“THIS IS A MAN’S WORLD,” OR SO THE LINE GOES from a certain song. Well in today’s wonderful world of fashion design, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Women fashion designers are making their mark and proving there really is such a thing as having a woman’s touch when it comes to fashion design. Here’s a look at the female designers who paved the way, the women in design who continue to inspire and evolve and those the fashion world has its eye on as the new female designers to watch.
We cannot discuss female fashion designers without bowing down to the incomparable Diane von Furstenberg. The Belgian-born designer, best known for her iconic jersey wrap dress, has been a powerful force in the industry since she launched her clothing line in the 1970s and then re-launched it to greater success in 1997 with the reintroduction of her famous wrap. She is particularly known for her fondness of jersey fabric, often overlooked by male designers, but revered by women for its wearability, creating fashion without sacrificing comfort. “I design for the woman I wanted to be, the woman I used to be and to some degree, the woman I’m still a little piece of.” Von Furstenberg was given the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 for her accomplishments. In 2006 she was named its president, a position she still helms today. This past year she was named to Time 100, Time magazine’s annual list of powerful icons.
Other talented US female designers include Tory Burch, Jill Stuart, Nicole Miller, Kate Spade, and Donna Karan, to name just a few. Like Diane von Furstenberg, Cynthia Rowley incorporates bold prints and colors in her designs. Since launching her brand in 1981, the designer encompasses gusto and a whimsy in her work. Take for instance her denim wetsuits or her recently launched sports line that features bright poppy flowers. Rowley designs with her own passions for fun and sport in mind. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte have garnered much attention since their introduction in 2005. In 2008 they received the CFDA Swarovski Emerging Womenswear Designer Award. The following year they took home the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award, an accomplishment that marks the true arrival of newcomers to the game. New York-based Chinese designer Vivienne Tam, who is inspired by themes of East-meets-West in her collections, was notably featured in this year’s Met Costume exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass” with her political “Mao Suit.” She is also notable for her innovative tech collaborations that go beyond the runway to stylizing computers and phones. Rebecca Minkoff is another designer continuing to grow in the industry. Known for her leather handbags, she has grown her line to also encompassapparel, accessories and footwear. Her looks are seen on countless celebrities and her fashion shows are always a big draw at Fashion Week.
Miuccia Prada is the creative force behind both the eponymous Prada and Miu Miu, lines based in Italy known for their quality and trendsetting styles. Since taking over the helm at Prada (the brand started by her grandfather in 1913) from her mother in 1978, the designer took the brand to new heights in luxury chic wear for women and men known for its quality and trendsetting styles. In 1985 the Prada handbag was introduced and is still considered one of the most coveted bags for stylish, accomplished shoppers. In 1993 the designer launched her own women’s line under the Prada label. Miu Miu, aptly named for her own family nickname, is modern womenswear that illuminates the designer’s eye for nuance in style. The line’s edgy and provocative advertising campaigns are worthy of mention as well. That same year that she founded Miu Miu the designer won a CFDA award for her work.
Also based in Italy is Marni, under the design direction of Consuelo Castiglioni. The label has been described as feminine, quirky and offbeat. This past May, Becoming Marni debuted at the Venice Biennale. The work of art celebrates the line’s 20th anniversary. We cannot highlight Italian women fashion designers without mentioning Donatella Versace and her contributions to the legacy of her brother’s treasured Versace since his untimely death in 1997. Under her direction the fashion label remains a showstopper and on countless red carpets year after year.
From Italy and now to fashionable France are several women designers of note. Recognized for her comfortable, Bohemian style meets French sophistication, Isabel Marant started her line in 1994 and has since garnered a collection of celebrity fans and followers. Her collaboration with H&M in 2013 brought the high- fashion designer’s work to the masses with great acclaim. Sonia Rykiel was dubbed Queen of Knits in 1967 after a sweater she designed made the cover of Elle Magazine. The sweater was called the “poor boy sweater,” and icons like Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot all flocked to the style that Rykiel herself described as “clothes that have no shape unless they are worn.” While the brand now has a new artistic director in Julie de Libran, Rykiel’s reputation as an innovator still remains. No one illustrates this concept of French elegance better than Hermès’ newest artistic director Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski. Vanhee- Cybulski has the French eye for detail that perfectly works their signature scarf into equestrian looks for their Fall 2015 collection, seamlessly pairing traditional elements with a modern take on color and materials.
London has brought us its own batch of talented ladies making marks on seams over the years. Vivienne Westwood is an incomparable legend of fashion. Her stamp on the punk culture in England and beyond in the 1970s is well documented. She has remained a fixture in the industry for both her designs and her eccentricity. Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig make up the talented duo behind Marchesa, a line known for its gorgeous gowns. They’ve been seen at many an award show and a wedding aisle or two. Speaking of wedding dresses, it’s impossible not to mention Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, who landed the coveted role of designing Kate Middleton’s sumptuous wedding dress. Alice Temperley was named by Vogue recently as “the designer making the biggest waves in British fashion.” Simone Rocha, daughter of designer John Rocha, debuted her first collection in 2010 and has received great admiration from her peers and mentors alike. In December 2014, she was awarded the title of Emerging Womenswear Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
So who are the new names to watch? Who will be the next set of women to stamp their initials on the proverbial runway of fashion? There are a few that the design world already has its eyes set on. Fatema Fardan was the first Emirati designer to show at New York’s Fashion Week, adding a refreshing global presence. In attendance were industry notables including Rachel Zoe, who were all there to scope out the designer who is becoming known for her flowery, folklore-inspired pieces. Meggie Kempner has style in her bones. The granddaughter of socialite Nan Kempner got her feet wet while styling at Ralph Lauren. Her label, aptly named Kempner, will feature a mix of more casual than couture pieces. The line features an array of mixable pieces. Katie Ermilio has been featured in every major fashion magazine. The granddaughter of Grace Kelly’s personal clothier, she grew up around tailoring and that school of personal training is evident in her own label. The New York-based designer focuses on clean lines in rich fabrics, creating a flatteringly feminine silhouette. Mary Katrantzou was named the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund winner by the British Fashion Council in March 2015. British Vogue’s Editor Alexandra Shulman spoke of her work, “Mary has not only created a strong and hugely appealing identity for her work but she has put in place measures that, along with the support of this prize, should ensure an exciting and successful next stage of her career.” Misha Nonoo debuted her label in 2011 with the launch of Nonoo. In 2012 she was bestowed with the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award for Women’s Ready to Wear clothing. The following year she was a 2013 finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. She describes her line as “feminine with an edge.” Like Coco Chanel and Sonia Rykiel before her, she believes in designing for herself first. Marissa Webb may best be known as holding the helm at Banana Republic as its Creative Director, but the New York-based designer launched her own self-titled line in 2013 at New York Fashion Week with her fall line. Her line features a mix of masculine and feminine. A self-described tomboy herself, Webb creates pieces for the inner tomboy in all of us.
Women designers are here to stay. While we cannot take away from the achievements of their male counterparts, it’s nice to see that women designers are receiving the accolades they are worthy of. As Coco Chanel once said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Article by Liz Hazard for The Untitled Magazine’s #GirlPower Issue
Pick up a copy of the issue in our online store!
Photos courtesy of Miu Miu, Marni, Mary Katranzou, and Kempner