The fashion industry has always been studded with big names and bigger personalities whose struggle stories and personal lives have been nothing short of fascinating. They always say that it is only through the life of a great man, or woman for that matter, that great art is created. Every big name in the fashion scene, from Coco Chanel to Vivienne Westwood, to Alexander McQueen, has all had fairly interesting personal lives and even more intriguing stories about how they became the big names in fashion. Let’s take a casual stroll through a few of the most eminent milestones in the field of fashion.
Miuccia Prada is regarded as one of the most influential and enigmatic fashion designers of modern times. She has transformed a small house business into one of the most impressive multi-billion dollar fashion houses. Miuccia is a true iconoclast and someone who has never ducked a challenge. Under her direction, the Prada brand has managed to amalgamate the old and the new, the ugly and the sublime, the vulgar and the simple, to show off various original and often unexpected ideas. In fact, no two collections have ever looked vaguely the same. The Prada renaissance started under Miuccia in 1985 with unassuming fabric for her bags. Miuccia chose function over fashion. The brand’s nylon bags eventually became a symbol of modernity, allowing luxury to be subversive and beyond the superficial.
Vivienne Westwood is perhaps the most influential British designer the world has ever seen. In an industry predominantly created to showcase beauty, Vivienne uses her skills to advocate higher causes through her passion for art, history and social justice. In doing so, she redefined what being a designer could represent, inspiring a wave of other designers to use fashion as a means of sparkling cultural change. Westwood was responsible for bringing the entire punk movement into British fashion. She can be adequately described as a rebel when it comes to fashion.
One only needed to look at the nature of Alexander McQueen’s work, the inherent violence and melancholy in every piece, to see there was a deep and permeable wound at the core of this young designer. McQueen, who passed away in 2010, continues to be regarded as an iconic figure in British fashion. Despite his humble beginnings, McQueen’s hard work made him rise to head the fashion brand Givenchy when he was only 27.
Vera Wan has continued to challenge herself as a creator even today when she has completed almost 31 years in the fashion industry. She firmly asserts that it is only her personal learning curve and growth as a human being and not just as a designer that has given her the reason to study and learn even more. An accomplished competitive figure skater, Wang uses similar exactitude in her fashion designs. She worked at Conde Nast for 16 years, which consisted of everything remarkable such as assisting Polly Mellen, a former stylist and a fashion editor. She also carried out projects for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and worked on sittings. During her 16-year long tenure, a famous photographer, impressed by her work, casually mentioned that she is cut out to be the editor. So, she moved on to actually become the editor of Conde Nast. After working as an accessories designer for three years under another famous name, Ralph Lauren, she moved on to create the famous brand that she now owns.
There is little that is not known about Coco Chanel and the eminent personality that she was. The Chanel brand is mostly famous for the splendid fragrances it creates such as the iconic Chanel No. 5, but also for popularising the still signature Little Black Dress (LBD). Chanel was probably the first to bring in androgynous clothing, and she effortlessly mingled utility into style for women. The skirt suit sets she created laid the foundational stones for every androgynous clothing that comes out today in the market. Chanel was the first to bring out designs that were more freeing than her contemporaries’ designs. For the first time, a designer was not putting models into a corset.
Chrstian Dior was mainly famous for popularising what was known as the ‘new look’ in the 1940s and 1950s. His brand’s dresses consisted of a fitted upper body and a flared skirt portion. This has also given rise to the modern day fit and flare or A-line dress. The style was seen everywhere during the 1950s, and came to define the era’s fashion. Dior is still dated as one of the most signature names in the field of women’s couture, and elegant party dresses and ball gowns.
Cristóbal Balenciaga belongs to the class of those prodigies of fashion who never received formal training in terms of art school or fashion design, but still moved on to make a name for himself. Balenciaga has always specialized in exquisitely tailored clothing and formal wear. The brand had a change of direction and now probably has a collection popularized as the ‘American street fashion’. It has some pretty quirky products to boast off, including shoes that look like socks and big bold quirky prints that have become increasingly popular with the brand’s fans.
The name of famous Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn is almost synonymous with the name of Hubert de Givenchy, who used to be the actor’s favourite designer. The actor donned the designer’s French collection on the sets of iconic films such as Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and several others. The Givenchy brand is known for its unapologetically feminine aesthetic. Its clean cut silhouettes and elegant dresses have become emblematic of the brand name.
Valentino Garavani, the Italian designer who is better known as Valentino, has the most intriguing success story. He rose to fame when Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor spotted his designs on the set of Cleopatra, when she was shooting in Rome. Taylor then moved on to don the spectacular white gown to the premiere of the film Spartacus, and from there, the brand name of Valentino was born. Valentino is known for his use of red, but his collection called ‘No Colour’, which consisted of just white, ivory and beige clothing, became even more popular with his fans. When his contemporaries were making more of the psychedelic designs and representing the future, Valentino’s clean designs felt like a breath of fresh air to the brand’s audience.
Italian designer Giorgio Armani is mostly known for sleek designer suits that he creates for men and women alike. Armani, known for what is called the “power suits” because they exude confidence, has been the designer for many famous people, including John Travolta, Jodie Foster, Richard Gere, Michelle Pfeiffer, and others. Armani was also the costume designer on the sets of the film Miami Vice. Armani extended his fashion collection to include more ready-to-wear dresses, and formal and evening wear.
The list of pioneers in the fashion industry is seemingly endless and so are the sources of inspiration. When budding designers seem to have reached a point of creative exhaustion, the stories of these pioneers would help inspire and uplift their spirits.