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by on November 8, 2011

Glenda Bailey‘s not going to go to Richmond, VA, fashion week.” This quote from CFDA CEO Steven Kolb basically sums up the fashion industry’s attitude when it comes to fashion weeks outside of the big four: New York, London, Paris and Milan. Fashion is elitist, with the haves being vastly outweighed by the have-nots. A small cadre of editors, designers, photographers, stylists and — most importantly — businessmen control this billion dollar industry, but the cracks are beginning to appear in the facade. Milan’s breaking rank and challenging the fashion week calendar and in response Condé Nast has vowed that no Vogue editors will be in attendance should Milan continue its catwalk of impertinence. China is outspending both America and Europe in the luxury sector and many brands are opening stores in the Far East to meet this ever-expanding market. Then there are the some 100 other fashion weeks around the world, showcasing local young, up-and-coming and often, rather talented designers who, while not garnering the attention of Harper’s Bazaar‘s esteemed editrix in chief, are contributing to their own cities’ and countries’ burgeoning fashion industries. 

International Fashion Weeks: Waste of Time or Next Frontier?

Karachi Fashion Week

One must also consider the undeniable impact of the internet and blogs, bringing the latest and greatest in fashion to anyone with a decent internet connection. Now a teenager in Ohio can gasp at the fantastical creations from Beijing Fashion Week as a blogger in Thailand livestreams the latest Marc Jacobs runway show. But with this democratization of the fashion industry comes its inevitable oversaturation. “Every other city is doing a fashion week. I think there can be only one market in the U.S., and that’s New York,” Kolb opines. So fashion weeks in Moscow, Karachi, Berlin, Zurich, Huston, Dubai, Portland, Rochester, Islamabad and Tel Aviv won’t garner the kind of respect or attention paid to London and Paris; clothes from its runways won’t land in Elle or W – nor might they ever be worn outside of their respective countries. However, Glenda Bailey’s or Anna Wintour‘s is not the only eye foreign designers hope to capture.

For participants in Islamabad Fashion Week, fashion is a new form of expression that further immerses them in the global culture of the 21st century. When filming Fashion Week Internationale for Vice.com, hostess Charlet Duboc was surprised at the presence of women in full Burkas volunteering backstage:  “I couldn’t quite believe it. How does that work? How can you look at that and admire it and yet know you can’t wear it? But they were there, they were appreciating it and it didn’t feel like there was a divide. Like, ‘You do your thing, I do my thing’ and everyone got along.” Fashion transcends more than just clothing to become a force for cultural change. And a force for economic change. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Zurain Imam observed,  ”Fashion in Pakistan for a long time has been an entertainment sport; at [Karachi Fashion Week], we are trying to really make it about the business of fashion.”

While Kolb concedes that smaller fashion weeks can be good training ground for prospective designers, some bigger names are flocking abroad to show their collections. There probably is no hotter designer in America than Singapore-born, Nepalese-raised Prabal Gurung, whose last two presentations at New York Fashion Week met with near universal acclaim. Even he is considering showing his wares abroad in Moscow, Turkey, London and his native Singapore, saying, “There are so many emerging markets that we want to in some way be a part of, and I would love to showcase my collection in a more global way.” With a crowded and contentious calendar, Glenda Bailey won’t likely end up in Richmond, VA, but who’s to say that she won’t be stomping through a Singaporean jungle for the latest in spring ready-to-wear?

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Contributed by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester dot brathwaite at gmail