Tour the Runway

If you are addicted to Project Runway, if you devour the fall fashion issue of Vogue, if you have an account with Bag, Borrow or Steal (a website where a monthly fee allows you to “borrow” designer handbags and jewelry), if you and your friends have arguments over the efficaciousness of skinny jeans (or boyfriend jeans, or low cut jeans, …), or if you simply love fashion and all that goes along with it, it may be time to look into booking a fashion/shopping tour.

What is a fashion or shopping tour, you ask? A fashion/shopping tour is a planned tour through the fashion districts, shopping districts, fashion museums, and other fashion-oriented hot spots that a region has to offer. If you can think of a major city, it is certain to have a fashion culture, and a fashion tour will give you an up close and personal look at a city’s fashion culture. The culture changes quickly, and whatever is popular in these cities is soon reflected in retail stores and outlets everywhere. Fashion tours aren’t just for the shopper, however. They are also a great educational opportunity for students studying art design and other aspects of the creative world, such as cosmetology. If you’re a student, a fashion tour can open up your eyes to the variety of jobs available in the industry and even possibly introduce you to contacts for future jobs.

Want more? Read on!

While most cities have some sort of fashion district, there are certain cities known as the fashion capitals of the world.

Florence & Milan – These two cities are world renowned for their influence on fashion, and tourists often combine visits to the two places into one trip. In Florence, you can visit one of the many museums that showcase fashion and textiles, such as the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. This museum houses a collection that showcases the designer’s contributions to fashion worldwide. Visits to the POLIMODA International Institute of Fashion Design & Marketing, the Italian Academy and various designers’ studios are all on the must-visit list in this fabulous city. And no fashion expedition to Florence would be complete without visiting the marvelous shopping districts. The designer fashion outlets are not to be missed: Prada, Valentino, Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and many other designers have outlets for their top fashions where travelers can see the latest styles before they are distributed worldwide.

In Milan, you’ll find many similar museums and designer studios. Also, the Via Montenapoleone is one of the most famous fashion shopping streets in the world for luxury designer outlets. In addition to touring the top fashion districts, you will also experience the amazing restaurants of the region. In Italy where the love of food is so immersed in the culture, it is difficult to separate the fashion and cuisine industries.

Paris – The City of Lights is also the city of high fashion. Channel, Christian Dior, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton and many other famous designers are all at the heart of Paris fashion. Many fashion tours available in Paris. Tours geared strictly for serious shoppers can take you to designer studios and private fashion shows.

Shoppers who don’t have impressive buying power still have plenty of other options. A tour of the many museums dedicated to Paris’s fashion culture could keep a fashionista busy for days. Three centuries of fashion can be viewed at the Musee Galliera – Musee De La Mode De La Ville de Paris. Approximately 90,000 items of clothing and other pieces represent fashions from the eighteenth century though modern day. Other museums include Fondation Pierre Berge – Yves Saint Laurent and the Toile de Jouy.

Of course, fashion houses, designer’s studios, and seasonal fashion shows are also reasons to take a tour of Paris. The fashion culture is so large and varied in Paris that it almost seems best to take a guided tour to make sure that you don’t miss anything. However, a well researched, self directed tour is certainly an option.

New York City – In the United States, the Big Apple is the fashion capital. In addition to touring the garment and textile district, fashion houses, designer’s studios, and shops, you can walk the Fashion Walk of Fame on the East Side of Seventh Avenue, (known locally as Fashion Avenue) between 41st and 35th Street. The Walk of Fame honors America’s top fashion designers. There are museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum to visit as well. The hottest NYC shopping areas? The Garment District, Soho, the lower East Side, Fifth Avenue, and Chelsea. Brooklyn is also an emerging fashion hotspot, easily accessible from the city.

Los Angeles – Over on the other side of the country, you can get yourself lost in fashion heaven in L.A.’s Fashion District, a downtown neighborhood that spans more than ninety city blocks and is home to over six hundred stores. Much of the neighborhood is dedicated to wholesale shopping. The Intersection at 9th and Los Angeles Streets is the location of four designer showrooms (New Mart, Gerry Building, Cooper Design Space and California Market Center) where shoppers can pick up wholesale items which won’t be in the L.A. retail stores for at least another season or two. You can also pick up fabrics for making your own fashions from the Fashion District’s textiles area located between Maple Avenue and San Julian Street from 8th Street to Olympic Boulevard.

For those L.A. fashion tourists who are interested in serious bargain shopping, the district’s Santee Alley open-air market place is a thriving area. This bazaar-style negotiation shopping offers a whole new experience. Of course, high-end shoppers can make their way out of the Fashion District and over to Beverly Hills to enjoy the famous boutiques of Rodeo Drive and possibly spot a movie star.

All of these top fashion tour destinations have times of year when the industry is more bustling than usual. Particularly in the fall when the new fashion lines are being unveiled and the high retail season is near, there are fashion shows, exhibits and other special events. If you want a real insider’s look at the fashion industry, planning a tour during fall fashion week may be a good idea. However, it will probably be pricier than if you plan a tour at another time during the year, and tickets to events are often hard to come by.

The holiday shopping season is a mixed blessing event for shopper and retailer alike. The stores are filled with inventory and selection is excellent. However, stores are also crowded, accommodations are in peak demand, and prices at their highest. Work with your travel consultant, and your accountant, to figure out the best dates for your fashion pilgrimage.

Keep in mind that a fashion tour does not need to happen in one of the world’s major cities. Many regions in the United States have popular fashion areas: try a long weekend visiting vintage and upscale boutiques in cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Honolulu, Miami, Dallas, and Atlanta. This type of fashion tour might quench your thirst for a fashion fix and make a more reasonable dent in your pocketbook.

You can choose to either independently book your fashion tour where you have the freedom to visit only the places that interest you and the freedom to spend as much time as you want at each place, or you can choose to book a guided fashion or shopping tour with a set itinerary. There are advantages to both options, and your choice will depend, very simply, on what you want to do.

By booking independently and with the help of a travel consultant, you can create your own itinerary and visit the areas of the shopping or fashion districts that really interest you. For instance, you may be much more interested in the shopping end of a fashion tour than in a behind the scenes look at a designer’s warehouse or museums. If you create your own itinerary, you can make your tour heavy on the shopping – and still see most of the sites you’d fins on a guided tour.

Personal preference may also prompt you to design your own tour schedule. You may choose to stay away from fashion houses or designers who use fur or leather in their fashions, for example, which may not be as easy to do if you are working with a tour operator. If you choose to design your own itinerary, you will have to spend time researching the fashion districts. You want to make sure you don’t miss out on any important experiences.

Fashion and shopping tours are increasingly popular in the specialty tour industry. Presently, the majority of tour companies offer tours in the most high profile fashion cities, but the demand for fashion tours is pushing into new destinations. In the US, cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas all have bustling fashion districts and those who produce fashion tours will be adding them to their roster of must-see fashion spots. The options in Europe are increasing as well. If you want to visit a city that doesn’t have a professional guided fashion tour, there may be one soon! Of course, you and your travel consultant can always create your own personal fashion or shopping tour – it’s easier than you might think.

Most tour operators offer tours ranging from high-end shopping to outlet malls. Some specialize in boutiques, and some in the larger department and ready-to-wear stores. And many will customize a trip just for you and your companions. It may seem like you could easily take care of shopping on your own, but having someone else who knows where to go also take care of the accommodation and transportation logistics can really free you up to relax and have a blast.

By choosing a guided tour with a set itinerary, the research will already be done for you. A good pre-planned tour will make sure that you hit all of the important stops in the fashion district. In addition, traveling with the guided tour may give you access to areas of the district which you wouldn’t have if you chose to travel independently. You may not have access to tickets to a sold out fashion show that the guided tour has, for example. As another example, a behind the scenes look at a designer’s studio included in a guided tour may be unavailable to the general public.

A good shopping or fashion tour operator offers the secret addresses of showrooms and shops not found in the guidebooks, plus local shopping tips only a native will possess. If traveling out of the country, most tour operators will offer bilingual guides that do not work on commission and are therefore capable of providing objective, unbiased advice. Best of all, a good tour operator will help you make the most of your time away from home. Your time at your destination will be well organized and efficient. Additionally, some of the activities and shopping opportunities available on a guided tour may be discounted for clients. If you are looking for very particular items, make sure to pass your request on to your travel consultant very early in the booking process.

Finally, a good shopping/fashion tour operator will be able to arrange a variety of special touches such as limo or car service, spa services, special meals at hard to arrange dining establishments and even meetings with some designers.

Whether booking with a tour operator or independently, your travel consultant often will be able to track down attractive accommodation and flight options packaged at a discount. Booking early is important if you book during the holiday season when shopping is at its peak in most cities.

If you are creating an independent tour, much preparation will be necessary, less so if you are booking with a tour operator. With a copy of your itinerary in hand, you may want to do a little research on what you’ll be seeing so that you can make the most of your tour. While on your tour, you are bound to hear the names of many designers, fashion houses, high-end stores and the like and you’ll want to know ahead of time who these people are. For example, if you’re taking a tour in New York City, you may know who Calvin Klein is, but what about Cynthia Steffe or Brian Reyes? If their names were mentioned, wouldn’t it be good to know a little about them? Knowing the newest names in haute couture or the latest bridge designers will provide you with interesting insights into the very latest fashions and trends.

In addition to studying shopping and designer basics, there are a few general tips to keep in mind for shopping in an unfamiliar location. First of all, know what types of fashions are best bought in a location. For example, some locations are great for the trendiest new shoes, while others offer the best deals on handbags or leather goods. Once you know what items to look for, you should plan to focus your shopping on those items. Other than staying focused, one of the most important shopping skills is patience. It is easy to want to buy everything you see as soon as you see it, but you should take the time to find the right items for you at the right price. Do you need it? Do you love it? Do you really love it? Would you buy it even if it wasn’t on sale? Can you return it later if you need to? These are all good questions to ask, because – after all, you don’t want to run out of money or luggage space on day one of your fashion tour. Also, be sure to give some consideration to the etiquette of bargaining; some cities practically expect negotiation while others would be highly offended.

If you are visiting a non-English speaking country, learning a few choice phrases is always a good idea. If you have booked a tour with a guide, you may have an English speaking guide at your disposal to ease any translation worries, but English is widely spoken in most fashion destinations.

Pack wisely. You may be touring the culture that lives for the five inch heel, but this is travel we are talking about, and you’ll be doing plenty of walking. Comfortable shoes and clothing is a must. Of course, you’ll want to look your best, so start by considering ballet flats. You should also pack an empty bag (or two). After all, you will be touring shopping districts and chances are that in those districts, you’ll be doing shopping. You’ll need a way to take your new fashion treasures home with you. Ask your travel consultant if you’ll need to budget extra for luggage charges, if you are traveling by plane.

Whether you are a serious student of fashion, a passionate fan of the industry, or simply a serious shopper, you should definitely consider a fashion tour for your next vacation. On your tour, you can gain an education, an appreciation for the fashion culture in an inevitably exciting city, a unique experience, and possibly even a closet full of fantastic new clothes and accessories!


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About the author: Travel Hippy

Travel Hippy is a slightly road worn, cranky individual setting out to spend all of his children's inheritence on travel. He is especially fond of the music, pubs and people of Northern Europe and Ireland, though he's been spotted in Peru and Thailand as well.

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