While, without a doubt, early peoples fashioned and decorated clothing out of animal skins and, later, cloth, we know very little about what actually drove their fashion sense. After the Dark Ages (400-900 CE), however, a multitude of historical records show that the nexus of fashion centered around Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. There, court dress, with its rich silks, elaborate embroideries, and intricate weaves, drove that civilization's local fashion trends and soon spread to the Western world.
With the formation of the feudal system during the early Middle Ages (the eleventh and twelfth centuries), the upper classes in many European countries labored to dress as differently as possible from the lower classes. Rich European lords had access to fabrics not only from the Middle East but also from the Far East, thanks to Marco Polo's travels (1254-1324). Various guilds were formed to train apprentices, to oversee fashion pay scales, and to set apparel manufacturing work standards.
The French began showing dominance in the fashion arena as early as the thirteenth century. They created many popular medieval styles and went out of their way to name those styles with French names. The British were not far behind the French in influencing fashion tastes during this period, particularly when it came to menswear.
During the Renaissance (starting in the fourteenth century), Italian fashion and the arts caught the attention of European royalty. The Italians influenced the fashion world for several hundred years after the Renaissance.
Fashion trends spread from country to country. It was not uncommon for these trends to follow the nobility from one country to another, especially as countries' ruling families intermarried. Outside of the nobility, thanks to the advent of long-distance travel by ship or carriage, even the common people experienced new cultures, customs, fabrics, and costumes. However, the royal families set the overall tone for fashion. They had the funds to order custom-made clothing tailored to their exact measurements by dressmakers. Female designers were originally known as a couturières. Male designers were known as couturiers. To gain favor with the royals, wealthy landowners would order their dressmakers to copy the (often custom-made) clothing worn by royalty. Thus began the trend of a limited number of fashion leaders dictating fashion to everybody else.
During the sixteenth century, Spain's stature in the world started to increase in a number of areas, partly due to the celebrity of Christopher Columbus's arrival to America. Not surprisingly, Spain's unique style in clothing and accessories during this time began to gain favor in the rest of Europe.
However, during the Baroque and Rococo periods (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), fashion leadership returned to England and primarily
France. In fact, the French dominated the fashion scene for the next one hundred years.
More recently, countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States have shaped the fashion industry as a whole, though many other countries have made their own significant marks. Latin American dress influenced fashion during the twentieth century. The literal translation of fashionista is born from the Spanish suffix, -ista, which translates into "devotee." Latin America brought the world Carolina Herrera (Venezuela) and Oscar de la Renta (Dominican Republic). Both of these designers are members of the Council of Latin American Designers, formed in 1999.
Germany was home to the company Escada, as well as to Jil Sander and Bernhard Wilhelm. Sander, a minimalist designer, and Wilhelm, known primarily for incorporating luxury fabrics and perfect workmanship, are both well-recognized players in global fashion.
Retail giants H&M from Sweden and Zara from Spain have placed these countries on the fashion radar screen due to their ability to capture the latest trends at a moderate price point. H&M had the shrewdness to commission Karl Lagerfeld to design a signature collection for the chain in 2004, solidifying the chain's image as a source for cutting-edge fashion.
The Netherlands, known mostly as a leader in architecture and product design, has not been focused on the commercialization of fashion. Dutch designers have had the luxury of governmental support, thus their work is pure and not influenced by the necessary "business" of fashion. Recent designers who have emerged from Holland are Mada van Ganns, Rozema Tevnissen, Janne Kyttanen, Jiri Evenhuis, and Viktor & Rolf.

Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. .


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