The world of fashion design has been a male-dominated industry since the early 20th century. Even though women are the market, a lot of prominent designers in history have been male, and this trend still continues up to now. Ask anyone to name famous fashion designers or houses and most likely they will mention these male designers: [Christian] Dior, [Yves] Saint Laurent, [Cristobal] Balenciaga, [Hubert de] Givenchy, etc. Among women, most people can probably only think of Coco Chanel, or more often than not, they could know brands such as Lanvin but would be unaware of Jeanne Lanvin, the female designer who started the brand.
There’s nothing wrong with men designing clothes for women, but it’s quite strange that female designers have been sidelined in an industry aimed towards women. The industry has been slowly changing, with notable female designers like Diane Von Furstenburg, Donatella Versace, and Carolina Herrera making a name for themselves on par with their male contemporaries.
This article will highlight seven female fashion designers, from the 20s up to this decade, whom we believe deserve to be celebrated for their artistry.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is inarguably the most famous female fashion designer in history. She revolutionized the way women dressed in the early 20th Century and her legacy still remains until today.
Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.
Going against gender roles, she broke the norms of traditional fashion and introduced trousers, suits, and jersey fabric to her female clientele. Her clothes did not only fuse together masculinity and feminnity, but they were comfortable, as well. She replaced restrictive corsets with easy and simple elegance. Her clothing took influences from menswear but were refined with softer, more feminine silhouettes.
You can see who Chanel was as a designer by simply looking at the little black dress. It’s simple, neutral, comfortable, and timeless. Chanel did not only change gender norms but she also liberated the female body. Women could now wear stylish clothes comfortably and were no longer limited to restrictive, traditional clothing.
Nina Ricci has sadly been long overshadowed by her contemporaries during the post-war period in the 30s and 40s. Disregarded by some fashion editors in those days, Ricci had a loyal clientele within the upper middle class in France.
Known for her superiority in tailoring, she never aimed for an upper class audience, choosing instead to make high fashion more accessible to the middle class. Her clothing was feminine and classic, and equal in quality to the clothes of the more expensive designers, yet a lot more affordable. Like Chanel, Ricci mostly worked with neutral shades but maintained the classic femininity in contrast to Chanel.
She wasn’t the typical designer who sketched; instead she worked straight on a mannequin until she became satisfied with her creation. Ricci had a talent for precision that surpasses most designers, and this was reflected in the impeccable workmanship of her creations.
Dame Vivienne Westwood still continues to be the punk powerhouse she once was. One of the most iconic designers of the late 20th Century, Westwood was heavily inspired by London punk culture that dominated the 70s.
She brought punk to the mainstream, using key elements like tartan fabric and bondage gear in her designs. Her clothing could be considered “deconstructed” as most of her clothes lack the fine tailoring classic designers were known for; she blurred the lines between the concepts of luxury and street, choosing instead to find influences in the British youth of the 70s with their disorderly, exaggerated clothing. Many of her collections were also inspired by history, such as pirates and pagan witches, among others.
Westwood is also known for being an outspoken activist, both in her art and in her personal life. She’s an activist who fights for environmental causes and continues to speak out against issues such as climate change, fracking, and human rights.
Rei Kawakubo is currently the most fascinating designer in the world. Mysterious and secretive, she rarely takes interviews nor talks to the press. Her creations go beyond fashion and delve into the realm of abstract art.
Always ambiguous, her designs are open for interpretation. She never imposes her personal meaning onto her creations, allowing the audience to understand it for themselves. She creates fashion not as a means of dressing up, but as sculptural extensions of the human body. Consistently experimenting with silhouettes, proportions, fabrics, and prints, there is no way of predicting what she would do for the following season.
Asymmetry is the only constant element in her designs. Kawakubo is unpredictable, and that’s what makes her so incredible. She doesn’t stifle her creativity like many contemporary designers, choosing artistry over commerce, and this works to her advantage. Each show becomes another awe inspiring sight to behold, and critics and fans alike have a chance to marvel at her brilliance once more.
Ann Demeulemeester always has a certain allure to her that sets her apart from the rest of the Antwerp Six. She exudes a certain type of cool that comes with nonchalance, and this is reflected in her clothes as well.
Ann Demeulemeester’s style is contradictory: punk yet elegant, simple yet unconventional, and masculine yet feminine. Her clothes look poetic with monotone shades of black and white paired with the tough-fragile elements in her clothing; models walk down the runway with asymmetrical biker jackets (or unbuttoned jackets) styled with willowy skirts and sheer fabrics, complimenting one another in the most unlikely way. Her clothes are angular and asymmetrical while being wispy and effortless at the same time.
The Ann Demeulemeester woman could easily fit in with punks and 18th century academes alike. She is fluid, capable of fitting in and adapting to any situation or time period. Demeulemeester’s contradicting elements are like yin and yang, enriching rather than stifling one another, and this unique strength of hers is what sets her apart from most designers.
Iris Van Herpen
Iris Van Herpen is a modern day icon in the contemporary Dutch fashion industry. Only 32 years old, she has already received acclaim from both art and fashion critics; her work has also been exhibited in various museums across the globe such as the Textil Museet in Sweden and the MET in New York.
She is a pioneer in her use of textiles, experimenting with new textile technology and 3D printing to create the sculptural pieces she is most known for. Her influences seem to come particularly from science, and that is not only evident in her choice of materials but also with the color palette she often uses, consisting mostly of metallics and glossy neutrals. Her clothes always look futuristic, almost straight out of a science fiction film.
Like the late Alexander McQueen (whom she interned for before she started her label), van Herpen continues to think outside the box and pushes boundaries, never succumbing to the pressure of commercialisation like most of her contemporaries. She never dumbs down her work, which is why her shows are always a sight to behold season after season.
Bouchra Jarrar is probably the most underrated designer of the decade. Working under various fashion houses for many years, Jarrar successfully ran her own business from 2010, garnering excellent reviews from critics and gaining a small fanbase. She got better recognition in 2016 when she was appointed as the creative director of Lanvin.
She is known for her simplicity and her superiority in tailoring before anything else. Her clothing is not gimmicky, and despite her shows being seasonal, her clothes are never outdated. Stylish and impeccably chic, Jarrar’s specialties include trousers and simple jackets rarely seen in haute couture. The look is always streamlined and sleek, never excessive. Although unafraid to play with colors, when she does use them, she often uses muted variants. Her palette usually consists of cream colors that go well with anything.
Jarrar’s stint in Lanvin is a superb one. She manages to translate Jeanne Lanvin’s style in a more contemporary context, incorporating elements from her own style into Lanvin’s feminine elegance. The new Lanvin is not for the fashionable woman, but for the stylish one.