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5 Women That Have Configured Fashion

Words: Chloe Collins

In the world of fashion, the journey to the top is a relentless, unwavering, and unyielding fight. There are no guarantees in this business; a person’s tenacity, originality, connections, and (of course) talent, are some of the vital skills needed to make it. Especially in the heavily male-dominated field, women have fought relentlessly to produce designs that bring a feminine perspective to high fashion.

These female designers' contributions have been undeniable. The stories that have been told through their collections and brand identity have furthered the visibility of women in fashion and forever changed how we dress. During this Women’s History Month, we honor five women who have hit the ground running and served as pioneers in their field.

Vera Wang 

If there’s one thing that Vera Wang has mastered, it is the art of pivoting. As a young figure skater with dreams of gold medals, Wang was devastated when she failed to make the 1968 Winter U.S. Olympic Team. Wang then turned her sights to the business world and became the youngest senior editor in Vogue history. After dedicating fifteen years to the fashion house, she parted ways after being rejected for the position of editor-and-chief. Her time at Vogue had prepared her for her next endeavor as design director for Ralph Lauren. 

After struggling to find her wedding dress, Wang discovered the lack of bridal dresses for middle-aged women. This instance planted the seed that would launch her solo career. In 1990, at age 39, she opened her first bridal boutique in New York City. Since then, she has grown her brand with fragrances, jewelry, eyewear, tuxedos, shoes, and homeware. Wang is one of the few fashion designers that began designing after age 30 and found success.

In 2021, she was ranked #76 on the Forbes Richest Self-Made Women list. Throughout her massively successful career, her humility has been unwavering. As told to the Business of Fashion, she states, "It was brick by brick, client by client, store by store. It’s been a trip of passion, but it has not been a quick trip. Nor has it been easy. And that is the truth.”

Martine Rose

London-based menswear designer Martine Rose started her namesake label with just a few t-shirts. Focusing small in her brand's younger years was the strategy that helped her evolve to critically acclaimed status. Her inspiration comes from her youth and experience as a woman with a Jamaican-British heritage. The melting pot of culture that lives in London, including rave and reggae, helped craft the essence of her label’s identity. She grounds her brand in the values that she holds so dearly; family and community.

Her approach to designing menswear has been to hone in on her unique aesthetic. She has resisted the norms of menswear and has infused elements of gender fluidity, bold silhouettes, and subversive details into her clothing. When asked who the Martine Rose guy is, she stated, “He’s really broad: he can be 18 or 45. He’s cool, whoever he is. I’ve always been attracted to outsiders. I think that comes through in my designs and it resonates with that person.”

Vivienne Westwood

The commercialization of punk fashion couldn’t have been achieved without the efforts of Vivienne Westwood. Her fascination for the genre started in the early 1970s after she opened her shop “Seditionaries” in England for early members of the punk scene. This is where she first debuted her (intentional) tawdry garments to her audience. The pieces included deconstructed graphic tees and bondage trousers.

Known for her controversial headline-making designs, Westwood is one of the only designers who have pushed the envelope of fashion in this way. She was able to bridge the gap between punk aesthetics and mainstream apparel. Her innovative use of materials such as tartan, Harris tweed, leather, and wool became her signature. 

Westwood has received accolades including British Designer of the Year for 1990 and 1991, and the Leonardo De Vinci Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, the popularity of Westwood’s orb jewelry is a reminder of her ethics; craftsmanship, quality, and authenticity. 

Tracey Reese

Detroit native Tracey Reese has been designing clothes from scratch since she was a child. After her shift from graduating from design school, she was brought on by French designer Martine Sitbon to work at the firm Arlequin. After working with several fashion houses, she became head of the Women’s Portfolio at Perry Ellis. With the expertise she had gained in these positions, she transitioned into launching her namesake label in 1998. The brand focuses on ready-to-wear garments and resort wear.

Reese’s approach to designing has been heavily influenced by the essence of femininity, bohemian-esc styles, bright textile colors, and graphic patterns. Her successive launches include Plenty in 2000 and Frock! In 2006. These labels appealed to the mass market at a more affordable price point. 

Currently, Reese's focus has pivoted to aligning her business strategy to sustainable and slow fashion. Her newest collection, Hope and Flowers, emphasizes the importance of positive social impact by connecting young women and girls through art programs in the city of Detroit. 

Karoline Vitto

Brazilian-born Karoline Vitto’s label was founded out of her honor towards body positivity. Launched in 2020, her namesake label has already struck the attention of Dolce and Gabbana founders Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Her emphasis on destabilizing common narratives and stereotypes on shape and size has put the label in high regard early in its inception.

Dressing sizes from UK 8 to 28, Vitto’s mission is to celebrate the curves of all women and produce pieces on demand to responsibly use resources. After being featured on the cover of Vogue Brazil, she recently debuted her Spring/Summer 2024 in a show at Milan Fashion Week with the support of Dolce and Gabbana. 


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