enjoy a rolling catwalk show for one as Berlin’s most fashionable people pass by.
4. The city that never sleeps on fashion: New York
Is there a more iconic fashion capital of the world than New York (or at least a city where grown women can toddle around in adult-sized tutus in the name of fashion without receiving a second glance, à la Sex and the City?)
For a fashion holiday there’s no greater place to be than ole NYC. This walkable city is jam-packed with with fashion museums, fashion exhibitions and “you’ve gotta see it to believe it” cathedrals to couture that are stuffed with so many sumptuous garments it can sometimes be hard to tell whether you’re standing in a sample sale or a clothing museum.
Must-visit fashion museums in New York
In terms of fashion exhibitions that never go out of style, the Costume Institute at The Met is an unmissable experience. The gallery name ring any bells? Perhaps that’s because The Met Gala is the hottest fashion show of the year, drawing attendees from the worlds of fashion, film, society, sports, business, and music. But don’t just visit The Met for the Costume Institute alone – to quote the witty and delightful Netflix rom-com, Set It Up: “I don’t know, I mean, do you like stunning, beautiful art that makes you re-examine what it means to be human? Then yeah, The Met’s worth it.”
If you’re more of a history buff than a member of high society, take the most sacred of pilgrimages to the Museum at FIT – the Fashion Institute of Technology. With notable alumni including Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein, the Fashion Institute of Technology takes pride in nurturing the designers of tomorrow, while housing a clothing museum that flaunts collections from the greats – and not exclusively graduates of the Institute itself. If you’re not exactly in a position to hop a plane right now, browse the Curator’s Choice online, lovingly assembled by the Museum at FIT’s Deputy Director, Patricia Mears.
5. The trend-setter for more than a couple of millennia: Milan
If you’re looking for where it all began for European fashion, skip the preamble and head straight to Milan, where the Italians remind the world, year after year, why theirs is the classic style upon which western fashion was built. The playground of the world’s most famous Italian designers, today, Milan features over 12,000 fashion houses, 800 showrooms and 6,000 sales outlets – and it proudly defends the space needed for each and every one.
In the weeks following Paris and London Fashion Weeks, Milan Fashion Week takes pride of place to to give the European fashion world more of what they want – and it does so with great aplomb, considering Milan is home to some of the great Italian designers including Giorgio Armani, Attico and Dolce & Gabbana. Tickets to Milan Fashion Week are as hard to get as the rest of the Big Four, so if you aren’t a registered buyer or press corps member, per the National Chamber for Italian Fashion, your best bet is to scope one of the online shows. Check the official schedule to see what’s streaming this season.
Luxury shopping in Milan
A stunning arced house beneath a stunning arched ceiling of skylights, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is Italy’s oldest shopping mall, and is said to be one of the oldest in the world. It’s renowned for haute couture, luxury fashion, artisanal jewelry, and art – almost as much as for the landmark lawsuit waged against the City of Milan by McDonalds when the Galleria took the “we’re not evicting, we’re just not renewing the lease” approach to vacating the space for something a little more on-brand: A second Prada store. If that’s not a passion for fashion, what is? (Don’t worry, the fast food giant retracted the 24 million euro suit when the city of Milan generously pointed them in the direction of nearby premises). And, if you’re starting to forget what a mask-free world used to look like, take a trip back to 2015 – a century in fashion years – to check out the Galleria with the assistance of this surprisingly soothing virtual stroll.
If you’re sick of looking and want to get to wearing, Milan abounds with designer outlets that allow you to wear the finest clothes without reselling the shirt from your back. Take a round-trip journey to Vicolungo Style Outlets to save up to 70% on brands such as Armani, Cavalli Class and Calvin Klein, year-round. If you don’t mind a jaunt to the Italian-Swiss border (don’t worry, it’s not as far away as it sounds), FoxTown Outlet contains three kilometres of fashion, beauty and retail that makes for a spectacular day-trip.
Fashion Museums in Milan
Is there a brand that evokes classic Italian sophistication quite so much as Armani? If you have a response to that metaphorical question – no matter the stance you’re actually taking – your time in Milan mandates you to visit the Armani/Silos, an art and fashion space established by the designer to showcase his work over the past 40 years, and chart the course for the coming years. In a bold stroke, the collection is divided between three recurring themes that remain central to the designer’s work: Androgyny, Ethnicity and Celebrity.
If you’re hankering for a fashion museum with a longer retrospective, Palazzo Morando is the place to go. An 18th-century palace featuring art, antiques and a costume collection dating from the 17th century to as recently as 2010. Palazzo Morando boasts a spectacular collection that reflects the sensory delights of Italian aesthetics throughout the centuries.
6. Where history and innovation collide – and beautifully: Shanghai
Home to one of the lesser-known – but no less spectacular – fashion weeks in the world, Shanghai is Asia’s best-kept secret to find the next generation of game-changing designers, earning it the reputation of the Paris of the East. Luxury fashion is alive and well in Shanghai, but with some of the most adventurous streetwear and funky reimaginings of prep couture, this city is arguably the heart and home of innovation among the fashion capitals of the world. So don’t just swing by the palace of Dolce and Gabbana – check out the market stalls at InShop on the ground floor of Jing’an Temple metro station. After all, you may well stumble across a masterpiece from one of the city’s up-and-coming local designers.
Fashion museums in Shanghai
Capitalising on the abundance of textile and garment factories in the region, Shanghai designers do a spectacular job of blending traditional and modern themes to create transversal pieces. Enjoy a taste of China’s fashion history at the Shanghai Textile and Costume Museum, showcasing more than 250 items dating far back as the Warring States Period of 475-221 B.C. This ain’t your grandmother’s embroidery – nor her satin brocade, velvet, silk or linen – so gain a new appreciation of just how far back Chinese style history goes, and how stylish they’ve remained without ever getting stale.
If you’d like to get a new perspective of Shanghai (and aren’t prone to vertigo), make a pit-stop on your way up to the 118th-floor observation deck of the Shanghai Tower – China’s tallest building – to check out the Guanfu Museum. Located on the 37th floor, this hidden treasure hosts a permanent fashion exhibition of artefacts and unique pieces that celebrate traditional Chinese culture, including some spectacular fashion and jewelry from throughout the ages. If a plane ticket is a little out of the question to check out this all-star among Shanghai’s fashion museums, don’t fret – the Guanfu Museum has teamed up with Google Arts and Culture to bring the highlights of the collection into your very home.
7. The origin of the miniskirt just keeps raising the bar (and adjusting the hemlines): London
If you’ve ever strolled through London’s West Side, there’s no disputing that this city remains one of the most beloved fashion capitals of the world. Wherever the ultra-wealthy live, so too does luxury shopping – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere it looks better than beside the red telephone boxes that the tenets of fashion simply won’t let retire, despite their obsolescence.
But if you’re looking for something a little more off-beat, the city that brought Britpop, mod and punk music and couture to the world is the best place to find a truly unique design. The technicolour borough of Camden is the first place to stop on your fashion holiday to London purely on the draws of the Camden Market. Comprising over a thousand stores, stalls, bars and cafes, Camden Market is the most buzzing place for indie designers to flaunt their wares. Grab yourself a one-of-a-kind outfit, grab a drink on the Camden Lock and check out the monument to Camden’s eternal icon, the legendary Amy Winehouse.
Fashion museums in London
The London College of Fashion’s Fashion Space Gallery is home to not only the works of London’s future stars, but also hosts staggeringly captivating temporary exhibitions, from deep dives into new ways of textiles and design, to original works by and about Jean Paul Gaultier, to the first major photographic retrospective of model and household name, Carmen Dell’Orefece. If you only have time to see one fashion museum while in London – make this it.
The best shopping in London
If you’re after a flea market (minus the fleas), Brick Lane Vintage Market is one of the greatest in the city for vintage clothing from the last 100 years of style. Located in the former Truman Brewery, Brick Lane Vintage Market is jam-packed during its opening days of Friday to Sunday. Get there early to scoop up the best pickings before the fashionistas descend upon the stalls, and haggle your way into a curry special at one of the nearby Indian restaurants for a fabulous and affordable meal. If Brick Lane doesn’t sufficiently scratch the itch for a non-stop your fashion holiday, Shoreditch Box Park – just to the northern end of the Lane – features an ever-changing pop-up selection of indie designers, events and food stalls.