In this essay, I will discuss how the Paris, France, came to be the first fashion capital of the world. It will also look at and discuss if Paris is still considered the most important fashion city today. I will also explore how other fashion cities, such as New York, Milan and London, compared to Paris by looking at their differences and similarities such as read-to-wear lines and how each city had a certain time period where they were established as fashion cities. Firstly the discussion will be around how Paris became so involved in Fashion and why people were so drawn to the Parisian style.
Leading on from that I will look into New York, London and Milan and how each of these major fashion cities played a part in affecting Paris. To conclude, I will investigate whether Paris still remains as the most important fashion city today. Main Body Parisian fashion dates back to the 1800’s, during the Victorian era, when people would have clothing hand made for them to show their wealth. Women who had clothes made for them, were the women who were high in social class, had money to spend and were up to date with the latest fashion trends.
In those days it was easier to identify an individual’s class because clothes were handed down when they went out of fashion. Norma Rantisi, writer of “How New York Stole Modern Fashion ?, discusses Haute Couture and the first haute couturier, she wrote “The use of the ‘Haute Couture’ label by fashion houses was regulated by commission, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which advocated on behalf of couture houses with respect to intellectual property rights, labour issues, foreign relations, advertising and the coordination of the fashion shows.
Although the first couture house in Paris was formally introduced by Charles Worth in the mid-1800s, the significance of fashion as a marker of distinction was popularized by the French court at Versailles as early as the eighteenth century? (Rantisi, 2006:115). What Rantisi is trying to communicate is that fashion had been around a lot longer before than 19th century, but fashions were different before this time. Women of high class had to follow strict lifestyles, and had to dress to show their husband’s wealth.
Haute Couture was only starting to be recognized when Charles Frederick Worth, an English fashion designer, came to Paris and changed the way fashion was consumed. Before women would tell tailors what they wanted and how it was to be made. Worth created for clientele but he designed and made clothes that he thought was best suited for that person. He would not let his clients have a say in what they can and cannot wear. This is where Paris and fashion evolved and everyone wanted a little piece of Parisian style.
Paris continued to create high end fashion till the end of the Victorian period, through the belle Apoque, the 1920’s and the 1930’s. The Americans would travel to Paris to purchase Haute Couture clothing and pay full price, whereas Parisian People of high social status, models and actresses would expect favors and free offers. Valerie Steele, author, stated in her book- Paris Fashion, A cultural history, “The 1960’s “Youth Quake”? may have launched an irreversible shift away from Paris fashion leadership. Think Mary Quant and the miniskirt.
Not only did London temporarily supplant Paris as the center of fashion, but it fostered a movement away from the couture and towards ready-to-wear, which placed the American fashion Industry in a vastly strengthened position. In the 1970’s Milan challenged Paris. ? (Steele, 1998:7). Steele is expressing is that other cities were given the chance to work their way into the fashion world. This was due to out of hand circumstances that Paris couturiers could not control. The World Wars were the start of Paris’s decline in existing as the fashion capital.
After the second world war, in the early 60’s, London took a step up and Mary Quant’s miniskirt and the shift dress swung into fashion and London joined the competition to be the world’s fashion capital. A couple of year’s later Milan joins the scene with a chic new style of cool, bringing designers such as Valentino, Armani and Versace into the light. New York grew and became a fashion city in the 1940’s, Manhattan’s 7th Avenue, became the garment district, this is where the industry took root.
Americans rarely travelled to Paris to buy high end Haute Couture during this period, because ready-to-wear lines were introduced in New York, these lines were influenced by Parisian styles. Rantisi, writer of “How New York Stole Modern Fashion ? indicates how history changes New York into the world of fashion, “At the turn of the twentieth century, New York represented a manufacturing hub with little or no fashion design talent, where apparel firms were mass-producing Parisian styles for the many.
How then was it able to cultivate its own design talent and to marry the commercial with the aesthetic? To be sure, part of New York’s success can be attributed to ?historical accident’ and to where the New York industry was situated in relation to the broader socio-economic trends or to major political events, such as the Second World War. ? (Rantisi, 2006:110). Rantisi is talking about how the Second World War influenced New York to accelerate because the war had a huge effect on Paris putting a lot of couturiers out of business. 7 couturiers carried on designing through the war; this is less than half the number there was in the last century.
Haute Couturiers noticed that their clientele was changing, less of their American high end clientele visited. It had become harder to travel into France, It was also seen as dangerous and many people avoided Paris for these reasons. The war was the start of Paris’ decline giving other cities a chance to create new styles and new ways to produce fashion. In the ?60s, London created a new style of cool.
It was an edgy, childish look that had a cocky and challenging feel to it. This is something that had never been done before; it was brought together music and fashion and created a new youthful, rebellious generation. This was the generation that wanted a new style different to that of their parents. This was the ?Youthquake’. Shawn Levy, Author, Captured the essence of the 60’s in her book, ?Ready, Steady, Go! Swinging London and the invention of cool. ‘, “But the ?60s, that was Swinging London- the place where our modern world began.
Hardly any of the elements were unique: there had been bohemian revolutions and economic renaissance and new waves in the arts and popular culture and lifestyle before. There had even been other moments when youth dominated the scene: the Jazz Age of the 20’s, the brief rock’n’roll heyday of the ?50s. But in London for those few evanescent years it all came together: youth, pop music, fashion, celebrity, crime, fine art, sexuality, scandal, drugs, media- the whole mad modern stew. ? (Levy, 2002:6). Levy expresses how all these entities brought together created a new era.
Teenagers created new styles from old clothes which designers copied to create a mainstream look; this is the bubble up theory. Mary Quant was one of those designers; she created the miniskirt which became one of the most popular items of clothing, which is still popular today. Haute Couturiers in Paris were simply refused to create clothing following these trends, as the style was vulgar compared to the high end garments of the likes of Chanel and Dior. At the beginning of the 70’s London declined in mainstream fashion because subcultures rebelled against mainstream fashion. This allowed a new city to show its style.
In 1970’s Milan took over from London. Milan had more of a traditional look; it was all about classic cuts, good workmanship and high quality, fine materials. Nearly all Italian designers’ organizations were family based, so the craft skills have been handed down the generations, which links back to the tradition look and feel to the clothes. Valerie Steele, Writer, Fashion Italian Style wrote “The clothes coming out of Milan were, admittedly, not couture, but they were extremely stylish.
“They were classically cut but not stodgy: innovation but never theatrical, ? declared Newsweek. They were for real people- albeit rich people- to wear to real places. ? (Steele, 2003:59) Steele is stating that Milan was the capital of ready-to-wear, before the 70’s fashion was a big part of Italy, but ready-to-wear was seen more in Florence. This was due to Giovanni Battista Giorgini and his fashion shows, which brought together Milan’s ready-to-wear and Rome’s Alta Moda style. Rome’s Alta Moda designers decided they did not want their clothing shown with Ready-to-wear lines and stopped showing in the Florence fashion show.
Milan Ready-to-wear designers stopped showing their lines in Florence and started up shows in Milan, this is how Milan came to be one of the ?Big Four’. In the 70’s Milan found it easy to thrive in the fashion world because labour costs were cheap, therefore more designers could create small/medium production businesses, to create their lines. Italy was a threat to Paris because demand for haute couture was in the decline and more consumers increasing the demand for leisure and informal wear. Many people today argue that Paris still has a very influential effect on the fashion world.
Parisian style is one that everyone recognises and designers still look to for inspiration. Every couple of years diluted versions of Parisian trends have been seen in fashion lines that have trickle down into the high street market. This is a popular trend among younger generations. AgnAs Rocamora, writer, wrote in her piece ?Paris, Capitale de la Mode’, “In the French media, fashion still means Paris. Regularly anchoring fashion to the Parisian territory, the media have long naturalized the signifying relation between the French capital and la mode. (Rocamora, 2006:44). What Rocamora is explaining is that Parisian Couturiers, fashion writers and journalists all agree that Paris is still the most important fashion city.
Paris fashion is talked about a lot in the press, media and all the time in magazines. So in theory they are promoting themselves as being the creators of fashion and showing that true Haute Couture fashion can only exists in Paris, keeping them in their position as one of the most important cities in fashion.
Therefore the French and Paris see themselves as the most influential and important, but there are also facts and opinions expressing that Paris can no longer be the most important fashion city. There are numerous arguments against the fact that Paris is the most important fashion city. Since New York, London and Milan were established as fashion cities, they have produced various couturiers to show that high end fashion does not just come from Paris.
But the focus more in these cities is fast, practical fashion from ready-to-wear lines which trickle down into mass production and high street. Valerie Steele, Author, stated in her book ?Paris fashion cultural history’ “In 1987, Accent, The magazine of Paris style featured an article entitled “Is Paris Still the Capital of Style? ? according to the author, “The French capital may no longer hold the title alone. The designers, journalists, and retailers interviewed agreed that, “Today, designers in London, Milan, Tokyo and New York can no longer be ignored. And yet, many fashion professionals kept coming back to the idea that “Paris is not the only fashion city, but High Fashion takes place only in Paris ¦ It’s something in the air ¦ Yves Saint Laurent and Madame GrAs wouldn’t have been possible anywhere but Paris ¦ Paris is where it’s happening. ? (Steele, 1998:7) Steele is saying that the fashion world is not just dominated by Paris; we have to take into consideration the upcoming cities that are growing and expanding to be able to create fashion within them.
Although people still push the fact that only high end couture can be made in Paris, New York, Milan and London are being recognized as big players in the industry. Conclusion To conclude I found that Paris was a very influential city in the early 1900’s with the likes of Worth who had a new approach to fashion and gave it a new edge. With New York, London and Milan growing all the time, they also had an influence on new forms of fashion and the creation of fast fashion, which threatened Paris and Haute Couture.
Paris is still a major fashion city, and Haute Couture can only be made in Paris. But Paris is not the most important fashion city, hence why the name the ?Big Four’ was introduced, London, New York, Paris and Milan make up this quartet. These cities can no longer be disregarded, they fought their way into the fashion world at different time periods, and change fashion in their own unique way. Paris can no longer stand alone as the only and most important fashion city.