For an industry that mostly focuses on women’s clothes, it is surprising that the top echelons are in many ways, men. That being said there is an abundance of women in the fashion industry, whose achievements are nothing short of incredible. These women, both past, and present have had a lasting and profound impact on the fashion industry. Below are the women that have made their mark in the fashion world.
Coco Chanel is one of the most influential women in the industry. She was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. She was an illegitimate child and her upbringing was marked by poverty and uncertainty. At the age of 12, her mother died and she was put in an orphanage by her father. It was in the orphanage that the nuns taught her how to sew and Chanel gained a rudimentary knowledge of creating clothes. She had a short singing career from the age of 18 together with being a seamstress.
With the help of one of her male admirers who would provide key financial assistance and social connections over the course of her career, Chanel opened her first shop in Paris in 1913 in the resort town of Deauville. By 1919, Chanel followed it with another boutique in Paris, at the heart of the most fashionable area of Paris.
Various timeless designs, trademark suits, and the little black dress can be attributed to her. She is quoted to have said, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not a luxury.” Her labels still remain one of the most coveted and famous in the world.
Elsa Schiaparelli is famous for being of the most innovative couturiers of the 20th Century. She was born September 10, 1890, in Italy. She had an eventful early adulthood involved writing a book of sensual poetry, a stint in a convent, and an affair with one of her university tutors.
After working at a boutique in New York, Schiaparelli moved to Paris, where she began designing her own clothes. With encouragement from her friend Paul Poiret, she began her own business in Paris in 1927. She became best known for her collaborations with surrealist artist Salvador Dali, and the inventive and original creations they produced – including the Shoe hat and the Lobster dress. Her work and sense of style shaped the look of the fashion industry in the 1920s and ’30s, and her clothes were worn by some of the world’s most famous women. Schiaparelli died in Paris on November 13, 1973.
Madeleine Vionnet also known as Madame Vionnet) was born into a poor family in June 1876 and started her apprenticeship as a seamstress at age 11. She married at age 18, and shortly after left her husband and went to London to work as a hospital seamstress. She eventually returned to Paris and trained in the fashion house of Callot Soeurs and subsequently with Jacques Doucet in 1907. It was at Callot Soeurs where she learned about the bias cut.
In 1912 Madeleine Vionnet set up her own house, “Vionnet”. It closed was forced to close because of world war one. She reopened in 1919. The House of Vionnet grew to employ over 1,100 seamstresses and was the first fashion house to create ready to wear designs from haute couture for sale in the United States.
Vera Wang is known for creating some of the world’s most recognized bridal gowns. She was born on June 27, 1949, in New York City. Vera Wang started skating at the age of six and competed in the United States Figure Skating Championship in 1968 while she was in high school. After failing to become part of US Olympics team, Vera diverted her attention towards the fashion industry.
Immediately after graduation, Vera Wang was hired as an editor by Vogue. She later became a senior fashion editor and worked there for 15 years. Then she moved to work as a design director at Ralph Lauren for 2 years. She designed her own wedding dress in 1989. She later introduced her first bridal collection in 1990. She published a book in 2001, “Vera Wang on Weddings”. In June 2005, she won the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Womenswear Designer of the Year. Known for balancing modern designs with traditional elegance, Vera Wang is arguably the most prominent designer of bridal wear in America.
Sonia is a fashion designer who was born in Neuilly, Paris (1930) to a Romanian father and Russian mother. At the age of 17, she was employed to dress the mannequins of a Parisian clothing store. In 1953 she married the owner of a boutique which sold elegant clothing. In 1962 she became pregnant and was faced with the problem of not finding soft sweaters to wear. So, she contacted a supplier in Venice via her husband and designed her own sweaters. It took 7 trials before she got what she desired. She later created her debut maternity outfits and the Poor Boy Sweater. It made the cover of Elle fashion magazine and this brought her to the spotlight. This earned the title of “Queen of Knits” by the American public in 1967. Her designs continue to live up to this day.
The fashion icon, Donatella Versace was born in Italy in 1955. She is the youngest of four children. She had two major fashion influencers in her early years; her mother was a dressmaker and her elder brother, Gianni Versace was a budding designer.
Donatella started working for her brother in the late 1970s, serving as his muse and adviser. Donatella came up with the idea of using well-known models for the catwalk shows, knowing it will generate more press coverage for the Versace label. Then in 1980, she became the designer of a new line, Versus. After her brother was murdered in 1997, she became artistic director of the Versace Group. Donatella made sure that Versace shops would be on different fashion centers around the world, particularly Milan and New York.