How Aspen Became a Snow-Capped Mecca for Fashion and Art

How the Colorado ski town became a culturally catalyzed apex, home to many pop cultural moments, old-money mainstays and trendy pop-ups.

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Aspen: where paparazzi flood the outskirts of lift lines, “aprés” is more than just an aesthetic, and your off-the-slopes boots, bags and jackets are just as important as technical outerwear.

Colorado’s it ski town may be home to four revered ski resorts – each of which boasts a sliver of some of the most picturesque mountain terrain in the world – but the glitzy village (which landed atop 2023’s Most Expensive Ski Resorts List) has transcended far beyond being just a trendy ski town. Celebrities flock to Aspen, just three hours outside of Denver, every year from December to February window, indulging in top-tier shopping, spending, eating, and, if there’s time, skiing or snowboarding.

As A$AP Rocky and Rihanna, Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox, Justin and Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner continue their fashionable hibernation in the cozy Colorado village, the question begs asking: why Aspen? The West Coast is home to a slew of picturesque ski hubs – with Idaho, Utah, and Colorado each hosting a laundry list of mountains, so what is it that draws the celebs to these very slopes?

The roughly 7,000-resident historic hotspot was once a storied mining town; it wasn’t until after its 19th-century silver mining boom that it began to thrive as a ski resort in the 1940s. The town has hosted the Aspen Music Festival since 1949, the Aspen Film Festival since 1979, and its local Food and Wine Classic since 1983. In 2002, the town also snagged the Winter X Games and has been the official host of the ESPN-broadcasted competition ever since. From 2008 to 2014, the town even hosted its own Aspen Fashion Week during the winter, which featured brands including Rossignol, Helly Hansen and Roots. An art gala-infused summer with events including Aspen Art Week, ArtCrush, and Intersect Aspen allows artists, collectors, and dealers from around the country to converge in the creative hub.

Aspen’s artistic bent reached 1966 when American ceramist Paul Soldner, photographer Cherie Hiser, sculptor Peter Voulkos and woodworker Sam Maloof founded the Anderson Ranch Art Center. One of the West Coast’s most esteemed art programs, the center, is entering its 55th year in business and has an artist-in-residence program that’s drawn the likes of Frank Stella, Nick Cave and Catherine Opie.

A slew of art galleries including Galerie Maximillian, the Aspen Art Gallery, the Skye Gallery and the Baldwin Gallery as well as the artist-founded Aspen Art Museum are scattered throughout Aspen’s main drag of Hyman Avenue. Sotheby’s even opened a permanent outpost at the mountain’s base in 2022. “Aspen is a fishbowl with a current,” Christine Heller, Sotheby’s Aspen’s director of private sales, told The Art Newspaper. Christie’s International Real Estate has a location on Hyman Ave as well, right around the corner from the artist-founded Aspen Art Museum and St. Regis hotel. 

A bevy of luxury retailers also lines the downtown streets, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Chrome Hearts. Upscale cold-weather essential outfitters including Moncler and Canada Goose have also set up shop within walking distance, along with MACKAGE and FUSALP. Other mainstays include quiet luxury retailer Pitkin County Dry Goods, where shoppers can sift through Margiela, John Elliot, Stone Island and Paul Smith offerings, as well as Ute Mountaineer and ASPENX which each feature an impressive assortment of apparel from well-regarded outerwear labels such as Arc’teryx and Patagonia. Back in December, Bottega Veneta laid down roots as well, opening the doors to a Hyman Ave storefront in partnership with the Aspen Art Museum. 

Something particularly unique to Aspen is the town’s requirement for its storefronts to include “public amenity space” – this is a concept Jenny Stuber, Aspen resident and author of Aspen and the American Dream: How One Town Manages Inequality in the Era of Supergentrification, spoke more about in a recent interview with Next City. “You can have your Gucci on the ground floor, but you also need to capture space outside of the building for locals and visitors to hang out and congregate, and that’s called ‘public amenity space’,” Stuber explains.

In addition to its chic mainstays, the town welcomes a slew of seasonal pop-ups into its romantically rugged downtown area each winter and this winter season is no exception. MAX MARA arrived on the scene last month, unveiling a months-long pop-up inside the famed Hotel Jerome to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Teddy Coat. Elsewhere Revolve/FWRD touched down for the coming cold months and, talk about pop-up inception, Stone Island opened the doors to its temporary store inside KITH’s Aspen outpost. As it has in seasons past, Madhappy sauntered back to the Western Colorado slopes to spotlight its loungewear classics and specific-to-Aspen apparel – just around the corner from rookie footwear branch Brunch’s storefront, pointing to the relevance of the city even to emerging brands. 

While Aspen’s ultra-wealthy residents – Bezos and Dell families included – reside up, up, away from the locals in Red Mountain, a.k.a. Billionaire Mountain, the whole appeal of Aspen is the coexistence of travelers and locals in the same ether. Celebrities frequent the same streets, stores and slopes as the lesser-known residents. “Celebrities could come here and rub shoulders and be almost anonymous,” Aspen Public Radio Host and historian Mike Monroney noted in a 2019 interview with Colorado Public Radio’s Stina Stieg.

“Celebrities were more interested in being locals than us locals being attracted to their celebrity,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe Di Salvo told Stieg, pointing to the way celebrities trekked to the town in search of a more quaint – or what Di Salvo calls “poor and local” – lifestyle. It’s the same allure that brought Ye, the Kardashians and the Hadids to take up partial residency in rural Wyoming: celebrities will do anything for a little blue-collar valor.

Stuber calls this sentiment the “lore” of Aspen, a town that looks to balance  “the needs of locals” with “opportunities for locals and visitors to come together.”

“This goes back to the “origin myth” of Aspen’s renaissance, emerging from the early 1960s. This is the idea that Aspen is for locals, by locals. It’s not so much that the locals want to come into contact with ultra-affluent visitors, but that affluent visitors should want to come into contact with locals.” 

While Aspen’s happenings, visitors and outfits continue to dominate headlines, it’s clear the ski town is staunchly stepping into its fully realized potential. A cold-weather conglomerate of art, culture and just the right amount of celebrity, Aspen boasts the ideal conditions for a slopeside high-fashion wonderland, and it seems it’s only a matter of time before Aspen Fashion Week returns – with more funding, media coverage and the Biebers strutting down a snowy slopeside runway. 

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