The Beginner’s Guide to Fashion Week

milan fashion week

We are in the middle of fashion month, the twice yearly four week long, international festival of fashion that is basically an excuse to dress up in your finest and channel your inner Anna Wintour. For those in fashion, whether you love the buzz or despise the drama, it’s a matter of course that comes as naturally as the ability to walk in heels. However, as an outsider it can seem like a minefield of unspoken rules and potential faux pas on an epic scale. To try and break down the barriers and shed a little light on what it’s all about, here’s a breakdown of what to expect.

NEW YORK

new york fashion week

Commercial and sporty, making loads of money but putting creativity in the back seat.

Who:

Big budget labels abound in the city that never sleeps, with Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors being schedule mainstays. Others like Alexander Wang are a beacon of modern, creative hope for the stalest of the fashion weeks, whilst designers like Marchesa, Zac Posen and Rodarte continue to do a very commercial take on Parisian couture.

What:

Whilst I will endlessly mock American fashion for being derivative and somewhat stagnant, you can’t argue with cold hard cash, a thing that brands here have in spades. With designers like Calvin Klein having astronomical perfume revenues and Michael Kors spinning off into accessories all over the globe, serious dollar is being made. Subsequently, the shows are slick and highly produced, although venue continues to be an issue, as the fashion week hub of Lincoln Center causing complaints among many of the American Fashion crowd.

Wear:

Ladies, a co-ord is always fun: track down a matchy skirt and crop top in an understated print, with a luxe bomber thrown on, accessorised with a sleek backpack and heeled ankle boots. Guys, sporty shorts over meggings with high fashion high tops keep it feeling fresh, and adding a tailored shirt in a complimentary colour way gives an unexpected element.

LONDON

london fashion week

Energetic young talent mixes with classic British heritage and addictively trendy fast fashion.

Who:

Expect classic English brands like Burberry, established names such as Vivienne Westwood, commercially successful younger labels along the lines of Christopher Kane and Giles, with fresh hot talent aplenty. Rising stars are JW Anderson, Meadham Kirchoff with others like Mary Katranzou already punching above their weight internationally.

What:

What makes London unique is the blend of cheap-but-chic fast fashion behemoths like Topshop and the unique talent of our wealth of young designers that pour out of colleges like Central Saint Martins. Fashion from both of these sources, and collaborations between the two, feed into a street style scene that is one of a kind. Fashion week here is based around the palatial Somerset House, where street style photographers and bloggers gather like a gang of vultures with zoom lenses. Although once often forgotten by international press and buyers, brands are moving back to show here in spades, proving London’s commercial success.

Wear:

Tight, cropped trousers, a trophy sweatshirt over a classic shirt with plenty of jewellery, covered with an oversized, sporty coat in a block colour. Whilst girls might find heels tempting, Somerset House’s cobbles are a killer, so keep it traditional in high shine loafers or flashy trainers for a younger edge.

MILAN

milan fashion week

Where the budgets are as big as the heels. Living proof that sex sells.

Who:

Look at your shelf of perfumes, and those are your big Italian names. Think Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Armani for incredibly luxurious, money no object shows. Flamboyant characters abound at MFW, with the likes of Anna Dello Russo and Donatella Versace dressing to the nines and pushing the boundaries of botox respectively.

What:

The focus in Milan is on high end luxury, and selling some serious fashion. The world looks here for excess and opulence, with ongoing undertones of pure sex being provided season after season by brands like Versace and Roberto Cavalli. The word ‘Eurotrash’ often comes to mind. Whilst some designers are happy to tread the tackier path, others like Fendi go for sheer out and out exclusivity, with thousands of euros worth of fur being a staple. Above all, however, Prada and it’s diffusion line Miu Miu continue to be a guiding light of chic-ness that are definite highlights of fashion month as a whole.

Wear:

Ladies, it’s time to get your legs out and go for an asymmetric pencil skirt and colour-clash top, with bare legs and out-there heels, accessorised with blingy jewellery plus an oversized clutch. Add a fur gilet if you’re truly brave. Guys, go for traditional menswear with a flair: cropped trousers, well fitting blazers in a off kilter colour way and traditional shoes with a fashion edge are your friends.

PARIS

paris fashion week

The big one. Be prepared, as chic hits the fan.

Who:

The household names of high fashion like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are PFW schedule staples, making headlines around the world with extravagant shows and the highest of high end fashion. Personal favourites like Balenciaga (by Alexander Wang) and Givenchy (by Riccardo Tisci) bring fresh energy to marques anciennes, and British expats that simply refuse to come home such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney keep the line up on its toes.

What:

The spiritual home of fashion, and birthplace of couture, you can’t argue with Paris’ spot as the big closer of fashion month. Couture collections by the like of Dior, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier follow strict standards as set out by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the dynastic organisation that defines the standard of haute couture and keeps it separate from the riff raff of the ready to wear collections. All in all, expect Paris to wow and awe, in a supreme spectacle of fashion.

Wear:

None of this ‘edgy’ streetwear crap, this is a week that calls for polish and finesse. Guys, suiting is the way forward, but the cut needs to be up to the minute (very, very slim, but not Saint Laurent ‘skinny’) with sharp accessories, keeping the vibe fresh by going tie-less and working in a more casual shoe. Pour femme, channel Parisian spirit, and find the best fitting straight leg trousers you can, with immaculately classic heels, a detailed but simple shirt and bouclé jacket in a on-point colour and you’re set.