Although fashion has mostly been targeted at women from the beginning, the main players in this industry have often been men. Nonetheless, women have still played a big role throughout the years. For example, there are a significant number of influential designers and entrepreneurs such as Jeanne Lanvin, Stella McCartney, Madeleine Vionnet and Coco Chanel.
These icons have revolutionized how women dress. As designers creating outfits for women, they have given their clients the comfort and the liberty to move and express themselves. As a result, this has contributed to crucial social changes in a world that is hugely patriarchal.
Today, female icons in the fashion sector are charting their own paths as they provide women with trendy outfits and apparel. While many people associate fashion solely with style, these trailblazers are using their creations to change preconceptions of how a woman should look.
Besides, they are making it big, with each creator being unique in their own right. So, who are these powerful and famous fashion designers shaping the industry today? In this comprehensive article, we will list and discuss some of the biggest female fashion icons in the world today.
Before her death in 1971, French designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel had been busy developing her couture collection. She is regarded to have been the most influential fashion designer who ever existed.
Coco was the brains behind the iconic Chanel fashion brand. She created not only a fashion spirit but also a look that impressed millions of women worldwide. She was once depicted by Pablo Picasso as being “more sensible than any other woman in Europe”.
Besides influencing young designers during her time in the U.S. and Europe, Coco has had an enormous impact on today's fashion.
Her career started around 1912 when she opened a small hat shop in the seaside resort town of Deauville. At that time, her fiancé was fighting in the first World War, and she was looking for something to keep her busy.
One day during a horse racing event, Coco borrowed a jumper from a jockey to protect herself from the biting cold. Immediately, she sparked a sweater-wearing trend among young women, which consequently gave her fashion ideas.
Later, when she went back to Paris, she opened a couture house. The business would gradually flourish in the years that followed, and gained a lot of loyal clients.
The ultimate designer she was, Coco influenced the evolution of women trendy outfits. From the tweed jacket, to the little black dress, to the cocktail necklace, all these would put her on the global map. She was the first designer to use material that is typically meant for underwear in her outfits.
Additionally, she was one of the pioneers in the designing of non-restrictive pieces, hence freeing women from their tight skirts and corsets. Throughout the years Coco expanded her brand, later diversifying into perfumes such as the famous No. 5, a favourite among many women.
This fashion designer was one of the first couturiers, and one of the first women to lead a big French fashion house. She used to operate a salon in Paris known as Chéruit between 1906 and 1935. The salon mostly targeted female clients who wanted outfits made of superior fabrics and which exuded youthfulness and simplicity.
However, the designer is famously remembered as the subject of portraits by Paul César, with whom she worked with before opening her fashion house. As one of the trailblazers of French style, her house of couture took fashion trends from the Belle Époque era through the Jazz Age.
During her illustrious career, Chéruit refined female wear by offering soft and richly ornamented dresses. This led to the transformation of the couture industry from a glamorous high-fashion one to a ready-to-wear one. Though her style was classic feminine comprising soft fabrics, rare embroideries and pastel colours, she was still innovative in her craft.
In 1911, she came up with the pannier gown which was full at the hips and tapering up to the ankle length. After all, evening dresses were her forte. However, she was also proficient at elegant street wear such as afternoon gowns and walking suits.
As a top fashion trailblazer, Elsa Schiaparelli offers products that are very popular among modern women. She started her long-running career in fashion when she launched her signature hand-knitted trompe l'oeil cardigan in 1927.
This clothing item was an instant success, consequently defining her style which was high end and well-fitting. Apart from that, Schiaparelli was the first designer to transform zippers from an essential part of an outfit to a fashion statement piece.
This she did while partnering with fine artists like Meret Oppenheim and Salvador Dali. Besides, her unique style earned her a TIME magazine cover, making her the first woman designer to earn that honour.
During the 1930s, Schiaparelli work moulded trends in the fashion world. Her outfits were worn by female celebrities like actress Greta Garbo, who could not get enough of them. Just like other designers, Schiaparelli expanded her offerings from cardigans only to a full line of sporting wear.
To handle the workload of producing 7,000 to 8,000 outfits per year, she had a workforce comprising more than 400 employees. And having lived in the USA for a very long time, Schiaparelli was specifically in touch with the American woman’s stylistic preferences. Financially, this served her well, bearing in mind that the American fashion industry is the biggest in the world.
Born and raised in Ukraine, Valentina studied drama during the times of the Bolshevik Revolution. She is among the most glamorous dressmakers and one of the best theatre costume designers globally. In the 1920s, she arrived in New York and became a prominent member of Café Society.
While living in the Big Apple, Valentina attracted attention with her floor-length dresses when other women dressed like young boys. Furthermore, she had a sophisticated colour sense, gravitating towards subtle earth tones and monochromatic schemes. In short, she was a model in her own right, while maintaining a consistent appearance throughout her career.
Valentina immersed herself into the fashion world when she started a small couture house, named Valentina’s Gowns in 1928. Her clients comprised luminaries from the opera, theatre, ballet and film sectors.
As years went by, her reputation as a theatre costume designer grew rapidly with the costumes getting better reception than the plays they were featured in. Some popular actresses she dressed include Lynn Fontanne, Gloria Swanson, Katharine Hepburn and Gertrude Lawrence. Additionally, her Broadway accomplishments included costumes for the stage drama.
The Philadelphia Story. Later, Valentina expanded her business offerings by venturing into the creation of mix and match fashion pieces. These included blouses, bare tops, skirts, scarfs and shorts.
It's not often that the fashion industry gets a genius but sometimes, it happens. French designer Madame Grès is one of those fashion geniuses who have made huge strides in the fashion world over decades.
She founded the Grès haute couture brand and the Parfums Grès perfume house that still exists today. Initially, Madame Grès used to experiment with form and fabric to achieve perfection. As a trained sculptor, she channelled her knowledge into her designs.
In fact, she wasn't known to utilize a pattern when creating designs, and she used the needle and thread minimally. However, her great work did all the talking for itself.
One of the designer's famous fashion pieces was the Grecian-influenced column dress. The outfit was made of silk, rayon or polyester and was sewn and sculpted on the body, edge to edge. Needless to say that the dress has inspired some of today's designers.
Throughout her career, Madame Grès drew inspiration from costumes across a wide variety of world cultures. Her business greatly flourished and in the 1960s, she diversified into perfumes with the most popular brand being Cabochard. Even after her death, Grès designs continue to dominate, allowing her legacy in the fashion industry to stay alive.
At the age of 49l, Stella McCartney has made a big name as among the most influential female designers of her generation. Born in the UK, she is known for her passionate animal rights advocacy, which she applies in her fashion work. When she started creating her leather-free designs, many people were sceptical about how she could succeed without luxury leather products.
Fast forward to 2021, and McCartney isn't just popular for her non-leather products, but is also motivating people to use environmentally-friendly goods. This designer was definitely ahead of today's sustainability drives by suggesting that what we wear should be for the good of our planet.
McCartney has become very vocal in recent years, focusing her sustainability advocacy efforts not just on animal cruelty. Through her successful partnership with Adidas, she’s introduced recycled polyester into the fashion industry, particularly on the runway. She uses recycled materials, vegetable-based “silk” and “leather” as well as fully-traceable fibres such as alpaca.
In fact, the wedding gown that McCartney created for Meghan Markle’s wedding was manufactured with viscose, a material from wood pulp. Though the designer remains an outlier even amidst a global warming crisis, she is not daunted. As a matter of fact, she is becoming more radical.
This is an American female fashion designer popular for her feminine designs. Born in Connecticut, she spent her childhood years in dance classes which consequently cultivated her love for dancing costumes. Johnson's fashion career began when she participated and emerged the winner in the Mademoiselle Magazine Guest Editor Competition.
A year later, she got a job as the top designer for Paraphernalia, a boutique based in Manhattan. However, she soon left to work with several other fashion labels. After a decade long of being employed, Johnson started his own brand. Today, there are more than 41 Betsey Johnson fashion outlets spread across the world.
Johnson has built her illustrious fashion career by setting and following her own rules. Her propensity to adapt to changing times while maintaining the purity of her designs hasn't gone unnoticed. In 1972, the designer won the prestigious Coty Winnie Award.
Then in 1999, she won the CFDA Timeless Talent Award, which recognized her immense contribution in the fashion world. Johnson was also initiated into the Fashion Walk of Fame, in honour of her influence in American fashion.
A breast cancer survivor, she continues to advocate in fighting the disease. She achieves this by participating in fundraising events and creating fashion pieces for auctions that are meant to raise money for charities.
A Japanese fashion creator and designer, Rei Kawakubo is the founder of two fashion brands namely, Dover Street Market and Comme des Garçons. Throughout the years, she has grown her fashion business into one that has a current annual turnover of over $220 million. Though she didn't train as a fashion designer, having studied fine arts, she still made a mark in this competitive industry.
Besides, the designer has always chartered her own path, making herself unique both creatively and commercially. As a result, she is exalted by the fashion industry as a beacon of modernity, who keeps on making ripples and impressing women with her creations.
Even as she challenges the traditional social elements of fashion, Kawakubo never compromises on wearability. She continues to innovate, in the process inspiring designers such as Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester. While many big fashion companies serve as training grounds for upcoming talent, none has nurtured creative offspring like Commes des Garçons.
Today, the brand boasts more than 20 distinct clothing lines. In 2019, Kawakubo won the Isamu Noguchi fashion award, hence being the first designer to get the prize. The award was created to recognize artists in the fashion industry who come up with innovative designs that draw inspiration from different cultures.
Over 30 years in the fashion business, and Vera Wang stills challenges herself as a designer. An accomplished figure skater, she uses the same exactitude in her designs. Wang got interested in fashion when working at the Rive Gauche boutique and later in the editorial department of Vogue Magazine.
She also had a stint at Ralph Lauren working as an accessories designer before she left to establish her own company. The designer is known for creating outfits that fuse modern elements with traditional elegance. Apart from that, she likes to experiment with her high-minded workmanship and top-tier designs.
As the years went by, Vera Wang diversified into the lucrative bridal fashion sector. She designed and created her own wedding gown and even for celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Chelsea Clinton and Victoria Beckham. However, she also designs and creates outfits for the public through her long-standing partnership with Kohl’s Corporation.
Currently, Vera Wang is a big name in Hollywood. Apart from wedding dresses, she also designs lingerie, jewellery, home products, cosmetics, fragrances and picture frames. This designer has definitely come a long way and his impressive work can be seen on women's bodies all over the world.
This Italian female fashion icon and creator is famously known for the Prada brand. Miuccia is among the most influential designers having joined the industry when she took over the family’s leather-working business. At that time, teetering stiletto heels were all the rage among women. Then, Miuccia came up with a new trend and that was the chunky-heeled loafer.
Actually, the designer's Spring 1996 pieces were a celebration of things that fashion gurus would consider ugly such as upholstery prints and T-strap shoes. However, this ugly collection as people referred to it, really changed the look during the late 90s.
As the years went by, Miuccia Prada's designs gained popularity. Anywhere an art fair, book signing or film screening was happening, you would find an army of women wearing Prada outfits. These included but not limited to heavy shoes, thick-rimmed glasses and groovy prints.
Nowadays, the designer has found multiple ways of rendering what is typically considered ugly, attractive. She has succeeded in pairing lug-soled brogues with midi skirts, board shorts with baby-doll tops and socks with sandals. Currently, Prada is a multi-billion dollar fashion brand. Nonetheless, the designer is not planning to slow down in regard to what she desires to offer to the fashion sector.
Designers are the true icons of the fashion world, and that is a fact. They turn their dreams into reality, in the process bringing to life old ideas, and creating big lifestyle brands. From Elsa Schiaparelli and Rei Kawakubo, to Miuccia Prada and Valentina, the aforementioned are the famous fashion designers in the world.
These trailblazers have carved out successful niches for themselves and produced designs that have transformed the global fashion industry. In addition, they have used their creations as a route to self-expression and to change preconceptions of how a woman should look. What's more, their garments are always made with comfort in mind, hence allowing the wearer to present themselves in their truest sense.