A great designer has the power to change history as we know it. Basically the celebs of fashion that we just can’t get enough of. From innovation and changing the way we look at fashion, to building total lifestyle brands. The scope of impact is mighty! This month to celebrate women we’re focusing on female designers that changed the game when it comes to fashion. From powerful females in the 19th century like Jeanne Lanvin, who began her empire as an entrepreneur to Rei Kawakubu, who created a niche of fashion meets art. These women and many more created designs that change fashion, designs that still influence us today.
The evolution of women’s fashion in the 20th century is largely a story of liberation. From the first corsets that lead to skirts which lead to the stiletto heel. Women designers have even created massive change in what we label as “pretty”, giving so much diversity to the industry. A favorite of mine is Miuccia Prada who transformed our vision of what is labeled beautiful with her chunky heeled loafers, t-strap shoes, upholstery prints and even acid colors. Prada made a statement with her 1996 collection of all things fashion once considered ugly. Even stating “Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer. The investigation of ugliness is, to me, more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty.”
Prada’s “ugly print” collection (as it came to be known), changed the look of the 90’s. You can bet anywhere there was an art fair, fancy book signing or indie film festival, there were also Prada-clad women in thick glasses, wild prints and some real heavy shoes. It’s safe to say Prada completely liberated us from, well, rules themselves.
It doesn’t stop there, we look at women like;
What we can call a true icon in fashion. Donatella Versace appeal and fame transcends the confines of the fashion bubble. She is multi-faceted, flashy, fun, facetious and live giving.
Many know the name of Gianni Versace, causing his little sis Donatella to be often overshadowed in the family business. Donatella was instrumental in forging the foundations of the house. This chick was often the one who made things happen. She went out and made relationships with the rockstars and rappers. She amped up the celebrity quotient which ultimately caused an explosion in the fashion industry.
Another fan favorite to this day, the lovely, fierce and classy;
No one can argue that Coco Chanel is the ultimate classic designer. This fierce lady defined the notion of staples that would last a lifetime. Chanel is responsible for our love of things like the little black dress, tween jackets and the statement cocktail necklace. She most notably known for her jersey fabric, which is what put this French designer on the map. Starting her career during World War I, she became the first mainstream designer to use jersey fabric, a material which was then typically reserved for underwear. She was also one of the first fashion designers to create boxy, shorter and easy to move in pieces that freed women from their tight corsets and skirts. And we can’t forget how she expanded her brand over the years to include her well-loved perfumes like No. 5.
One of the earliest female entrepreneurs in fashion, Jeanne Lanvin, opened a millinery house in 1889. Which if you didn’t know is designer hats! She was later inspired by her daughter to begin creating lavish dresses for little girls using delicate silks and gorgeous embroidery. She even was one of the first to create matching childrenswear with adult ensembles that became wildly popular, especially among department stores. Into the 1920’s Lanvin expanded her line into sportswear, furs, home decor. Lingerie, menswear, swimwear and fragrance.
We can’t forget about jewelry when it comes to the fashion industry and this Italian designer revolutionized the jewelry industry with her simple, timeless pieces. Around the late 60s. Peretti brought a wave of sophisticated simplicity to New York with her work for Halston, Tiffany’s and the now defunct Giorgio di Sant’ Angela. We remember her today with Icons like the Tiffany teardrop to the round pendant necklace.
Taking a slightly different approach to fashion we have to talk about Vivienne Westwood. Who is arguably responsible for the merging of high fashion and punk. Westwood was a designer, but she was also a businesswomen and activist. She often addressed everything from civil rights, to climate change. All while creating high end fashion. She started out designing clothes for the punk boutique SEX in the 70’s and today continues to run her label as well as Vivienne Westwood Red Label.
This powerhouse female designer made major waves in international fashion with her knitted jersey wrap dresses that first launched in 1974. Making an impact much like Coco Chanel’s creating of the little black dress. Furstenberg continues to make a major footprint as she grows her brand on a global level.
When most people think of Betsey Johnson they immediately picture her overly-embellished dresses and quirky pieces that have left their mark on the fashion industry forever. Not many match up to Johnson in her creative designs. She pioneered New York City street fashion in the late 70s and partnered with house model Edie Sedgwick to make a name for herself. I think everyone looks forward to her New York Fashion Week end-of-show cartwheel!
Vera Wang is known to this day for her gorgeous bridal wear. Her empire started with her first boutique which opened in 1990. Wang made a name for herself by disrupting the traditional bridalwear market with head-turning gowns from many different price points. Her gowns are a favorite among many celebrities like Kim Kardashion to Victoria Beckham. Vera Wang’s designs hold a very special place in contemporary fashion.
This Italian fashion designer is known for her designs featuring draping techniques and styles that give off a subtle layered look. She very effortlessly combines chiffon with jersey fashions that drew the eye of what was considered the “cocktail crowd”. Ferretti’s first collection came out in 1973 and she was also the co-founder of Aeffe, a company that manufactured and distributed clothing in 1976. Her gowns are simple, elegant and high class. Top stars like Angelina Jolie and Diane Kruger have been known for wearing her designs.
Beginning her empire with the launch of her womenswear collection in 1985, followed by her younger line DKNY in 1988. Karen made a name for herself with easy, chic basics that quickly became a major point of influence. She took a focus on the upcoming global appeal of everyday pieces that could be worn from day to night. Karen is responsible for what today we call “the cozy”. She took a focus on things like the knitted sweater tops that can be worn more than 12 different ways.
Truly the list does not stop there when it comes to influential women in fashion. Each of them brings something to be cherished to the industry we know today. These women gave other women and men more freedom to express themselves through fashion. They made breaking the confines of society something to be admired. What a gift it is to be able to express ourselves through what we wear, to have the ability to choose what makes us feel good.