Written by Kathryn Andes
The beginning of March marks the start of Women’s History Month, in which we will highlight the contributions, discoveries, inventions, and hard work of women throughout history. In professions such as math and STEM, engineering and science, medicine and politics, women were and still are a huge part of the groundbreaking accomplishments made in America. Women have also made strides in creative roles, specifically in the fashion industry. Check out the list below of the most influential female trailblazers in fashion throughout history.
1. Coco Chanel
Image courtesy of Vogue.com
Coco Chanel, also known as Gabrielle Bonheur first became prominent in Paris, recognized by her famous boutique on Rue Cambon in 1910. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz, France. The French designer started out making hats, and quickly moved to clothing once her brand took off. Coco Chanel designed her first handbag in 1929, but it wasn’t until 1955, when the designer created and normalized shoulder bags rather than clutches for women, that her brand grew in popularity. The simple act of democratizing shoulder bags for women is what changed the fashion industry and made Chanel one of the most sought after designer brands.
2. Vera Wang
Image courtesy of Elle.com
In her college years, Wang worked in the Rive Gauche boutique on Madison Ave as a summer job. After college she worked on the editorial side of Vogue, staying at Conde Nast for 16 years. At age 40, Wang decided she was going to design wedding dresses and got into business with David’s Bridal. Her most famous clients are the likes of Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham, and Chelsea Clinton. In addition to her celebrity clients, she also designed for the masses by selling dresses at Kohl’s. In recent years Wang debuted a plus-size wedding dress collection, bringing inclusivity to designer bridal fashion.
3. Anna Wintour
Image courtesy of Biography.com
Anna Wintour is quite literally the most powerful fashion magazine editor in America. Print Vogue has 10.8 Million readers, just shy of the 12 Million digital readers, followed by 57 Million social followers from apps such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. Not only is Wintour the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, but she is also the Artistic Director of Conde Nast, overseeing other magazines under the umbrella. One of the most influential programs that Wintour has spearheaded for fresh, new designers is the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, where Telfar Clemens received $400,000 in 2017 to kickstart his brand.
4. Miuccia Prada
Image courtesy of esquire.com
Miuccia Prada, CEO of Prada and Creative Director of Miu Miu, took over the family business from her grandfather in 1978. She began designing handbags in 1985, with her first collection consisting of black bags made from woven nylon. They instantly became a success and were known as the “classic” Prada bag. One of the most popular bags that is still sought after today from her 1985 collection is the Prada Nylon Vela Backpack. In 2019 Prada launched the Re-Nylon capsule collection which consisted of handbags for men and women made from recycled nylon sourced from old fishing nets, industrial plastic, carpets, and plastic bottles. Miuccia Prada and the Prada brand are now known as one of the most innovative fashion houses in the world.
5. Stella McCartney
Image courtesy of lmvh.com
Prada is not the only designer brand that takes sustainability seriously. Stella McCartney was one of the first designers in the fashion industry to advocate for cruelty-free fashion. Ever since her brand launched in 2001, the British designer has banned the use of leathers, furs, and feathers in her brand. She is committed to using recycled and sustainable materials and democratizing luxury fashion that won’t hurt the environment. McCartney has partnered with many environmentalist initiatives such as Parley, Agents of Change, and Greenpeace to raise awareness about keeping our oceans clean and putting a stop to deforestation in the Amazon.
6. Diane Von Furstenberg
Image courtesy of vogue.co.uk
DVF is a designer with a true underdog story. She survived the Holocaust in 1946 and then met her now husband Prince Egon Von Furstenberg and became a Princess in 1969. She took the fashion world by storm in 1974 when her famous wrap dress debuted. Her wrap dress design has been inducted into The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Collection and The Smithsonian. Now the fashion designer is committed to women’s rights across the globe.
7. Sophia Amoruso
Image courtesy of forbes.com
Founder of Girlboss and creator of Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso is the comeback kid of fashion. She was named one of the richest self-made women in the world by Forbes. But her start in business and entrepreneurship was not a walk in the park. As a college drop out she was caught shoplifting in 2003, and used that moment as a lesson and a turning point in her life. She moved to San Francisco, California and started an eBay shop called Nasty Gal Vintage. She later purchased the domain and created her own website selling to mainly women in their 20’s with an eclectic sense of style. As her company grew she opened a larger office in L.A. and the company reached peak success in 2012 pulling in 100 Million in annual sales, with over 200 employees. Amoruso became a bestselling author with her book titled “Girlboss” with a Netflix show to follow. The company has since been sold to the boohoo group, but Amoruso’s legacy will always be associated with Nasty Gal.
8. Tory Burch
Image courtesy of Twitter.com
The Tory Burch brand began in 2004 when the designer launched her first boutique during NYFW in the Nolita district of NYC. The initial collection was a huge success and the brand grew exponentially. Tory Burch herself made the Forbes Most Powerful Women List in 2014. Burch started her career in fashion as a copywriter working for big brands such as Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren and Harper’s Bazaar. She created her brand by designing clothes in her kitchen, and a year later received a celebrity endorsement from Oprah, launching her career into rapid success. The line is now carried at Nordstrom and Saks and is worth $3.5 Billion and recently ran a campaign with Sydney Sweeney, one of the most popular actresses from the cult favorite HBO show “Euphoria”.
9. Donatella Versace
Image courtesy of us.fashionnetwork.com
The youngest of the Versace siblings, Donatella started designing for the family brand in 1994, and succeeded her brother Gianni as the artistic director in 1997, as well as Vice President of the board. Donatella has received many awards for her work in the fashion industry such as the International award at the CFDA, named “Designer of the Year” both by British GQ and by GQ China, and awarded the “Fashion Icon Award” at the GQ Awards in Berlin. Donatella was also awarded the CNMI Award in recognition of sustainability at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in 2018. Versace's popularity grew in 2000 when she designed the “Green Jungle'' dress for Jennifer Lopez, worn again by the actress in 2020, creating a social media frenzy.
10. Kate Spade
Image courtesy of wsj.com
Kate Spade’s signature nylon handbags were a nineties fad with bright, vibrant colors and quirky, fun patterns. Spade jump started her career as an editor at Mademoiselle magazine at Conde Nast. After she left Mademoiselle, she started her own handbags brand where she worked out of her apartment. In 1993 she officially founded her brand. In 1996 the Kate Spade brand had a pivotal turn around. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded Spade the New Fashion Talent in Accessories prize, and she then opened her first flagship store in SoHo, NYC. By 1998 Kate Spade had stores in Boston, L.A. and Tokyo. In 2007 the Spades removed themselves from the brand and instead worked on philanthropy, charity efforts, and starting a family. Although Kate Spade the person is still associated through fans and followers with the designer label.