Effortlessly Chic: a Review on how Two Major Fashion Capitals Have Branded Themselves from the 70’s up to the Present

This review aims to identify whether Milan and London has the most vibrant creative field where fashion designers and fashion industries perform.

The History: London & Milan from the 70’s up to the Present

The fashion industry is linked to specific cities in the world where major fashion shows and events occur and, which are internationally recognized as fashion world capitals.  With reference to John Friedmann’s analysis of the “world city hypothesis” (Friedmann, 1986), David Gilbert (2013) argues that, “Such fashion world capitals are dependent on the form and extent of their integration into the world economy” (Bruzzi et al, 2013). In fact, according to Friedmann, “It is necessary to understand cities as part of a world system, not only the significance of connections and interdependencies between major cities, but also their positions within a structured hierarchy of cities” (Buzzi et al, 2013).

London in the late 70’s

In the late ‘70s London started to develop as a world business center by focusing on sectors such as “Banking, advertising insurance and accountancy” (Bruzzi et al, 2013). The London fashion “Was more famous for the development of a distinctive urban fashion culture, more spontaneous and associated with the boutiques, streets and clubs” (Buzzi et al, 2013). At the same time, “Established Italian designers started to display their work in Milan” (Buzzi et al, 2013). Similarly to Buzzi et al, Karolina Jedras from the University of Zurich, argues that Milan started to become successful in the ‘70s and “It was strengthened due to the merge of the design and industry hub” (Jedras, 2011).

In the late twentieth century, Milanese style was mainly seen as conservative, while on the contrary, London style was a combination of creativity through adversity.

The Punk Movement in the 70’s

A sense of rebellion was constantly fueling the British fashion, which was fully manifested in the Punk movement and enhanced by the artistic contribution of Vivienne Westwood. The fashion writer and journalist Hywel Davies considers her “The quintessential British fashion designer. She is  avant-garde and one of the most important and creative British designers; from punk to pirates and new romantics” (Davies, 2013).

On one hand, in the late 70’s and the beginning of 80’s, London fashion was recognized as “Cheap and popular”, while on the other hand, Milan “Was combining its established traditions in designs with a flexible specialization in textile and clothing industries of the industrial regions of Northern Italy” (Buzzi et al, 2013). Many successful Milanese designers such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, contributed to develop Milan’s reputation as a world fashion capital by establishing the Milanese ready-to-wear trend in the early ‘80s. The mid 1980’s were characterised by a continuous financial growth, which helped Milan to grow internationally and to export Italian clothing abroad. According to Karolina Jedras, “The fashion companies extended their brands to new categories like accessories, furniture, fragrances and real estates, for instance, Armani clubs or Bulgari Hotels and Resorts” (Jedras, 2011).

Piazza Affari Milan in the early 80’s

The early Milanese 1990s were marked by the rise of fashion conglomerates and multi brand stores. While, at the same time, Alexander McQueen, the “Enfant terrible” of British fashion, launched his own label and, as suggested by Hywel Davies, “He was integral to the rise of British fashion in the early 1990s. It is through his creative and uncompromising work that British fashion has become recognised at an international level” (Davies, 2013).  Davies also describes McQueen’s aesthetic as: “Brutally sharp refined by excellent craftsmanship with a combination of historical cut and exquisite attention to detail” (Davies, 2013).

Alexander McQueen in the 90’s

If on one side,  London distinguished itself for its eccentric and bizarre fashion during the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, thanks to the “Outrageous, imaginative aesthetic of John Galliano” (Davies, 2013), on the other side, according to Colin McDowell, fashion writer at the Sunday Times and The Business of Fashion, “Milan won the prize of being the center of the Italian fashion for the outside world, thanks to the regional traditions and the skilled artisans that made Italian ready-to-wear the driving force it has been for the past fifty years under the quality control banner of Made in Italy” (McDowell, 2014).

Versace in the 90’s

Contrary to the McDowell’s opinion, Karolina Jedras, in the light of Reinach’s (2006) theories, suggests that “Nowadays, the overall image of Made in Italy is deteriorating” (Jedras, 2011). In fact, there has been a continuous “Fall of the dominance of the Italian ready-to-wear due to the rise of new fashion cultures, like fast fashion, which represents a business strategy assumed by prominent specialty chains based on reduced product-life cycle and a very efficient supply chain contributing to the fast turnover on the shelves” (Jedras, 2011).  This market transformation is manifested by “The growing of ‘masstige’, which is a retail category that includes brands and products that have high end and prestigious characteristics with prices and locations that make them accessible to mass consumer price” (Jedras, 2011).

Despite the spread of fast fashion competing against the ready-to-wear sector,  in the early twenty-first century Italy was much more “Successful in the textile and clothing industry than the UK” (Jones, 2003) as pointed out by Alan Cannon Jones, principal lecturer and director at the London College of Fashion. He indicates that “Italians are stronger than the UK not only in textiles, clothing and footwear, but also in fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment” (Jones, 2003).

Cannon Jones also suggests that “Italy is specialized in industries which have low capital requirements, low formal educational requirements but high informal training requirements” (Jones, 2003). He identifies “Italy’s unique strength as the out-of-school learning process in many of the internationally successful industries such as textile and furniture, whereby highly specialized knowledge and skills are passed on within families and from generation to generation” (Jones, 2003). By contrast, “The UK has high capital requirements, high formal educational requirements and a powerful advertising industry” (Jones, 2003).

Milan Fashion Industry

In relation to the high standards of educational requirements, if on one side Italian designers are fully prepared and trained during their direct working experience, on the other side, according to Hywel Davies, British design schools, such as Central St Martins and the Royal College of Art, have provided “The industry with bright and brave new fashion designers, which are recognized for producing shows that are polished and accomplished. Graduates from St. Martins are still regarded as some of the most creative and radical in the world” (Davies, 2013).

The Creativity: Interactions Between Fashion Designers and Artists

“British fashion is not afraid to have a voice. The benefits of working in London are that you can attract a great design team because people want to live in London. It is an incredibly, inspiring city, everything comes to London, every gig, exhibition, every theatrical performance. It is full of artists and young designers and great musicians” Stella McCartney 2008.

Fashion Capital 8.jpg
Alexander McQueen’s Exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’ 2015

Marianna D’Ovidio, researcher and sociologist at the Bocconi University in Milan, suggests that “The creative field is perceived to be much more vibrant in London than in Milan due to the absence of links with other fields of creative production in the city” (D’Ovidio, 2014). According to D’Ovidio, Milanese fashion designers’ time and energy “Are constantly invested in networking, in seeing each other and being seen in the right places and events” (D’Ovidio, 2014). On the contrary, “In London, networking and creativity are more intertwined: some of the  designers are part of the artistic communities which not only transcend the fashion industry but also provide a different venue for creative exchange, mutual recognition and support” (D’Ovidio, 2014).

Pitti Immagine Uomo at Milan Fashion Week

The Independent and The Guardian have often criticized the alleged lack of creativity in the Milanese designers’ community, which continuously offers the same names and faces, whilst London “Has developed an increasing focus on innovation and creativity” (D’Ovidio, 2014). Alexander Fury from The Independent, raises concern about “No new blood and no fresh ideas at the spring/summer 2015 Milan Fashion Week” (Fury, 2014) by also pointing out that “Milan’s importance could be slipping as the Milan Fashion Week frequently feels stagnant, age old and age old. Armani celebrated his 80th birthday in July 2014, and his label has turned 40 in 2014” (Fury, 2014). In response to this article, Simone Marchetti, fashion writer at D La Repubblica, an Italian Lifestyle website aimed at improving women’s life, raises the question whether foreign fashion journalists have seriously looked at the other capitals’ fashion weeks, stating that “The long London Fashion Week equally remains anchored to the past as Milan does” (Marchetti, 2014).

Roberto Cavalli ss 2015

Marchetti lists in his article a number of several new Italian fashion designers, such as Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Fausto Puglisi and Riccardo Tisci, Head Designer at Givenchy, whose collections have sold well and have caught the attention of international press. Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, during the 2014-interview with Declan Eytan, Fashion Contributor at Forbes, stated: “There has been this not so nice campaign going on against Milan, initiated by some members of the foreign press. I guess that the motivation behind it all, is one will always try to make the fashion in his respective country seem more important that of another” (Eytan, 2014).

London and Milan are quite different when comparing their fashion designers’ creativity with the other ones working within the fashion system. Each city enhances their local fashion designers and their products by labeling themselves as the most innovative fashion capital. On one side, the UK fashion system is internationally recognized as strongly related to the arts world, presenting each season new upcoming fashion designers at London Fashion Week. It distinguishes itself as irreverent and spontaneous. On the other side, Milan is internationally known  for the high-quality ready-to-wear collections, for its high-standard products and the specialized industries, which globally remark the concept of Made in Italy .

Ezra Runway 2015

In conclusion, there is not enough research available to determine which city is considered more creative than the other. The battle will continue to be disputed  each season during the two capitals’ fashion weeks,  without underestimating the importance of new talents from the Middle East, Russia, China, Japan and Brazil.



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