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Paris vs. Milan: The Battle for Fashion Capital of Europe

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Paris vs. Milan: The Historical Clash of Europe’s Fashion Capitals

Some names never go out of style: Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent.

But have you ever wondered why?

Two Words: FASHION WEEK.

International hype for the fashion industry has been sketched, stitched, and sewn into the very fabric of fashion week, a runway event that displays the latest fashion trends and keeps the names of fashion icons like Coco Chanel alive.

But it hasn’t always been like that.

We have to travel back in time to the 16th and 18th centuries to uncover the secrets behind the importance of the fashion industry, a time when two of the greatest fashion capitals in the Western world took root: Paris and Milan.

But wait, there’s more…

Keep Reading and You Will Discover:

  • How these two European capitals became modern super magnets for high-fashion
  • The oh-so-chic history behind these great fashion empires  

And the most important question of them all…

  • Which city holds the crown as “most fashion-forward” today?

Let us walk you down the runway of history behind these fashion week foes.

Paris vs. Milan Fashion: Age-Old Fashion Rivals

Paris vs. Milan: Historical Clash of Europe’s Fashion Capitals

From the Baroque period to the Victorian era, it is no secret that admiration for fashion has been deep-rooted in European culture for centuries.

And no one can deny the fact that Paris and Milan are two of the most quintessential high-fashion centers for the industry.

But which city can boast bragging rights for hosting the most haute couture and up-to-date fashion trends?

Throughout history, France and Italy have competed to be the #1 fashion capital of Europe. But it wasn’t until the first-ever fashion week was created in New York in 1943 in the midst of WWII that the true rivalry began!  

20th Century Battle Over Beauty: Haute Couture vs. Alta Moda

After the first fashion week debuted in the U.S., these age-old rivals fought to take the first slice of international fame for their own renditions of fashion week.

Paris beat Milan to the punch by creating its very own Haute Couture shows in 1945. The term Haute Couture literally means high (or elevated) sewing and is one of many English words borrowed from French, and today it means expensive, fashionable clothes.

However, Milan actually crossed the fashion week finish line first by taking their Alta Moda (high fashion) to the very first Milan Fashion Week in 1958.

Almost two decades later, Paris finally caught up with Milan in 1973 when they arranged their semi-annual Paris Fashion Week. Paris and Milan were extremely successful in their endeavors and created some of the most notable names in fashion history.  

Nowadays, both Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week attract millions of fashionistas, buyers, and journalists from around the world.

You may still be wondering…

  • Why is Paris a fashion capital?
  • What makes Milan so popular?
  • How did these two cities become some of the most famous fashion capitals in the world in the first place?

We’re glad you asked! Keep reading to learn how Paris and Milan became the fashion giants they are today.

French Fashion Industry: A Brief 18th Century History  

The city of love, the city of romance.

And now… the city of fashion?  

We associate Paris with words like la mode and très chic.

Why? Because although Parisians didn’t invent fashion, they were the first to make an INDUSTRY out of it.

Under King Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715), France gained a tremendous amount of wealth and became one of the most powerful nations in the Western hemisphere. The aristocracy was able to indulge their riches in ornate architecture, the arts, and fashion.

Because France was so tremendously wealthy, their culture had a major impact on Europe and many other nations controlled by the empire. This, in turn, made Parisian fashion very well-known and desirable.

Everyone Wants to Be “À La Mode”

For centuries, Parisian fashion and culture were imported across Europe, Eurasia, and North America.

Take St. Petersburg, Russia for example. When the city was built by Peter the Great in 1703, he adopted the Parisian high-fashion style in every shape and form.

From splendid powdered wigs to baroque Robe à la Française dresses, his aristocracy wore them all.

Why?

Because Peter the Great saw Paris as a prime example of Western sophistication and style. By dressing his officials in French-inspired garb, he had high hopes that St. Petersburg would also be associated with Western power.

Fast forward over 300 years to today and the French still have fashionistas everywhere knocking at their doors!

Parisian Fashion Today: Fashion Faux Pas or Oh La La?  

Although the fashion trends have drastically changed (no worries – you do not have to wear Marie Antoinette’s corset collection), Paris is still ranked as one of the most famous fashion-forward capitals in the world.

Oh la la, indeed.

Names that embody French fashion today include Dior, Givenchy, Chanel, and Azzaro Couture.

Wondering How to Dress Like a Parisian?

In Paris today, simplicity, modesty and natural beauty are in. For women, a blush pink top, an accent necklace or scarf, and a well-tailored pair of pants will win the favor of Parisians everywhere.

For men, a trim and tasteful pair of black pants with leather shoes and a solid colored top will do the trick.

Milan: The Making of Italy’s Fashion Capital

So the French made an industry out of fashion… Where does that leave Italy? Why is Milan so popular?

To uncover the answer, you must travel back in time to almost 500 years ago… all the way to the 16th century, when Milan was the ORIGINAL fashion capital of the world.

You heard us right, Milan was the first to host the trendiest, most luxurious styles the world had to offer.

This is where it gets interesting…

Why is Milan the Oldest Fashion Capital?

Milan became a fashion center in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as Venice’s glass-making business was booming and the Italian Renaissance was taking roots in Florence.

The Italians always put an emphasis on quality of fabric and luxury experiences, which still is very much present today not only in fashion but in their high-end brands of sports cars (i.e. Ferrari) and yacht manufacturers (i.e. Ferretti). The Milanese prided themselves on their incredibly rich textile creation.

That is until disaster struck in the mid-1800s. When silk became cheaper to import from Asia and the phylloxera infestation started eating away at Italian wine and silk, Milan turned to industrialization – metal and furniture factories.  

Then, in 1865, the first department store opened, completely revolutionizing and modernizing clothing distribution of clothing from small tailors to wide-scale production.

Florence Was More Fashion Forward?

But did you know that Milan wasn’t actually crowned the official fashion capital of Italy until 1979?

You read that correctly… Florence, Italy was actually considered the most famous fashion city in Italy during the early 20th century.

However, eyes turned back to Milan in the late 70s when their style became elegant yet more affordable for the world to indulge in.  

Today, Italy is still highly regarded for the quality and craftsmanship of their fashion products, particularly for their leather.

Where to Find the Latest Fashion Trends in Milan

Fashion Week Milan Spring Summer 2020

Want to update your wardrobe with the finest trends in fashion? Take a trip to Via Montenapoleone, the most well-known street in Milan’s fashion district.

Once there, you will find yourself face to face with some of Italy’s most famous and influential trendsetters. Gucci, Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Louis Vuitton are to name a few.

Dress to impress with the simple Milanese style – solid colors, well-tailored pants or a simple pencil skirt, and a pop of color in the form of a scarf, Italian-leather shoes, or an accent purse.

You will surely catch the eye of any Alta Moda expert strutting the streets. Bellissimo!

Clash of the Capitals: Paris or Milan?

The oldest fashion capital of the world vs. the wealthiest fashion superpower of the 18th century, who will be crowned the “most-fashion forward” European capital?

And the winner is…

Paris! For now.

According to the Global Language Monitor’s Annual Fashion Capital survey, Paris won the #1 position as Global Fashion Capital of the world in 2015. Although the stats change every year, Paris still consistently ranks higher than Milan.

Voilà, c’est très chic!

How to Travel in Style: Learn the Language  

Planning a trip to Paris or Milan for fashion week? Don’t commit a faux pas by not knowing the language. Travel in style and learn how to speak French or learn Italian skills with Pimsleur. Try a free week of our subscription service to get started.

Looking for more European fashion? Check out street fashion in Spain, one of Europe’s hottest fashion destinations.

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