The field of fashion in the digital age

Insights from global and ‘not-so-global’ fashion centres

Fashion is one of the oldest industries, yet it is also the most versatile and innovative. Fashion covers a range of activities, including design, production, distribution, and consumption. These activities are affected by various influences, one of them being technological developments. Dr. Mariangela Lavanga (ESHCC) co-authored a chapter for the book Culture, Creativity and Economy. The chapter focuses on the field of fashion in the digital age with insights from global and ‘not-so-global’ fashion centres.

The book Culture, Creativity and Economy proposes three types of tensions that acknowledge and engage with the messy and restless nature of the creative economy, instead of focusing on the specific processes like productions, industries or locations. The two tensions used in the chapter by Mariangela Lavanga and her colleagues are understood as the tension between tradition and innovation and the tension between isolated and interconnected spaces of creativity. Using these tensions, Mariangela Lavanga and her colleagues were able to examine the system of actors that are involved in creating the aesthetics of fashion and its field. In doing so, they adopt a dynamic approach that considers the diversity of ‘fields’ associated with different fashion centres (from the ‘global’ to the ‘not-so-global’) and the constellation of sites withing each field (including manufacturing, marketing and consumption).

Their research consisted of a mixed methods approach in which they used textual analysis and interviews with a wide range of respondents. The respondents consisted of fashion designers (including small independent designers as well as designers employed by larger fashion houses) and other actors in the field, such as those working in fashion education, retail, criticism, public relations, government, trade fairs and so on.


Mariangela Lavanga and her colleagues illustrate how digitalisation continues to shape cultural and creative industries, including fashion. Digital technologies have transformed the field of fashion at different scales and in different geographic contexts, with implications for the structure, power relations and spatiality of the field. Digital fashion shows, bloggers, online stores and social media have disrupted the old system. Whereas London, Milan, New York and Paris, still hold power in the hierarchy of most important and influential cities in the fashion field, other cities are implementing ways of standing out more. Through digital fashion weeks or a specific focus, they are able to assert their own identities and networks whilst developing niche positions within the global fashion hierarchy. Examples of these cities are Montreal and Amsterdam. Montreal holds a strong local buyer-designer connection with independent boutiques and local fashion media giving special recognition to local talent. Montreal designers also established strong relationships with other art fields in the city like graphic design and performing arts. Amsterdam is actually developing itself as the denim capital of Europe, the city hosts various events regarding denim fashion and is positioning itself as an important player in the field.

Through technology, fashion becomes more accessible for larger audiences. Designers are able to take the audience backstage and to easily reach people from all over the world. They can either do this themselves, or this is done through bloggers. Even though, small and bigger actors in fashion are now able to reach a larger, more global, audience, the research of Mariangela Lavanga and her colleagues does reveal that place continues to play an important role in the fashion industry. The resources, social connections and historic and aesthetic associations that make a ‘place’ are also elements that are integrated in different fashion sub-fields. Examples of this are the local aesthetics found in different places, like swimwear in Miami, sports and ecowear in Portland and Vancouver, or cold weather apparel in Toronto and Montreal.

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