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If there’s one industry upon which women have profoundly left their mark, it’s fashion design. Women have been the face of fashion for centuries, pioneering unique entrepreneurial pursuits that would spark trends and become classics for years to come. From repurposing nontraditional materials, to taking inspiration from the popular menswear designs of the time, women have shaped and influenced the fashions we see every day—and for that, we owe them a heartfelt “thank you.” Here are just some of the most influential women in the industry that can be celebrated for their impactful contributions to fashion design.
One of the most influential women in fashion design is Jeanne Lanvin. Known for her entrepreneurial spirit and ability to see the potential in a lifestyle brand, Lanvin got her start by crafting beautiful handmade children’s dresses for her daughter. The dresses were extravagant, embellished with unique embroidery, and featured beautiful drapery using fine silks. Lanvin’s daughter was soon the envy of all wealthy mothers in the city, and Lanvin began accepting requests for custom dressmaking. Realizing she could meet these demands by turning her hobby into a business, Lanvin began designing for women, even creating perfumes and later expanding her line to include sportswear, home décor, and lingerie.
Coco Chanel is a world-renowned fashion icon, but what really solidified her place in the industry? As it turns out, Chanel was the first designer to use jersey fabric (previously used solely for underwear) in the world of high fashion. Chanel took inspiration from menswear and equestrian wear to create unconventional pieces that went beyond “pretty” and pushed for “strong,” a word that until then had seldom been used to describe women’s clothing. Some of Chanel’s many timeless staples included little black dresses and pant suits, and her classic style remains an influence even today.
Diane von Fürstenberg
Credited with the introduction of the wrap dress, Diane von Fürstenberg definitely made her mark on the world of fashion. Famously using her royal marriage as motivation to forge her own career, she stood for many women as an inspiration to be strong, independent, and masters of their own fate. She’s also known for coining the phrase, “Feel like a woman, wear a dress.”
The iconic silhouette of the classic “60s dress” we recognize today is thanks to Mary Quant. Because of Quant, we have the mini skirt, knee-high plastic boots, and skinny rib sweaters that represented the mod fashion culture of the 60s. She famously invented hot pants and is credited with creating what became known as the “London Look.” Quant was also the first woman to win the Dress of the Year award in 1963.
Madeleine Vionnet was best known for her sculptural, Greek-inspired draping and pleating. An architect of her time, Vionnet was able to bring her designs to life with the invention of the bias cut, a huge leap for the fashion industry. Cutting fabrics on the diagonal (creating a bias cut) allowed for fabrics to be stretched more easily, as well as making them easier to put on and take off. Most importantly, they were comfortable to wear—something that was revolutionary for the time.
Schiaparelli was another highly influential fashion designer due to her iconic hand-knit trompe l'oeil sweater and use of unexpected accents throughout her designs. She also was the first to use a visible zipper as an intentional design element. While Schiaparelli had never received any formal training as a seamstress, she learned quickly through self-taught techniques, even borrowing inspiration from Armenian refugees in 1927 and being recognized by Vogue for her unique take on fashion. Schiaparelli is most known for her exceptional tailoring skills that lead to the structured women’s jacket of today.
It’s all thanks to these women that we have the mini skirt, the wrap dress, the comfortable fabrics of our time, and so many more revolutionary inventions we know and love today. In addition, they also serve as a great reminder of the impact women have had on society and how they’ve inspired plenty of generations of fashion to come.