In today’s world, the presence of fashion struts far past the narrow runways and finely manicured showrooms. All around us fashion impacts and shapes the realms of culture before our very eyes. Designers are revered as artists, turning silhouettes into their palettes, creating masterpieces with fabric and stitching. Like artwork, their designs are met with both praise and disdain by the media and public. Those with talent strong enough to weather the ups and downs claim their place through the seasons and styles. What sets those designers apart from the rest? Some easily come to mind – Coco Chanel, Valentino, Christian Dior, to name a few. They are legends of their time, with a cushioned place reserved in the realm of fashion history. As fashion has evolved, a handful of names continue to push boundaries and climb their own ascent into hallowed status as legends, setting the bar for seasons to come.
Jean Paul Gaultier never received formal training as a designer. First hired as an assistant by Pierre Cardin in 1970, he created his own label within a few short years. By the late 1980s, Gaultier began to gain worldwide attention for his use of skirts in his menswear collections. his notoriety would skyrocket soon after when Madonna infamously revealed his pink cone bra ensemble onstage for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. If there was any doubt of this one garment’s mark in fashion history, in 2012 the brassiere was auctioned off at a selling price of $52,000 at Christie’s Pop Culture auction in London. From 2003 to 2010, Gaultier occupied the role of Creative Director for French luxury brand Hermès. Since his departure he has focused primarily on his own collections, always infused with theatrical elements. For his Spring / Summer 2014 collection, the designer created a runway cabaret, drawing inspiration from stage and screen. Influenced in part by Dancing with the Stars, the show featured Amy Winehouse lookalikes and a performance recreation of a scene from the iconic film Grease. The models danced down the runway, wearing signature Gaultier garments that defined his style over the decades. Never one to shy away from pushing boundaries, Gaultier continues to challenge norms with his work, melding haute couture and streetwear style, defying gender-specific fashion, and championing the use of nontraditional models in the process. A recent retrospective of the designer’s work at the Brooklyn Museum entitled The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, highlighted Gaultier’s impact on his craft and culture on a whole.
Italian-born designer Giorgio Armani became prominent within the fashion industry for clean-cut, tailored menswear. Eventually his womenswear reached a similar iconic status. His presence in America was firmly established after designing the fashion for the film American Gigolo in 1980, featuring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton, putting him on the map in hollywood. Once quoted saying that “the difference between style and fashion is quality,” Armani has maintained a dedicated following throughout his career. This past year, the designer staged a fashion show and retrospective at the 97,000 square-foot SuperPier in Chelsea, New York. The walk-through exhibit featured over thirty years worth of archive pieces from multiple collections, from 1980 through present-day. The show captured the breadth of Armani’s decade-defining innovations, masterfully presented in a single space.
Before securing his famed position as Creative Director for Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld was an aspiring designer freelancing for the Roman couture house Tiziani. Lagerfeld has since gained global notoriety as creative director of both Chanel and Fendi, as well as numerous creative collaborations. These range from a luxury crystal stemware line he created with Swedish art glass behemoth, orrefors, to liquor branding campaigns in which he designed an iconic wine label, to film direction, such as the short Once Upon A Time in 2013, a biopic starring Keira Knightley as Coco Chanel. He is also a passionate photographer, known to shoot most campaigns for the brands he is aligned with, as well as having produced volumes of stunning portraiture, such as The Little Black Jacket collaboration with Carine Roitfeld featuring 113 images of models and celebrities wearing the Chanel signature look. For Chanel’s Spring 2014 collection, Lagerfeld sent garments down the runway that, while staying true to the refined look of the brand, found a new type of modern vibrancy. The line had more than 90 looks, each with their own story. the designer, famed for saying “What i enjoy doing most is something that I’ve never done before,” proves to be a man of his word. Each season he presents a breathtakingly dynamic take for the revered brand.
Yohji Yamamoto’s infatuation with design dates back to the late 60s, although he showed his first collection for Yamamoto in Paris in 1981. He was quickly deemed the “avant-garde’s Far Eastern couturier” by the fashion elite for his distinct asymmetrical designs. His highly inventive collections focus on experimental cutting and draping. He is known for his dialogue with the male and female form, most notably with his androgynous ‘anti-fashion’ approach to design. He is credited as one of the originators of the ‘deconstructionist’ movement that changed the course of fashion history in the 80s. His sober yet sophisticated designs cemented his position as an innovator, gaining him international recognition. In 2003 he launched Y-3, a collaborative project with Adidas which presents a sportier, more accessible version of his designs. Over the years he has had his share of accolades, including the award for Master of Design by the CFDA in 1999, Japanese Medal of honour in 2004, honorary Royal Designer for industry from the Royal Society of Arts in 2006 as well as France’s Commandeur of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Although today his style remains highly conceptual and continues with an exploration of the asymmetrical, his latest collections are a departure from his signature monochromatic looks. The Spring / Summer 2014 line is infused with bright fluorescent colors with a newfound intensity. The groundbreaking designer is famously quoted as saying, “With my eyes turned to the past, i walk backwards into the future.”
Marc Jacobs is no stranger to acclaim, having been the youngest designer ever to receive the CFDA Award for New Fashion talent— arguably the highest honor a designer can receive. Five years later, the CFDA awarded him with the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award for his work for Perry Ellis. Just one year after, the company fired him for a collection deemed as “grunge.” Jacobs took the helm at Louis Vuitton as Creative Director in 1997, a role he maintained until this past season. Though the designer will now concentrate on his own lines, his work with Vuitton will be celebrated for years to come. At Louis Vuitton he broke barriers designing the line’s first ready-to-wear collection and bridged the gap between art and fashion by incorporating the work of contemporary artists into the label’s ensembles. For his final runway show for the fashion house, Jacobs showcased a line that aesthetically mirrored the seventeen-year arc of his career with Vuitton. Although the affair was tinged with melancholia, Jacobs brought his signature energy to his departure through the dramatic presentation of forty-one monochromatic looks, with a backdrop of fountains and carousels. The collection was an ode to the women who have inspired him over the years, including Coco Chanel, Rei Kawakubo, and Miuccia Prada. This past year the designer entered the world of beauty with his self-named cosmetics line. This February he turned heads again naming sixty-eight-year-old award-winning actress Jessica Lange the face of the brand.
Alexander Wang, who ironically paid his dues as an intern for the aforementioned Marc Jacobs, seems years beyond his age of thirty. Rebelling against the norm, Wang left formal studies to design his first collection. In 2008 he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award at twenty-five. Wang, known for his downtown, grunge- inspired fashion with clean lines and strong tailoring, was named Creative Director for Balenciaga at just twenty-eight years old—an announcement met with surprise by some. Wang himself admitted to having doubts when first taking on the role. His debut collection was lauded for his ability to pay homage to the line’s legacy. For Spring / Summer 2014, Wang showed a nostalgic collection referencing his youth, “when fashion was fun.” It featured midriff-baring ensembles, pleated skirts, logo branding and t-shirt cuts. This June he will go up against his former mentor, facing off with Marc Jacobs for the CFDA’s title of Womenswear Designer of the Year.
Each wholly unique in their work as well as in the trajectory of their careers, these designers have made their mark beyond the world of fashion. Aside from their ability to captivate an audience, each defy the parameters that were set before them. They have taken the notion of simply creating fashion to task by prioritizing risk-taking in their body of work. Through collections, exhibits, personal actions and collaborations, these artists challenge norms and defy standards. They created new metrics for their peers to follow. Their Spring/Summer collections highlight their power to inspire as well as their innate abilities as cultural bellwethers; with the exception of Marc Jacobs’ wistful pièce de résistance for Vuitton, many designers incorporated joyous palettes and a return to the whimsical, perhaps to usher in a feeling of economic growth for the world at large. The impact of their collections will spread its wings far beyond the very notion of wearing clothing, forecasting the tone of tomorrow. They are each in their own way true legends in their own time.
Article by Liz Hazzard for The Untitled Magazine