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The world's most fashion-conscious cities

For a couple of weeks every year, these places put on shows that inform the clothing choices of millions. While most of us won't be cozying up to designers and models, we still enjoy some people-watching.
Image: Cafe de Flore
When participants of Paris' fashion week aren't attending invitation-only events, they may be found in such iconic locales as Café de Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In global cities such as New York, Milan and Paris, fashion is as much a spectator sport as it is a serious industry. It's also a real window into what makes these places distinctive. What's considered minimalist cool in New York or Stockholm, for example, might come off as somewhat flat in a skin-showing, color-pop city like São Paulo. For just a couple of weeks every year, these towns put on shows that inform the clothing choices of millions.

While most of us won't be cozying up to designers and models at the catwalk events, we still enjoy a little people-watching now and then, and what better time to sit back with a cappuccino and a pair of binoculars than fashion week? We dished with fashion and street photographers around the globe to see where the style set perches their stilettos during fashion week, but we didn't stop there. Each of these spots is the place to be no matter what the season. Let the show begin!

, Sept. 8–15, 2011 & Feb. 9–16, 2012

Where to Hang Out: Hotel bars are the best people-watching spots during fashion week, says photographer Timothy Nazzaro, who divides his time between Manhattan and North Adams, Mass. He points to the bars at the Bowery Hotel and the Ace Hotel as sure bets for mingling with that quintessential New York style child, any day of the year.

The Scene: With events in London, Milan, and Paris following hot on its heels, New York's fashion week kicks off the global calendar of glam. The sea of white tents in Lincoln Center are the focus for fashion editors, photographers, journalists, and hangers-on of all stripes, with iconic designers like Carolina Herrera and Michael Kors holding court for the fashion faithful. Off-site venues — most of which aren't announced until the last minute — include hotels and art galleries in Chelsea. Spring 2011's fashion week featured shows on a concourse at Grand Central Station, in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel and even on a pop-up ice-skating rink at the Standard Hotel. Styles come and go in New York, as anywhere, but simple, tailored layers of black are always in fashion in Manhattan (pair with neutral accessories to add some pop).

, Sept. 16–20, 2011

Where to Hang Out: Spanish fashion magazines and multinational cosmetics companies host parties everywhere, from rooftop pools to city parks. After the organized events, Madrid fashion photographer Tanya Lacey recommends heading to Museo Chicote — not a museum, but rather a famous cocktail bar on the Gran Via where Ava Gardner used to sit around looking beautiful. With the same 1930s decor, it's a hit with the hip set at any time of year, but especially during fashion week.

The Scene: The diversity of Spanish design gets the spotlight in Madrid during the fall fashion show that preludes the winter, spring, and summer 2012 collections. Known as Cibeles, this is Spain's most important fashion week (the Barcelona event from Jan. 30–Feb. 3, 2012, is a close second), with more than 40 Spanish designers showing such diverse genres as the peasant look, inspired by Spain's countryside, and the beach-chic look of Ibiza. The Cool People event — a catwalk event with models cast from the streets of Madrid — is particularly fun. Davidelfin's styles are always a hit, and look for hip styles by young Valencian designer Elisa Palomino and Spanish bridal-wear guru Hannibal Laguna to make headlines, too. If you want to dress like a Madrid fashionista for the event, think this way: Spanish style is polished but never extravagant. Add a touch of bohemian to the mix, and you're good to go.

, Sept. 16–21, 2011 & Feb. 17–22, 2012

Where to Hang Out: The tony May Fair Hotel fills with fashion types for the week. A bottle-service VIP bar called 150 at the May Fair opened in January 2011 and has been luring the elite ever since, but you can also see the action play out from a more subdued perch at the May Fair Bar, known for its mojitos.

The Scene: One of the first of the big fashion weeks to follow New York's event, London's fall fashion week is considered somewhat less commercial than what goes down in the Big Apple. Iconic British designers such as Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood are present alongside rising talents, like Scottish designer Christopher Kane. Also look for a big buzz around Issa London — the label that rocketed to fame when Kate Middleton sported its sapphire frock upon announcing her engagement. As for London street style, it's all about incorporating a touch of the outlandish (brightly colored trousers are a current trend). Go bold, or go home.

, Sept. 21–27, 2011 & Feb. 22–28, 2012

Where to Hang Out: The Principe Bar at the old-world-opulent Hotel Principe di Savoia is always a gathering ground for the stylish. Plus, everyone is better looking surrounded by the Italian marble, precious fabrics and hand-made velvet decor.

The Scene: Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani, Missoni, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo. That's just the tip of the Italian-brand name-dropping iceberg at Milan's fashion week. All of Italy's legendary designers hit the country's fashion capital each fall and spring for one of the world's most important fashion events, bringing together 15,000 buyers and thousands of global journalists for more than 200 fashion shows and presentations. Scope out the city's best-dressed people in prime shopping districts such as the Via Monte Napoleone and the pedestrian zone at the Piazza del Duomo, the square around Milan's grand cathedral.

, Sept. 27–Oct. 5, 2011

Where to Hang Out: Most of the people that are a part of Paris' fashion week live in a bubble of nonstop events during the week. So if they're out and about outside of the big invitation-only events, it's bound to be somewhere that's iconic yet low-key, like Café de Flore in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Street photographer Eric Kim points to La Vielleuse, near the Belleville Métro exit, as a reliable, year-round people-watching haunt for its eccentric crowd, from the world-mix flowing out of the station to musicians, artists and models sipping espressos and talking shop.

The Scene: Paris' fall fashion shows, focused on spring/summer 2012 designs, follow just after those in New York, London and Milan. The latest creations by top design houses like Chanel and Dior draw the fashion world's crème de la crème, with seemingly every Hollywood starlet hopping the pond to see and be seen shopping in the world's fashion capital. Every big name French brand is present, from Miu Miu and Lanvin to Sonia Rykiel, Louis Vuitton and Jean Paul Gaultier, not to mention the major international couture labels, too. Fashion week in Paris is purely about theater, with nothing too over the top for the runway (buyers are then invited back to showrooms to see more wearable versions of what was on display). More international couturiers are said to attend Paris's fashion week than even those in New York, London and Milan. And with venues like the Palais-Royal and the Louvre hosting events, everything goes off with typical French flair.

, Oct. 16–20, 2011

Where to Hang Out: Tokyo fashion and lifestyle photographer Cassio Macambira says Roppongi Hills will be packed, as usual, during fashion week, but he prefers more chilled-out spots like Casa Nostra, a Mediterranean restaurant in Harajuku that draws the international travel-savvy crowd any day of the year. For serious club-style partying, beautiful faces and panoramic city views, head to Vanity Lounge in Roppongi, he says.

The Scene: It's been a terrible year for Japan, still very much recovering from the devastating tsunami (spring fashion week was cancelled). But there's good news on the fashion front with Mercedes-Benz's new partnership with Japan fashion week set to play out in Tokyo in October. Japanese designers are far from risk-adverse, and the Japanese public's insatiable thirst for new designs and brands keeps things evolving at lightening pace in Asia's most important fashion capital. Kawaii (Japanese for "cute") style still rules for young women's clothing. Fit in with Tokyo's trendsetters by sporting designs by prêt-à-porter label araisara, which fuses traditional oriental touches with contemporary fashion in the form of kimono-style dress coats and lots of silk. Other top Japanese labels to look out for: Facetasm and Miss Ashida.

, Jan. 29–Feb. 1, 2012

Where to Hang Out: The boutique hotel Berns Salonger hosts most of the fashion week events. But for good food and trendy people-watching before the official parties, Stockholm photographer Daniel Ohlsson recommends lisapåtorget restaurant and, later in the evening, Riche —a small bar where the art, fashion and club crowds converge year-round for strong cocktails, great DJ sets and style inspiration from their peers.

The Scene: The country that gave us Ikea and H&M knows a thing or two about looking good while keeping it practical. And while Swedish designers definitely step outside the box with daring designs, you can expect an emphasis on street and casual wear with simple lines at Stockholm's fashion week. Some 40 Swedish designers receive the limelight during fashion week through mostly invitation-only events. But their shops, of course, are always open to the public. Odd Molly's designs have a contemporary folkloric feel, with embroidery and layering influenced by international travels. Other leading Swedish designers who define the iconic Scandinavian look: Filippa K,Tiger of Sweden and Whyred.

, Feb. 1–5, 2012 & Aug. 1–5, 2012

Where to Hang Out: Copenhagen-based fashion photographer Simon B. Mørch recommends Sørens Værtshus, a stylish New Orleans–style pub in the old part of Copenhagen. It's here that the fashion and media crowds gather to chill in low-key surrounds that are conducive to both people-watching and conversation.

The Scene: Some 60,000 buyers from across Scandinavia and Europe and big-name fashion editors from Paris, New York and Milan descend on the Danish style capital every August and February to find out what's new in Nordic fashion. Shows are held everywhere from alfresco at Copenhagen's Royal Castle to inside City Hall. And while vanguard styles definitely get their due, there's an emphasis on sharp simple designs and value-for-money fashion, too. Take a cue from the effortless and wearable look that typifies Danish street fashion by dressing in layers with quirky bohemian touches, à la fringed boots and loosely tailored designs. Rising Danish fashion designer stars to look out for include Anne Sofie Madsen, Astrid Andersen and Silas Adler (Soulland).

, March 8–15, 2012

Where to Hang Out: Melbourne fashion photographer Andrew Maccoll says that Cookie, with its French doors and cute Juliet balconies, is a sure bet for spotting the "in" set thanks to the fabulous coffee by day and a happening lounge scene after dark.

The Scene: Sydney's summer fashion week may be showier. But the who's who of the Down Under fashion scene descends on Melbourne — Australia's fashion capital — every March for this carnival of catwalk strutting, collection debuts and cultural events, such as photography exhibitions that play out across the city. The big name Aussie designers — sass & bide and Lisa Ho — are present, and fashion students and emerging designers get their due here, too. An emerging Aussie label to check out is JASONGRECH, a fashion duo with a flagship store in Melbourne. And while pinpointing Australian style is elusive (the country's cultural melting pot is reflected in its acceptance of wide style influences), it usually manages a mix of unfussy but funky, fashion-forward yet practical and relaxed.

, June 13–18, 2012

Where to Hang Out: São Paulo fashion photographer Fernando Mazza says Spot, a bar and restaurant that's managed to stay au courant since its 1994 opening, is still the "spot," any night of the year. Cocooned in glass with shiny, happy (beautiful) people everywhere, it's in full swing during fashion week.

The Scene: South America's biggest fashion week draws A-list Hollywood names (Ashton Kutcher made an appearance at the most recent event, and native daughter Gisele Bündchen has made the rare return to the runway here, too) to Brazil's style capital for envelope-pushing designs that only a country as culturally colorful as this one could put forth. Major Brazilian designers like Ricardo Almeida and Colcci do the catwalk thing at the Biennial, the modern-art museum where the bulk of São Paulo's fashion week plays out. And other top Brazilian designers include Triton and Osklen. No surprise that that oh-so-Brazilian wardrobe staple, the bikini, always gets much attention, especially the daring-but-flattering designs from Rosa Cha and Lenny. And if you're looking for some São Paulo fashion tips, Paulistanos go for an eclectic look — think color-blocking (pairing bold primaries and even neons) and the ever-present long flowing skirt as a South American style icon. Oh, and skin. Lots of skin.

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