But the kudos of this claim is becoming outmoded. Fringe fashion cities like Los Angeles, Berlin, Seoul and Tokyo are emerging to challenge traditional Fashion Capitals by promoting the zeitgeist of their residents, their unique styles, and the movements emerging from their streets.
In Arnhem, its renowned art academy ArtEZ has been pivotal in promoting Arnhem’s fashion credentials, with Renate Litjens, chairman of the ArtEZ board, even stating that the academy is why Arnhem is a Fashion City. Indeed, its thought-provoking and innovative fashion alumni include Viktor & Rolf, Iris van Herpen and Pauline van Dongen. But does the influence of one institution and its alumni justify the branding of a city? It’s like saying Central Saint Martins is the reason for London’s nonchalance, or that New York owes it art and design legacy to Parsons. Sometimes, yes, but not entirely.
In my view, a city should work together to justify its identity, as seen in Eindhoven, which is branded as The Design City of the Netherlands. In less than 20 years, it has put into place a very successful strategy, becoming a vibrant city of technologically-driven innovation and high-value knowledge, where positive collaboration constantly takes place. Its partnerships have united its citizens, government, universities and global companies such as Philips, to create an environment where innovation thrives and entrepreneurial minds meet.
So how can a city such as Arnhem balance the promotion of its creative, cultural hubs and citizens' needs to create its own identity? As discussed in our Branded Cities series, it is about engagement. Local governments must realise that if they are trying to brand a city, it must work for its residents, rather than against them. Brands, governments and the public must work together to create their vision of how to brand their city, and further still to proudly promote and retain its label.
It must be valuable, and a driver of capital. Through cultural commodification, be it for fashion, design, sport or art, businesses and governments will always want to achieve value in return. Part of this will be about celebrating the history and residents of the city in a way that attracts visitors and wider audiences. But it will also be necessary to look to its future – and for city leaders to celebrate the true potential of a city without disruptive risk – be that financial or at the cost of civil autonomy and spirit.
For more on the future of Branded Cities, read our dedicated report here.
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