Six female fashion designers who changed the history of the industry

In honour of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Shedoesthecity fashion writer Bianca Teixeira chose to highlight female fashion designers throughout modern history whose talent and creativity had a pivotal effect on the industry. Beyond their highly respected style, Bianca reminds us of how their design mirrored, or in some cases helped to steer, the women’s liberation movement throughout the past century:

Coco Chanel
Becoming popular in the 1920s, Coco started out designing hats but quickly moved into clothes. She completely rewired the way women dressed in those days and basically gave the finger to corsets and dresses that were covered in too many frills and bows. She popularized trends that are still running rampant today: the bob, the use of jersey material and, did I mention the LITTLE BLACK DRESS? It’s no wonder she’s still held in the highest of regards in the industry.

Mary Quant
In the sixties Mary Quant found that below the knee skirts and dresses prevented her from dancing, so she took a pair of scissors and invented the mini skirt. This is arguably the most influential fashion movement that took place during women’s lib. Most older women were scandalized by this piece of clothing. Chanel herself, once a beacon of fluidity in fashion, said that knees should never be on display. But thankfully the young women of England and then the rest of the world loved it.

Sonia Rykiel
This designer has been called the true successor to Chanel (news that may be surprising to Karl Lagerfeld). Rykiel dominated the trend of figure hugging knitwear in the ‘70s simply because during her pregnancy she couldn’t find any comfy sweaters to relax in! She decided that if no one was selling any, then she’d just have to make them herself. She was also the first designer to put seams on the outside of garments and to put lettering on sweaters.

Vivienne Westwood
Also in London was the still very popular Westwood. In 1971, punk was an underground phenomenon taking over the mostly male youth culture. Westwood opened a store called SEX that featured styles borrowed from sadism fetishistic fashion and showed that boys weren’t the only ones that could rock out. Chains, leather, bondage apparel, studs and black rubber were all found here. Westwood is credited with bringing punk and new wave fashions to the mainstream public. Even today with her flaming orange hair, her collections are filled with ripped skirts, chunky platforms and overly dramatic makeup.

Donatella Versace
In the 90s Donatella was faced with the unexpected murder of her brother, then head of the Versace label. After a disastrous first collection from her, everyone thought the label was over. But Donatella overcame a serious drug addiction to become one of the biggest names on the runway and the red carpet. She brought a different flair to the label than her brother and made it the one people think of when they need all out sexy. And who could forget that she was the brilliant mind behind Jennifer Lopez’s infamous green Grammy dress with a neckline down to her navel?

Betsey Johnson
Johnson’s work is probably best known as being every prom girl’s ideal dress but she started out making dresses from vinyl and metallic fabrics. From her start in the late ‘70s to her work now, Johnson still brings an unprecedented level of fun, imagination and sheer girliness to her collections. Known for using absurd amounts of crinoline, patterns consisting of guns and skulls, and cartwheeling down the runway, the 68 year old designer is still a symbol of New York party girl style.

Most of these names are still on everyone’s lips when they think of fashion. Even though the runways are literally cluttered with male designers bringing us the best of today’s fashion, all of us ladies need to remember that it only took a few women to invent the biggest trends, ones that continue on even today. (Which is no small task when you think about how fast fashion moves.)

~Bianca Teixeira


  1. Anonymous
    March 9, 2011

    I looooove this! Chanel was revolutionary!

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