At the 2011 Arnhem Mode Biennale

If you travel all the way from New York to Arnhem just to attend the fashion biennial in this relatively obscure Dutch city, half the size of Pittsburgh, you can expect people to notice. Your waiter will witness your accent — and the fact that you’re not drinking a huge glass of milk with lunch like everyone else — and ask if you came just for the show, and well, did you like it? Your jolly white-haired cab driver will crack a few embarrassing jokes about the Big Apple before waxing poetic about how lovely it is when the festival’s on. And despite Vogue calling the $2.5-million production the “Greatest Fashion Event You’ve Never Heard Of,” it will seem, when you’re there, like Arnhem’s gravitational pull has shifted in some small but significant way.

Of course, that’s exactly what the Dutch government would like you to feel. It has invested heavily in the Arnhem Mode Biennale because, with the world-renowned ArtEZ school as a formidable anchor, it hopes Arnhem could eventually be the Netherlands’s own Antwerp — a European fashion capital with all the associated economic development. And so every other year for eight years running, it has helped the school and the show’s organizers rope in some of the biggest names in the business, like Margiela and Raf Simons, to participate in exhibitions and installations that would seem impressive even in a city six times Arnhem’s size. The novelty factor kind of works, too; one insider I met when I attended the school fashion shows there on Thursday laughed about having been drinking with Nicholas Kirkwood and other glitterati in some strange local dive bar the week before.

While I missed that outing, sadly, I did capture plenty of other highlights from the 2011 Arnhem Mode Biennale. You can view them in the slideshow at right.