Andrew Burton / Reuters

The places with a disproportionate impact on what gets made, admired, and sold.

Fashion week kicked off in New York City this week. And shoppers in cities across the world celebrated Fashion’s Night Out yesterday. So it’s a good time to look at the world's leading cities for fashion and fashion design, places with a disproportionate impact on what gets made, admired, and sold.

The Global Language Monitor (GLM), a media-analytics company based in Austin, Texas, released this year’s rankings for the top fashion capitals of the world yesterday (see the table below). GLM’s rankings track language usage from the Internet, blogs, and news media, as well as social media platforms such as Twitter.

London, England, tops the list for the second year in a row, besting New York which lost the spot in 2010. GLM’s fashion director, Bekka Payack, explained that “London's two-year run has been has been propelled by the confluence of two rather extraordinary circumstances: the emergence of the former Kate Middleton as a top fashion icon, and the recent completion of what have been hailed as an extremely successful Summer Olympics.” 

British fashion showcased at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Phil Noble / Reuters)

Barcelona tops Paris for third and Madrid is fifth, giving Spain two cities in the top ten. The United States also has two top ten cities, with Los Angeles taking ninth place, as does Italy, which has Rome in sixth and Milan in eighth. Italy is the only country with three cities in the top 20 (Florence is in 16th place).

Of the 55 on this year’s list, Antwerpen, Belgium, saw the biggest gain, climbing 33 places from last year to take 11th place. Mexico City, ranked 22nd last year, fell to 47th place in 2012, the largest loss.

Top 20 Global Fashion Cities

2012 Rank City 2011 Rank 2011 to 2012 Change
1 London, England 1 0
2 New York, U.S. 2 0
3 Barcelona, Spain 7 +4
4 Paris, France 3 -1
5 Madrid, Spain 12 +7
6 Rome, Italy 13 +7
7 Sao Paulo, Brazil 25 18
8 Milan, Italy 4 -4
9 Los Angeles, U.S. 5 -4
10 Berlin, Germany 10 0
11 Antwerpen, Belgium 44 +33
12 Hong Kong, China 6 -6
13 Buenos Aires, Argentina 20 +7
14 Bali, Indonesia 21 +7
15 Sydney, Australia 11 -4
16 Florence, Italy 31 +15
17 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 23 +6
18 Johannesburg, South Africa 41 +23
19 Singapore 8 -11
20 Tokyo, Japan 9 -11

Table data courtesy of the Global Language Monitor

It's interesting to note the ascendance of London and New York to the top ranks of fashion, beating out the established centers of fashion and fashion design, Paris and Milan. London and New York rank as the world's leading financial centers and most economically powerful cities. What this seems to reflect is a shift in fashion away from historical centers of cutting-edge design and to the large markets, related industries, and global affluence found in these two superstar cities.

Among U.S. cities, only New York and L.A. make the global top 20, but we wanted to look at how fashion designers are spread out and concentrated across America's cities. To do so, we turned to Rob Sentz of the Economic Modeling Specialists who has a unique database on both employed and self-employed fashion designers based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, among other sources.

Sentz narrowed his search to the top 50 largest U.S. metros (all with populations over one million people) and ranked them according to their location quotients, a commonly used measure of a region's relative concentration of an occupation or industry. A location quotient of 1 means the industry or occupation matches the national average, a location quotient of 2 is double that, and so on. The Martin Prosperity Institute’s Zara Matheson mapped the data.

Map by MPI's Zara Matheson

Here’s how the top 20 U.S. metros stack up in terms of their number of fashion designers, location quotient, and median earnings for fashion designers.

Top 20 Large Metros for Fashion Designers

Rank Metro No. of Total Fashion Designers Median Hourly Earnings Location Quotient
1 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 6,825 $34.40 4.84
2 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 3,641 $33.75 3.82
3 Columbus, OH 518 $26.69 3.37
4 Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN 282 $30.59 2.13
5 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 540 $35.13 1.55
6 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 239 $27.65 1.36
7 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 262 $29.39 1.11
8 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 329 $30.29 1.10
9 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 160 $22.13 0.97
10 Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 107 $25.27 0.95
11 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 147 $27.55 0.94
12 Jacksonville, FL 87 $30.67 0.89
13 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 343 $28.33 0.84
14 Raleigh-Cary, NC 71 $27.90 0.81
15 Kansas City, MO-KS 118 $22.79 0.72
16 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 62 $29.65 0.71
17 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 63 $30.90 0.70
18 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 256 $25.82 0.67
19 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 136 $22.75 0.63
20 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 64 $33.25 0.62

Table data courtesy of EMSI

New York, not surprisingly, is first and L.A. second. This pattern is similar to the more general one for arts, media and entertainment, and music, in which these two superstar cities also dominate.

But some surprises follow. Columbus, Ohio, is third. Its high ranking likely reflects its position as the headquarters of Limited Brands, the parent company of Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and Henri Bendel. Nashville is fourth. Nashville of course is a leading music center, and musicians and fashion have long been connected. Geographer Brian Hracs describes the relationship between independent designers and musicians this way:

In the highly competitive marketing landscape, therefore, fashion designers and firms need to develop creative and innovative marketing tools to get their brands and products noticed and this intensifies the need for indie fashion designers to collaborate with musicians.

In the music industry the growing impetus for musicians to collaborate with fashion designers stems from the need to differentiate their products on the basis of something other than sound.

San Francisco, home of the headquarters for Levi Strauss & Co. and Gap Inc. (which owns The Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime), comes in fifth place. In eighth place is Seattle, home of the department store Nordstrom. Both are also leading high-tech industry centers, with large concentrations of the creative class and high degrees of affluence.*

In terms of earnings, however, San Francisco designers earn slightly more than elsewhere in the country, with median hourly earnings of $35.13 — 73 cents more than the median in New York and $1.38 more than L.A. Fashion design remains centered in America's most expensive, highest-cost cities — New York, L.A., and San Francisco.

Fashion has become increasingly intertwined with city status, domestically and globally according to recent studies. The growing competition among global cities for fashion and design as well as finance and commerce is detailed by Christopher Breward and David Gilbert in their book, Fashion's World Cities:

The idea of the fashion city is now a feature of the global competition between cities, and has become a part of broader strategies of metropolitan boosterism that give prominence to what have become known as the ‘cultural industries.’…Permutations of [London, Paris, New York, Milan and Tokyo] and a few others have been routinely incorporated into the advertising of high fashion, after the name of a designer or brand, or etched into the glass of a shop window. In some cases the name of the fashion capital is incorporated into a brand name itself (as perhaps most famously in the case of DKNY – Donna Karan New York).

One only needs to look as far as the first 50 or so pages of any of the September fashion magazines to see this happening. The advertisements for Donna Karan New York, for instance, frequently feature models on busy city streets or near taxis. Chanel often shoots waif-like models in Parisian-looking houses, versus Tommy Hilfiger’s models nearly always look like they’re at a tailgate party at Harvard or Yale. Sociologist Harvey Molotch dubs the connection between product and location “place in product,” and notes in his 2003 book, Where Stuff Comes Fromthat one must look at "how all the realms that do make up a place — aesthetic, social, material, natural, technical and all the rest — interact differently in one spot compared to another."

Advertisement from DKNY's Fall 2012 campaign, courtesy of DKNY.

On both the global and national scale, fashion design is overwhelmingly concentrated in superstar cities — London, New York, Paris, L.A., and others. This isn't surprising for those who follow the industry, or anyone who has picked up a recent issue of Vogue, for that matter. Fashion and fashion designers both cluster around leading design centers with the best talent, design schools, and fashion magazines, but also increasingly in the world's largest and most affluent cities, which have the biggest markets for their products.

Top image: Andrew Burton / Reuters

*Correction: An earlier version misstated in the text that San Francisco ranks fourth and Seattle ranks fifth. As the table shows, San Francisco ranks fifth and Seattle ranks eighth.


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