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Counting down to Fashion Week

What makes Paris, New York, Milan and London the Big Four on the international fashion calendar?

February and September stand out as the most eagerly anticipated months on the international fashion calendar. While cities around the world host significant industry events during and outside of these months, it is only the Big Four that truly unites the global fashion community. In an endless parade of runway shows and glamorous parties, both renowned and emerging designers unveil their upcoming collections on the prestigious runways of Paris, New York, Milan and London before they debut in stores worldwide. But what makes these iconic cities the epicentres of the world’s most celebrated fashion weeks? Let's find out...


Known for producing esteemed designers like Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent, Paris firmly upholds its reputation as a global fashion hub. While the first Fashion Week (as we know it today) was held in New York in 1943, its roots can be traced back to 19th-century France. Credited with the introduction of the concept is Charles Frederick Worth, regarded as the first true fashion designer and the founder of Haute Couture. A revered figure in the Parisian fashion scene of the 1850s, Worth was the first to invite customers to his atelier, marking a shift from the then-common practice where dressmakers visited clients' homes for fittings.

To expand his business, Worth began to organise salon shows at his workshop twice a year, allowing his customers to view his latest collections. Breaking from the norm, he presented his designs on models instead of mannequins. These shows were intended purely for sales, but over time, they evolved into what became known as "fashion parades" or "défilés de mode" – a term still used for fashion shows in Paris today. Held in public venues, such as racetracks, they grew into significant social events.

Almost a century after the first salon showcase, in 1945, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture established a set of rules to define which houses could be considered Haute Couture. One key guideline required fashion houses to present a collection of 35 garments per season to the press, laying the groundwork for the modern concept of Fashion Week. This evolved into the first official Paris Fashion Week in 1973. It was organised by the Fédération Française de la Couture as a fundraiser to renovate the Palace of Versailles, which also served as the event's location. In 1984, French designer Thierry Mugler broke new ground by hosting the first fashion show that was open to the general public –  a revolutionary move making fashion shows more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

New York

From Michael Kors to Marc Jacobs, New York is home to a host of iconic designers who wow the fashion community season after season with their runway showcases. However, it was the team behind the Ehrlich Brothers store that is credited with organising the first American runway show in the early 1900s. Inspired by Paris' fashion parades, they aimed to attract an increasing number of female shoppers with periodic showcases, which quickly became a big hit. Their success sparked a trend among other department stores in the United States, which began to hold their own fashion shows.

During this time, American designers still looked to France for creative inspiration, but World War II changed all that. Determined to place American fashion in the spotlight, iconic fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert organised a series of shows in New York initially called Press Week. These events catered not to buyers but to international journalists and her formula worked, with photographs of several shows featuring in many famous publications of the time, resulting in the industry acclaiming the innovative creations of American designers.

Then came Lambert's PR assistant, Ruth Finley, whose introduction of the Fashion Calendar proved to be a game-changer for the show. After overhearing two journalists debating between events at different stores scheduled for the same night, Finley began publishing the Fashion Calendar to better organise these events, ensuring show times did not clash.

The concepts introduced by both women set the model for how Fashion Weeks are held today.


With iconic names like Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Giorgio Armani, Milan has rightfully earned its position as a global fashion hub. However, before the 1960s, it was Florence that played a pivotal role in the emergence of Italy's fashion scene. At a time when fashion parades had already become the norm, Italian aristocrat Giovanni Battista Giorgini hosted the first runway show at his residence in 1951, showcasing the creations of famed designer Emilio Pucci and the Fontana sisters. These shows quickly gained popularity and began to attract international buyers, journalists, photographers and VIP clients. Such was its success that the increased inflow of visitors during this time caused significant disruptions to life in Florence. Unable to maintain the status quo, it became evident that the fashion shows needed a new home.

To bolster the country's fashion scene, The National Chamber for Italian Fashion was founded in Rome in the late 1950s. The body designated Milan as Italy's fashion capital and established it as the home of its first official fashion week, which premiered in 1958. With its abundance of production facilities, Milan's industrial offering made it the ideal choice for numerous Italian luxury houses. In the following decades, the city became the breeding ground for many iconic Italian designers, whose contributions further solidified Milan’s status as a fashion capital.


With visionary designers like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, the English capital has a legacy of producing some of the most fearless and innovative creations in fashion. As the last city to join the Big Four in 1984, London boasts the youngest fashion week, with its first official showcase held just four decades ago. Yet, the groundwork for what would become London Fashion Week was laid years ago by local designers.

The earliest known showcase was organised by fashion publicist Percy Savage, who curated a London collection show in the 1970s, featuring trailblazing British designers such as Zandra Rhodes and Bruce Oldfield while notable figures like Princess Margaret and Bianca Jagger graced the front rows. But it was in the following decade that London Fashion Week, as we recognise it today, was born, with the foundation of the British Fashion Council in 1983 and the first official runway showcase a year later.

London Fashion Week's first venue was the car park of the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. In the decades that followed, it continued to be the home of the show, with even the likes of Yves Saint Laurent hosting his first London showcase in the same parking lot. The success of these events prompted the UK government to pledge funding so that it could continue and it went on to expand to other locations in the city.

The shows subsequently garnered a devoted following, drawing British VIPs and royalty into the fold. In 1985, Princess Diana famously hosted a reception for designers at Lancaster House, while then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attended the show in 1986 and stayed for the entire week, despite her demanding schedule.


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