Paris, New York, London and Milan: the Big Four when it comes to fashion.
For years, these cities have been considered the definitive capitals of couture. An exclusive, omnipotent foursome by which the style preferences of the planet are dictated on a bi-annual basis.
As a collective, and on their own, these hotspots may wield the most sartorial clout, but they’re by no means the only stylish destinations on Earth.
Outside of the Big Four, there are plenty of alternative cities putting their mark on global fashion. These places may not all be high-fashion heavyweights, but they do all boast their own unique sense of style.
Here are six cities we think are worthy of alternative fashion capital status, and the homegrown labels that have helped put them on the map.
Of all the cities poised to steal the limelight from Paris, New York, London and Milan, Antwerp is perhaps best equipped in terms of haute-couture credentials.
The Belgian port city is home to one of the world’s most respected fashion colleges and, as a result, has nurtured the careers of some of the world’s most influential designers. Most notably, the Antwerp Six: a group composed of graduates including Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, who went on to become hugely important global influences on avant-garde fashion.
While not officially one of the Antwerp Six, Martin Margiela is often named as an honorary member, often celebrated for his modern interpretations of classic pieces.
Elusive and secretive in his approach to public relations, Margiela emerged just before the group, but his label’s shadowy, minimalist aesthetic has become every bit as influential.
Dries Van Noten
An original member of the Antwerp Six, Dries Van Noten’s eponymous ready-to-wear label is characterised by its eccentric styling, dramatic contrasting prints and intelligent use of colour and embroidery.
The label and the man behind it are two of Antwerp’s most notable contributions to the world of design and have been instrumental in helping to shape the contemporary fashion landscape.
Raised in a small town just outside of the city, former Dior creative director Raf Simons is known for his bold use of photographic prints, logos, pattern and unconventional cuts.
His self-titled label has also become a staple of streetwear aficionados, musicians and trendsetting celebs. It’s thanks in part to the Ozweego sneaker, created in conjunction with Adidas – a coveted piece of footwear and perhaps the real precursor to chunky sneaker madness.
With a rich history, vibrant LGBTQ scene and reputation as a Mecca of hedonism for techno-loving clubgoers, it’s no wonder Berlin is considered a global capital of culture. Crucially, intermingled with all the partying, art, craft beer and music, fashion serves as an ever-growing string to the German capital’s cultural bow.
You won’t find many of the big names calling Berlin home. You might not even find anything you’d dare wear out of the house. What you will find, however, is a talented crop of renegade designers and labels, hellbent on disrupting the fashion status quo.
Originally founded as an independent magazine featuring high-concept photoshoots by A-list photographers, Berlin’s 032c is now one of the hottest names in apparel, too.
The collective’s seasonal collections have received acclaim, featuring streetwear staples such as graphic hoodies and T-shirts, filtered through a high-fashion lens.
Established in Berlin in 2001, Ucon Acrobatics has earned itself a reputation as the master of minimalist luggage.
The design emphasis is firmly on simplicity and utility. There are no unnecessary details or gimmicks and, as a result, the label’s bags are as timeless and stylish as they are practical.
In a city with such a rampant and hedonistic club scene, it’s no surprise that a label like GmbH took root.
Featuring PVC trousers, vests and leather jackets, this probably isn’t the best label to shop for a new church outfit. It is, however, unapologetically Berlin, and one of the key players in taking the city’s unique sense of style to the global stage.
Clean, relaxed, picturesque and surrounded by water – as far as capital cities go, Denmark’s isn’t a bad looking one. It’s not all postcard-like cobbled streets and the smell of freshly baked pastries, though. If you scratch a little below the surface, you’ll find there’s a lot more to Copenhagen than meets the eye.
As well as being one of Europe’s most charming destinations, The City of Spires is also one of its most stylish. This is a place where stripped-back Scandi minimalism meets streetwear and is home to some of menswear’s coolest contemporary labels.
Norse Store was originally a boutique retail space and gallery in Copenhagen stocking a mix of streetwear and high-end fashion. However, with the launch of its in-house clothing line in 2009 it evolved into a full-scale fashion phenomenon.
Norse’s collections are stocked by some of the world’s most respected menswear retailers, blending streetwear and workwear influences with a heavy dose of that trademark Scandi minimalism.
Founded in 2002, Wood Wood was and still is one of the pillars of Copenhagen’s contemporary fashion scene.
Known for its streetwear-leaning approach to casual clothing, the label often makes subtle nods to political themes and offers social commentary through its use of graphics and lettering. There are also plenty of collaborations to be had, with Reebok, Champion, Clarks and New Balance to name just a handful from the archives.
Another shining example of what happens when you take a streetwear seed and plant it in Scandinavian soil, Soulland straddles the line between edgy and wearable with surgical precision.
At its core, Soulland is all about taking classic menswear essentials and reimagining them with modern tweaks and updates. It’s also no stranger to a logo T-shirt, and the hoodies aren’t bad either.
Most major cities have their own easily definable fashion identity. Tokyo, on the other hand, has about 1,000. Vintage Americana via Ametora, cutting-edge streetwear, mountaineering chic and contemporary tailoring are just a few subgenres to explore. There’s even a full-scale rockabilly resurgence still going strong on the streets of Harajuku.
It’s a lot to take in, but there’s one common theme: Tokyo’s style is all about self-expression, going against the grain, and not caring what anyone else thinks about it.
Comme Des Garcons
Spearheaded by fashion’s favourite eccentric, Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons is a multidisciplinary fashion house offering several ready-to-wear clothing lines, a fragrance range and a chain of hugely successful concept stores under the name Dover Street Market.
Known for its slightly bonkers shows, alongside the street-friendly staples from its Play line, CDG has got every corner of fashion on lockdown. And it all started right here in Tokyo.
Founded by former Burton Snowboards designer Hiroki Nakamura, Visvim blends native-American design motifs, Americana-inspired styling and Japanese silhouettes to create truly unique garments.
Unfortunately, this level of individuality comes at a price. Visvim is among the most exorbitantly priced labels in existence. It’s a fact that often draws criticism from detractors, but the simple truth is that demand is sky high and the collections are priced accordingly. We can dream, though.
As far as fashion in Japan goes, Beams is nothing short of an institution. Born in Harajuku in 1976, this storied retail franchise has lines covering everything from childrenswear to the latest multi-brand designer goods.
The menswear arm, Beams Plus, is known for producing high-quality basics with a preppy, Tokyo twist. Think simple styling, next to no visible branding, boxy cuts and plenty of well-placed colour and prints.
London may be the UK’s most fashionable city, but there’s no doubt Manchester is it’s most stylish.
The northern city’s dress sense blends elements of terrace fashion, workwear, mod culture and a hearty dose of swagger to create a look that is distinctly and unapologetically its own. Couple this with its world-famous music scene, and it’s no wonder this place is often name-dropped as Britain’s coolest city.
Private White V.C.
Manchester’s Private White V.C. has been on the scene for more than 100 years, but has never once wavered in its commitment to producing outerwear of the absolute highest quality.
The label’s garments are all made in the UK, using local materials where possible. It’s luxury casualwear with British DNA and one of the brightest jewels in Manchester’s coolest-city crown.
Since opening its doors in 2002, Oi Polloi has become the beating heart of Manchester’s menswear scene. Unlike the other names here, however, it’s not a clothing brand, but a store.
Still, given that it’s basically the physical embodiment of everything that makes Manchester cool, it’d be impossible not to include it. Expect quirky merchandising, sell-out collaborations and top-notch garments from the likes of Engineered Garments, Paraboot, Arpenteur and more.
Manchester doesn’t follow trends; everyone has their own look. It’s a sentiment echoed by local brand Native Youth, which prides itself on providing the tools to allow its customers to cultivate their style.
It’s founders describe the clothing as “affordable luxury”, and we’d be inclined to agree. These pieces look the part, but a purchase won’t leave you eating instant noodles for the rest of the month either.
Despite being home to many of the best-dressed people on the face of the Earth, LA has always been overshadowed by its east-coast adversary New York City when it comes to fashion
To say the City of Angels is any less stylish, however, would be a mistake. LA knows how to dress, and we’re not just talking about beachwear either. Here are a handful of brands that are putting the Californian metropolis on the map.
We know we said it’s not all about the beachwear, but we couldn’t talk about LA without mentioning at least one surf-inspired label.
Outerknown is the brainchild of pro surfer Kelly Slater, delivering laid-back, beachy stables with a focus on sustainability and preserving the oceans. Expect earthy tones, relaxed cuts and a clear conscience.
Fear Of God
You may not know Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear Of God, but you will definitely have seen its influence on mainstream menswear.
The label is known for fusing grunge-inspired styling with long-line cuts, distressed detailing and plenty of high-top sneakers. It’s one of the key players in high-end streetwear and was born and bred on LA soil.
Those who doubt LA’s high-fashion credentials would do well to have a flick through Rick Owens’ catalogue of work.
The long-haired, leather-clad designer is the OG fashion goth, and his bizarre and often risque runway shows have been known to cause quite a stir. Design-wise, there’s a lot of black, a lot of length and even more dropped-crotch trousers.