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Female designers (being ladies themselves) have a natural understanding of how women move, what they do throughout the day, and how they need their clothes to fit. It is for this reason that the innovations made by female designers often have a practical, functional edge that has the power to revolutionize the way women dress. In honor of International Women's Day, here's a tribute to a six female designers who changed the face of fashion.—Jihan Forbes
Coco Chanel will forever be recognized as one of the most iconic and influential female designers of all time. In the 1920s, a time when the notion of a fashionable woman actually being comfortable in her clothes was unheard of, she freed women from the confines of the corset. She had a genius for crafting garments out of sporty jersey material and combining menswear-inspired elements (like shirts with ties) with her own feminine touch. Chanel reinvented the stylish woman's wardrobe into one she could actually live in. Among the several lasting trends we can thank her for are the quilted bag, the little black dress, and the ladylike suit.
You couldn't make this list without including Elsa Schiaparelli. Known for her surrealist designs and madcap aesthetic, Schiaparelli had the ability to seamlessly transform the odd into the chic. From suit buttons in the shape of flying trapeze artists to beetle-adorned collars and the now-iconic upside down shoe hat, Schiaparelli's designs were a perfect marriage between the practical and fanstastical. Her name is synonymous with strange beauty, and she became a pioneer for women with a quirky sense of style. For Schiaparelli, the line between fashion and art was blurred. She collaborated with surrealist artists (like one Salvador Dalì) to help create her designs. Schiap (as she was lovingly known) showed the world that women could look elegant and beautiful while embracing their love for the strange.
Diane Von Furstenberg
Diane Von Furstenberg catapulted into fashion immortality when she came out with the wrap dress in 1972. The innovative, practical design of the frock was perfectly aligned with the mood of the 1970s. It was a dress you could easily slip on and off, travel, work, and play in—and it was universally flattering to boot. DVF's wrap dress embodied the changing role of women in society, a final rejection of old values, setting a precedent for women's fashion today.
Much like Coco Chanel, Donna Karan took black, a shade associated with mourning, and transformed it into the must-have hue for the modern sleek and chic woman. After leaving the Parsons School of Design to work at Anne Klein, Karan was promoted to co-designer of the label at the age of 26. After several years working for the sportswear giant, she launched her namesake brand, which bowed for the fall season with "Seven Easy Pieces," a sartorial rubric for women to get that effortlessly put-together look. It was Karan's easy pieces and liberal use of black that made her brand the quintessential picture of urban dressing, and crafted what we think of today as the New York look. Sleek, chic, functional—and all black everything.
When you think of Vera Wang, you can't help but think of wedding dresses. Considered by many to be one of the most important dresses a woman will wear in her life, Wang's name quickly became synonymous with bridal glamour after she opened her own wedding dress boutique in 1990. Before then, Wang enjoyed an illustrious career in fashion. She started in her early twenties as a Senior Fashion Editor at Vogue, and went on to snag a gig as design director at Ralph Lauren.
Her foray into bridal design came almost accidentally. After being unable to find a gown for her own wedding day, she decided to craft her own. Seeing that she had a knack for creating beautiful wedding dresses, Wang opened a shop where she made custom couture bridal gowns for wealthy clients. Twenty-three years later, her designs are still the lust of every bride.
Miuccia Prada has always had a strong sense of womanhood, as a YSL-wearing leftist radical in the 1960s. But she eventually left that life to take over her at grandfather Mario's leather goods company in the late '70s, where she introduced her own designs into the label's offerings. After enjoying a degree of success, thanks to the leather-trimmed nylon backpacks she created, Prada's now-husband, Partizio Beretelli, insisted that she start working on a womeswear line. Her first collection bowed in 1989. Prada's work since has delightfully reflected an 'ugly chic' aesthetic. Adhering to her feminist roots, she creates clothes that at first glance may seem to be a little strange, loud, or even sometimes downright unattractive. But once her creations are put on a woman, they transformed into a sartorial assertion of power and confidence.