With fashion month drawing to an end, eyes have turned to the fresh crop of up and coming designers whose collections have been debuted at New York, London, Milan and now Paris. We at Zee & Co have decided to take a look at those who inspired them, the men and women who have shaped the industry into what it is today. Here’s our pick of the top ten fashion designers who have ever lived, if you don’t agree with our list or think we’ve missed someone out then let us know by tweeting or messaging us!
10. Karl Lagerfeld – “Vanity is the healthiest thing in life”
Karl Lagerfeld has been referred to by many as the hired gun of fashion. His success and achievements are vast yet so are the brands that he has worked with. He is renowned for his bold style and constant reinvention of labels and styles to suit the current trends of the fashion industry. Lagerfeld was born in Germany into an affluent family and it is reported that intellectual activity was openly encouraged in the home. He was interested in fashion from an early age and would be critical of the outfits and clothing that other children would wear to school. By the age of 14 Lagerfeld moved to Paris where he entered his sketches into a design competition coming first place in the coat category. It is here that Karl met long time friend and fellow competition winner Yves Saint Laurent. The young designer began working as Pierre Balmain’s junior assistant and apprentice for the following three years before becoming Creative Director of another fashion house and then moving to his own independent brand. He was soon designing collections for brands including Chloe and Fendi. By the 1980s Lagerfeld was one of the most successful designers in the industry and then turned his attention to the reinvigoration of dying label Chanel. His image and work is still thriving today, be it with his own eponymous label or others.
9. Marc Jacobs – “I really do believe that art challenges the landscape of the world”
From an early life of trouble to being labelled the ‘boy wonder’ of the fashion industry Marc Jacobs has been turning heads wherever he goes. Best known for his own label, Marc has also worked as Creative Director of Luis Vuitton, now out-of-business label Sketchbook and worked alongside Tom Ford at Perry Ellis. Struck down by a crippling bout of alcohol and drug addiction Jacobs admitted himself to rehab in both 1999 and 2007. His work remained a success and after an accomplished 16 year stint as Creative Director he left Luis Vuitton in 2013. His eponymous label continues to be one of the most respected names in fashion.
8. Giorgio Armani – “The difference between style and fashion is quality”
Giorgio Armani is a name that is respected by fashion critics everywhere. His company is not solely in fashion but has tapped into other ventures such as restaurants and hotels too. His clothing was what made him into what he is today though. Armani is a firm supporter of the understated; his garments come in soft palettes, sharp fits and exquisite refinement. If you’re looking for a top quality, distinguished suit or dress then Armani is where you should begin your search.
7. Gianni Versace – “I think it’s the responsibility of a designer to try to break rules and barriers”
Taught how to design by his dressmaking mother, Gianni Versace was the creator and figurehead of one of the world’s most renowned labels until his tragic death in 1997. Versace was one of the first designers to recognise the impact that having celebrities wearing a brand’s clothing could have. His shows were star studded events and he was known for dressing the likes of Elizabeth Hurley, Elton John, Madonna and Princess Diana. Versace built up a glamorous and prestigious reputation for his brand which is carried forward today by younger sister Donatella who took control of the company after his murder.
6. Christian Dior – “Deep in every heart slumbers a dream and the couturier knows it; every woman is a princess”
Despite his parents wishing for him to become a diplomat Christian Dior was always creatively inclined. He began life selling his fashion illustrations on the street for pocket money but later moved on to owning a gallery where he sold work by artists like Pablo Picasso. Eventually the gallery was forced to close and after a stint in the army, Dior took to fashion. Dior worked alongside Pierre Balmain for couturier Lucien Lelong. By December 1946 he founded the house of Christian Dior as a cotton fabric magnate. The next year Dior debuted his first collection which was soon labelled as the “new look”. The grandeur and extravagance of these clothes were entirely contradictory of the reality of post-war Europe. In the November of 1948 Dior opened his first luxury ready-to-wear house in New York as well as releasing his perfume collections. The year after he became the first couturier to arrange licensed production of his designs ensuring that the ‘new look’ was completed with the correct footwear and accessories. This move was initially criticised but later followed by the majority of designers. In 1955 Dior took on a 19 year old assistant named Yves Saint Lauren who would later succeed him, at his own request, after his death in 1957.
5. Hubert de Givenchy – “The dress must follow the body of a woman, not a body following the shape of a dress”
Born into a French aristocratic family, Hubert de Givenchy began his career as an apprentice with Jacques Faith and learnt the trade from designers like Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong and Elsa Schiaparelli. By 1952 he founded his couture house La Maison Givenchy and two years later he presented the first luxury ready-to-wear collection. Givenchy first met Audrey Hepburn in 1953 and remained friends with her for over forty years. He would design most of Hepburn’s personal ensembles as well as many of her film costumes such as the iconic black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In 1957 the famous sack dress was launched, this design ignored the female silhouette and was considered groundbreaking at the time. In 1973 Givenchy launched his menswear brand which added another successful line of revenue for the label.
4. Yves Saint Laurent – “Dressing is a way of life”
From a bullied childhood to being the first living designer to receive a solo exhibition in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983 Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career has not been the simplest but has left a legacy which continues to grow today. At the age of 18 the designer moved to Paris and quickly impressed people with his drawings, the most notable of his fans were Michael de Brunhoff (editor of French Vogue) who introduced him to future mentor Christian Dior. Under Dior’s counsel Saint Laurent’s work gained momentum. Dior requested that when he dies his protégée would take control of his company and by 1957 the inevitable happened. Yves Saint Laurent became Art Director and released his first collection for the label that year which gained him a Neiman Marcus Oscar. The designer was pulled from the label to complete his national service and upon returning had found that his position had been lost. He sued the company for breach of contract and used the funds to set up his eponymous label with partner Pierre Berge. For years to come Yves Saint Laurent ruled as king of the fashion industry, his designs were adored by many and his position as an authority on style remained firmly rooted. Garments such as his smoking suits, reefer jackets, sheer blouses and jumpsuits won him respect from critics far and wide. After fighting addictions to drugs and alcohol the designer allowed input from high profile Creative Directors such as Alber Etraz and Tom Ford. An emotional Yves Saint Laurent took his final steps on the YSL catwalk in 2002 giving the control of the company to younger and more capable hands. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 71 after a bout of illnesses.
3. Vivienne Westwood – “You have a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes”
Born into a humble life, Vivienne Westwood lived a relatively unremarkable life until meeting Malcolm McLaren, future manager of the Sex Pistols. McLaren quickly had an influence of Vivienne and by 1971 he opened a boutique on King’s Road and began selling her designs. As the Sex Pistols’ success blew up, Westwood began dressing the band which helped the group to carve out their notorious image. Once the rebellious punk movement began to fade, Westwood knew that she needed to move onto the next challenge. By 1981 she released a collection entitled Pirate which cemented her credentials as a talented fashion designer. Vivienne Westwood’s success and prominence grew as did her list of achievements: she was British Designer of the Year twice; was awarded with an OBE in 1992; won the Queen’s export award in 1998; in 2007 she was given the gong for Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design at The British Fashion Awards; at a ceremony for the Prince Philip Designers Prize she received a special commendation for her contribution to design from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh; and she was also named Britain’s Greatest Fashion Designer in a poll by Greenall. Above all else Vivienne Westwood has remained strong and resolute about her beliefs and principles: she has spoken out in support for various charities; offered jobs to impoverished women in Africa to make her bags in return for a fair wage; joined Occupy London’s anti-capitalist protests; vocally outlined her concerns about climate change; designed t-shirts in support of Julian Assange; and most recently drove a white tank up to the house of Prime Minister David Cameron in a protest about fracking. Vivienne Westwood’s influence is still prominent today and she has firmly claimed her place as one of the most intriguing and illustrious fashion designers to have ever lived.
2. Coco Chanel – “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury”
Coco Chanel’s early years were not filled with the luxury and glamour of her later life. She lived in an orphanage where she was taught how to sew by nuns. Chanel had a short career as a singer before turning to fashion. She opened her first shop in Paris in 1910 which began selling hats, stores in Deauville and Biarritz shortly followed. Coco Chanel found early success when she designed a dress from an old jersey on a cold day. She was approached by many people asking where she bought the garment to which she replied that she would make them one. By the 1920s her business was growing and Chanel brought out the first perfume to feature a designer’s name, Chanel No. 5. In 1925 she introduced her signature suit for women with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. This outfit brought a large amount of fame and prosperity as it broke the conventions of the time and sought elements from men’s fashion. Chanel was also one of the first designers to bring the little black dress into fruition. She dispelled the associations black had with mourning and replaced it with chic style. Chanel’s business was hit hard by the depression of the 1930s and by World War II the company ceased trading. She became the centre of a scandal after her love affair with a Nazi officer but was cleared of any wrong doing though she was not viewed upon favourably by the public. She moved to Switzerland where she stayed for many years. At the age of 70, Coco Chanel returned to the fashion world and despite receiving poor reviews her work won over her critics. She passed away in January 1971 and now her legacy is continued by designer Karl Lagerfeld.
1. Alexander McQueen – “I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists”
Alexander McQueen took pride in the fact that he was not what many would claim to be a traditional fashion designer. He was born into a working class background and never conformed to the image expected of him. Bullied throughout school for recognising his homosexuality at a young age, McQueen dropped out at the age of 16 and went to work for a tailor shop on Savile Row. There are reports that whilst working for tailors Gieves & Hawkes McQueen embroidered a suit for The Prince of Wales with an expletive stitched into the lining. Alexander McQueen then moved onto theatrical costume designers Angels and Bermans. The drama of the pieces designed inspired McQueen and this became an influence in his later work. After a short stay in Milan with designer Romeo Gigli, he returned to London and enrolled at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design where he achieved his M.A. in 1992. The entirety of his final collection was bought by the eccentric stylist Elizabeth Blow who became a lifelong friend of McQueen. Shortly after he started designing for his own label and was soon named Chief Designer of Givenchy. Despite being a revered position, McQueen did not enjoy the job. He felt that he was being held back by the company and that his creativity was being constrained by the image and concept of the brand. Despite admitting that he treated Givenchy poorly and not enjoying the role McQueen won British Designer of the Year three times (1996, 1997 and 2001) whilst working for the label. In 2001 Gucci invested in McQueen’s own label and offered him the financial support to expand his horizons. Once he was free of the restraints of Givenchy his designs and shows became true spectacles of eccentricity and passion. McQueen was awarded again with British Designer of the Year, he also received a CBE, Menswear Designer of the Year award and the CFDA Best International Designer commendation. In 2007 close friend Elizabeth Blow committed suicide and McQueen dedicated his 2008 Spring/Summer collection to her memory. His Spring/Summer 2010 collection was hailed as his best ever work. Alexander McQueen committed suicide at the age of 40 on February 11th 2010, a day before the funeral of his mother. The McQueen legacy lives on today as long term co-designer Sarah Burton took the reins for the label which remains successful to this day. In 2011 when Prince William and Kate Middleton married, it was an Alexander McQueen dress designed by Sarah Burton that was chosen to stun the crowds.