Small fashion weeks—basically anything but New York, London, Milan and Paris—will always, per definition, fight an uphill battle. Without any prospect of ever joining the top four, these events are stuck paying travel and accommodation for international press and buyers to ensure attendance. In theory, that’s fine. Paid-for press trips are common and many poor publishing houses rely on them to afford sending out writers and editors. And just as there’s an hierarchy within the four established fashion weeks, there’s an unofficial ranking for the smaller ones. Stockholm, Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Seoul, to mention a few, are among the ones attracting the most visitors. They are deemed interesting because a) a growing amount of up and coming designers with forward pushing aesthetics hail from these countries and b) successful native brands are already showing in established fashion weeks. South Korea, for example, has three menswear brands showing on the Paris menswear schedule. This means international press already know the country and its design potential. Hence a trip to Seoul Fashion Week could in theory be worth the 13 hour flight.
The other reason for going to these smaller fashion weeks is, to be honest, the prospect of free travel to a foreign country with flight, hotel and food taken care. But it’s not fair to call these trips holidays as a fair amount of work (going to shows) is expected of you. Some might say: You call that work? Well, it is. Anyone who has completed a season on the road knows the amount of endurance, perseverance, early mornings, late nights, long days and waiting around that’s expected of you. That’s not to say there are moments of glamour, excitement and pure fashion, of course.
The problem many small national fashion weeks face is that they don’t know how to market themselves. It’s an image issue, but also—on a deeper level—a question of DNA. Who are they and who are they showing to; who’s the audience? I’ve especially noticed this problem in southeast Asian fashion weeks. The domestic market is completely different to what European and American customers expect and want. Therefore the collections and shows are targeted to please local buyers and press. In Seoul, I sat through 30 minute long shows with designers parading their T-shirts in every colour available. One of them even divided up the show in three parts and had live piano sessions in between them. That way of working might suit them, but for me—who didn’t even know the designer—that was completely useless.
This is not to say they should change too much; they need to keep their USP, whatever makes them special, as otherwise they will appear bland and won’t be able to compete internationally anyway. As always, fashion is rarely black and white, metaphorically speaking. It’s grey, there is no right or wrong. I will continue going to the smaller ones, always looking for new and exciting designers… and another weird and exotic country to tick off on my list. Next stop, Ukraine.