A Fashion-Forward Travel Guide to Paris, Milan and Tokyo

These three cities are international fashion epicenters for a wealth of reasons

Paris is often considered the fashion capital of the world. © 2020 Getty Images

Paris is often considered the fashion capital of the world. © 2020 Getty Images

In the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada,” Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, corrects a bemused Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, when Sachs disparages the frivolity of the fashion industry. To recap Priestly’s scathing yet cool-as-a-cucumber takedown: Like it or not, fashion is omnipresent, and it has the power to influence even the most unwilling. This impact extends to many corners of the world, where fashion is often a dynamic force in a destination’s society, economy and history.

What’s more, fashion can serve as a window into local culture, allowing travelers to observe not only what’s new and hot — or haute, if you will — but also witness the expertise and creativity of designers, trendsetters and artists.

Fashion isn’t just about clothing, says Leah Van Loon, a longtime stylist and owner of Fashion Experience Tours in Paris.

“Fashion is also the expression of a society at a particular time,” she said. “It is reflected in art, architecture and more. A lot of people think that fashion has nothing to do with them; but, in fact, it is an aspect of history that people may overlook. It’s a really good way to understand where we’ve come from, and where we are.”

“Fashion is also the expression of a society at a particular time. It is reflected in art, architecture and more. A lot of people think that fashion has nothing to do with them; but, in fact, it is an aspect of history that people may overlook. It’s a really good way to understand where we’ve come from, and where we are.”
Leah Van Loon, stylist and owner of Fashion Experience Tours

The following cities are known and celebrated for their distinct ties to the ever-evolving fashion industry. Here’s what clients should see and do, all through the lens of style.


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The wall of muslins at Musee des Arts Decoratifs' Christian Dior exhibition is called "Dior, Couturier of Dreams." © 2020 Chris Sattlegger/Fashion Experience Tours

A flower-making atelier hand-paints petals. © 2020 Chris Sattlegger/Fashion Experience Tours

The wall of muslins at Musee des Arts Decoratifs' Christian Dior exhibition is called "Dior, Couturier of Dreams." © 2020 Chris Sattlegger/Fashion Experience Tours

A flower-making atelier hand-paints petals. © 2020 Chris Sattlegger/Fashion Experience Tours

PARIS

For many years, the City of Lights has held the title of the world's style capital. This designation harks back to when Louis XIV of France reigned from 1638 to 1715. Nicknamed the “Sun King,” he used his power and influence to bring fashion and all that it encompasses — from clothing and jewelry to textiles and furniture — to the forefront of a soon-to-be flourishing local economy. (To understand his taste, consider the extravagant Palace of Versailles that was once a decrepit hunting lodge but later transformed under his direction.)

It’s easy to call to mind some of the biggest contemporary industry names when it comes to Paris, too, as the city is a constellation of prolific designers. Coco Chanel opened her first shop in Paris in 1910, and in late 1947, Christian Dior founded his eponymous fashion house in the city, as well.

What to Do
Haute couture (“high dressmaking” in English) wouldn’t exist without Paris. In 1858, with his customized, exclusive designs for wealthy Parisians, English couturier Charles Frederick Worth conceptualized haute couture. The term is even protected by French law.

This spring, Palais Galliera will reopen following a major renovation, and its Haute Couture collection is a must-see. More than 7,000 couture pieces, including evening gowns, will demonstrate the creative genius behind Paris’ couture houses. More panache awaits at Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which reopens next month with a special exhibition dedicated to fashion icon and muse Betty Catroux. The museum explores the late Parisian designer’s artistic aptitude, in addition to the elaborate demands and details of haute couture design.

www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr
www.museeyslparis.com

Where to Stay
Go big or go home by booking the Les Grands Appartements signature suites at Hotel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel. Designed by the late Karl Lagerfeld, the two fourth-floor suites reflect the legendary designer’s sophistication.

The suites reflect Karl Lagerfeld's personal interpretation of French chic and modernity. © 2020 Hotel de Crillon

The suites reflect Karl Lagerfeld's personal interpretation of French chic and modernity. © 2020 Hotel de Crillon

Among the showstopping details are a 2-ton hand-carved Carrera marble bathtub; Baccarat chandeliers; and nods to Choupette, Lagerfeld’s cherished feline. Housed in a historic building constructed in 1758, the 78-room hotel reopened in 2017 after an extensive four-year restoration.

www.rosewoodhotels.com

Hire an Expert
Though based in Calgary, Alberta, Van Loon of Fashion Experience Tours frequently travels to Paris for extended periods of time, whether for styling work, for play or to lead her company’s specialty tours. For seven days, she shows a small group (no more than 10 participants) the chicest parts of Paris, as they dip into couture ateliers, visit with textile artists and appreciate the latest exhibitions.

www.fashionexperiencetours.com


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Fondazione Prada (Prada Foundation) was once the site of a 20th-century gin distillery; today, it is a respected multidisciplinary art complex. © 2020 Creative Commons user Fred Romero

Fondazione Prada (Prada Foundation) was once the site of a 20th-century gin distillery; today, it is a respected multidisciplinary art complex. © 2020 Creative Commons user Fred Romero

MILAN

Fashion has long been interwoven into the tapestry of Italian culture. It flourished during the extravagance of the Renaissance period, when exaggerated styles made from luxe materials were favored. However, the country’s fashion industry truly found its footing following World War II. The Marshall Plan — an American initiative passed in 1948 — was an economic driving force behind the rebirth of Italy’s mostly family-run textile industry. Silk, velvet, wool, fur and leather were suddenly back in high demand, resulting in newfound prosperity and creative freedom.

A stylish duo in Milan © 2020 Creative Commons user emurga

A stylish duo in Milan © 2020 Creative Commons user emurga

Italian fashion house Sorelle Fontana opened in Rome in 1943, and later attracted the admiration of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and other Hollywood royalty. Another turning point was the nation’s first-ever fashion show in 1951, hosted by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini at his private residence in Florence. The fine craftsmanship displayed on the runway mesmerized American buyers and journalists, who then spread the word about Italy’s wearable designs.

Despite Italian style’s roots in cities such as Rome and Florence, Milan is considered the prima donna. Milan Fashion Week, launched in 1958, is one of the “Big Four” fashion weeks (alongside London, Paris and New York). Major fashion houses such as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Moschino were founded and are still headquartered in the city.

Vogue Italia is based in Milan, as well, and is known for its provocative point of view. (For its January 2020 issue, Vogue Italia omitted original photography — meaning no photo shoots, less waste and a lighter carbon footprint — in favor of illustrations as part of its pledge toward sustainability.)

What to Do
In the last decade, Milan has seen a regeneration of its arts and fashion scene, including more than 10 new museums. Of note is the permanent venue of cultural organization Fondazione Prada (Prada Foundation), open since 2015. Dutch architectural firm OMA converted an early 20th-century gin distillery (and added three new buildings) into a multidisciplinary art complex. Fondazione Prada Milano’s landmark is the “Haunted House,” which has original exterior walls gilded in 24-carat gold leaf.

Film buffs will love Bar Luce, designed by American film director Wes Anderson. Embodying a typical 1950s Milanese cafe (jukeboxes and terrazzo floors included), Bar Luce also is reminiscent of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a major shopping landmark in Milan.

www.fondazioneprada.org

Where to Stay
Following the brand’s inaugural property in Dubai, Armani Hotels & Resorts’ Milan location opened its doors in 2011 to a trendy clientele. Set in Quadrilatero della Moda — Milan’s popular, high-end fashion district — Armani Hotel Milano prides itself on rapt attention to detail. That includes sumptuous design, from elegant Armani/Casa furnishings to a minimalist aesthetic (think polished black marble and cream leather seating).

The Milan hotel is the second location for Armani Hotels & Resorts. © 2020 Armani Hotel Milano

The Milan hotel is the second location for Armani Hotels & Resorts. © 2020 Armani Hotel Milano

If clients like what they see, they can commission custom-made pieces at the nearby Armani/Casa flagship store. Still not enough Armani? They can visit the Armani/Silos museum, which displays some 600 clothing and accessory pieces created by designer Giorgio Armani himself.

www.armanihotelmilano.com
www.armanisilos.com

Hire an Expert
There’s something for every type of style guru through an excursion with operator Milano Fashion Tour. Founder Leandro Diana says he felt honored by how the “Made in Italy” designation is respected internationally and, as a result, wanted to offer a firsthand look into Milan’s more obscure fashion ateliers. Unique experiences include observing a private runway show, creating a personal fragrance and browsing the latest fashions with a personal shopper.

www.milanofashiontour.com


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Japan is well-known for its Harajuku street style. © 2020 Creative Commons user kungfuji

The multilevel Dover Street Market Ginza is a must-see shopping destination for fans of Comme des Garcons. © 2020 Creative Commons user chinnian

The upmarket Ginza district features high-end stores such as Lanvin. © 2020 Creative Commons user naoyafujii

Japan is well-known for its Harajuku street style. © 2020 Creative Commons user kungfuji

The multilevel Dover Street Market Ginza is a must-see shopping destination for fans of Comme des Garcons. © 2020 Creative Commons user chinnian

The upmarket Ginza district features high-end stores such as Lanvin. © 2020 Creative Commons user naoyafujii

TOKYO

Style in Tokyo is all about marching — or, rather, sashaying — to the beat of one’s own drum. And in a city as energetic and stimulating as Japan’s capital, it’s no surprise that the fashion landscape has heaping doses of personality, too.

Japanese fashion has come a long way from the Heian period, when the iconic kimono was first introduced. In the years thereafter, the garment continued to evolve, with modifications including the use of opulent materials and artistic motifs. But, in time, the local dress code also leaned into Western influences, especially after WWII; business suits became typical attire for men, and women turned to more practical wear such as monpe (Japanese work trousers).

Today, the city’s creative set explores self-expression through its outfit choices, and norm-breaking street fashion reigns supreme. There’s the famed Harajuku style, which encompasses playful school uniforms paired with kawaii (cute) accessories; manga- and anime-inspired cosplay costumes; “Dark Lolita” or Victoria-era fashion; the feminine “Sweet Lolita” approach; and more. Other Japanese hallmarks include avant-garde details, unstructured silhouettes and gender-fluid pieces. At the top of the fashion class is Comme des Garcons. Founded by the ingenious Rei Kawakubo in 1969, the Tokyo-based fashion house is revered for pushing boundaries in design.

What to Do
Shopping is eclectic in Tokyo, from the uber-trendy, underground retailers of the Shibuya neighborhood to the specialty boutiques in historical Asakusa. But if time permits only one shopping spree, the Ginza district triumphs with its posh brands and the fabulous Dover Street Market Ginza — a multilevel concept store with Comme des Garcons items displayed like fine art. Here, clients will discover several establishments peddling kimonos; however, Ginza Motoji is approved by Vogue for good reason. Open since 1979, the family-owned business transforms locally sourced silk into wearable, modern masterpieces. (Note: Custom kimonos require at least a week for production, and finished products can be shipped internationally.)

Garment-focused museums are few and far between in Tokyo. Luckily, Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum offers abundant inspiration for style connoisseurs. Affiliated with Educational Foundation Bunka Gakuen, Tokyo’s esteemed fashion school, the museum holds four themed exhibitions each year. Expect Japanese fashion including noh (classic Japanese dance-drama) ensembles, as well as concepts from around the world. (The museum’s European Mode exhibition will run from March 11 until May 20, and will feature European dresses linked to political, economic and social factors.)

ginza.doverstreetmarket.com
www.motoji.co.jp
museum.bunka.ac.jp

Where to Stay
High-profile fashion designers have yet to leave their mark on the Tokyo hotel scene, but there’s still no shortage of impossibly chic properties — and Hoshinoya Tokyo is especially coveted. From afar, the 84-room hotel appears camouflaged amid other tall buildings in Otemachi’s frenetic financial district.

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Guests are asked to remove their shoes at the 84-room Hoshinoya Tokyo, which is inspired by the traditonal Japanese ryokan. © 2020 Hoshino Resorts

Guests are asked to remove their shoes at the 84-room Hoshinoya Tokyo, which is inspired by the traditonal Japanese ryokan. © 2020 Hoshino Resorts

A more intimate look reveals that the luxury hotel has all the makings of a one-of-a-kind, urban ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn): Shoes are removed at the entrance, kimonos are provided, and sandalwood-scented relaxation is guaranteed. Not to mention, the sanctuary has its own open-air onsen (hot spring), with vitalizing mineral water sourced from almost 5,000 feet below the city.

www.hoshinoya.com

Hire an Expert
Harajuku Kawaii Tour guides clad in “Sweet Lolita” and other Harajuku attire lead clients around the quirky neighborhood for the best in fashion, food and fun. Itineraries promise photo opportunities (including lots of pink-hued backgrounds) and sensory stops such as Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku, where everything — including food and drinks — is over the top.

www.harajuku-kawaii-tour.com


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