What Defines a Fashion Capital Today?

A dress by Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo. Photo: Eileen Costa/Courtesy of FIT

Anyone who follows the industry even peripherally knows that high fashion isn’t limited to the four cities commonly referred to as “fashion capitals”: Paris, Milan, New York, and London.

The Museum at FIT’s newest exhibit, “Global Fashion Capitals,” which runs through November 14, takes that somewhat elementary conclusion as the jumping-off point to showcase an interesting, but not entirely cohesive, array of clothes new and old from all over the world. In addition to the four aforementioned cities, the exhibit includes work by designers from Sydney, Kiev, Lagos, New Delhi, and São Paolo, among other cities whose fashion influence has grown in recent years. The most arresting pieces in the lineup come from young, up-and-coming talents who’ve chosen to do their work in their home countries, like Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo, whose feminine take on traditional fabrics from the region can be seen above left. “There are [now] hundreds of fashion weeks around the world,” noted assistant curator Arielle Elia, who co-organized the show with curatorial assistant Elizabeth Way, and called the offering “just a little dose of what’s going on.” Thus, the exhibit doesn’t mention an array of cities that could be considered fashion capitals these days, like Los Angeles, which is increasingly asserting its style pull. (Just ask Hedi Slimane, Jeremy Scott, or newly minted West Coast convert Nicholas Ghesquiere.)

However, the divisions of designers into hard-and-fast city designations seemed dated at times, since it often reflected the mix of cultures that go into a single label. Think of Stella Jean, who is half-Haitian and half-Italian, and whose eponymous line shows in Milan but incorporates fabrics from West Africa. Or Homo Consommatus, a line that shows in St. Petersburg but whose Russian-born designers are based in London and have a jet-setting agenda. (Both lines are featured in the exhibit.) “We go through the world — Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, and show to small [groups of] customers there, so we can reach our target audience,” designer Alexey Sorokin, who was present at a preview, told the Cut. The approach of designers like Jean and Sorokin calls into question the arbitrariness of assigning designers to different countries based on where they show. Now a designer might be born in Seoul, study in London, show in Paris, and sell to customers in Lima, Dubai, and Mumbai. Is it really possible to pigeon such a person as a French, or Korean, or British talent?

What’s more interesting is the fact that many designers are rejecting the pull of young-talent hotbeds like London — whose fashion week boasts talents from Greece (Mary Katrantzou), Korea (Eudon Choi), Brazil (Lucas Nascimento and Barbara Casasola), and New Delhi (Ashish), among many others. A more interesting approach might have been to highlight the designers who are working and showing in these emerging fashion cities and how they’re adapting. Before long, one of them might even usurp Paris in the fashionable imagination.

Click through the slideshow to see some of the globe-traversing fashions in the show.

What Defines a Fashion Capital Today?