Fashion is not just clothes. Fashion is a nonverbal expression of your art and a statement about what vibe you are showcasing to the world. The world is a runway, and we are constantly strutting down the catwalk, whether it’s in Chanel or beat-up joggers. Fashion will always be a constant in our lives and a way to make statements about anything we see fit. The fashion industry has been influenced and changed forever, thanks to some key players. Lucky for you, now you’re going to meet them! Remember, fashion is for everyone, and it affects everyone more than you know. These women have made a difference not only in fashion but in the business of fashion as well. Let’s applaud these amazing women in the fashion industry, and dive into their stories!
Five Amazing Women in the Fashion Industry
#1 – Ann Lowe
First up, we present to you, Ann Lowe. Lowe was not only an American fashion designer, but she was the first female African American designer the world actually noted. Born in Alabama in 1898, Lowe was destined to make one-of-a-kind fashion pieces. Lowe’s work changes the landscape of fashion, not only artistically, but politically as well. Lowe attended fashion design school, but because of segregation, she was the only student in attendance. She had been sewing and designing dresses since an early age, and was committed to make it something more. Lowe first opened a dress-up in Tampa, but then saved enough money to move back to New York City. Lowe was highly selective, not only in her clientele but in the materials she used.
During the 1950s and 1960s, she worked on commission for stores, such as Henri Bendel, Chez Sonia, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1946, she designed the dress that Olivia de Havilland wore to accept the Academy Award for Best Actress for To Each His Own. The name on the dress was actually Sonia Rosenberg.
She loathed she wasn’t getting recognition for her designs, so she opened up another dress salon in 1948. Her use of extremely detailed handiwork caught the eye of the future first lady, Jackie O. It was Lowe that designed her wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy. Due to the color of her skin, many had no idea she was the designer until Kennedy was assassinated.
You can find her dresses at The Met in NYC. Lowe paved the way for other women of color to pursue fashion, especially during the Civil Rights Movement.
#2 – Jenna Lyons
Next up, we have someone that is not a designer per se, but a creative director. Dolls, meet Jenna Lyons. Lyons was the creative director and president at J. Crew for over 22 years and was part of the LGTBQA + community. Lyons was responsible for mixing textures and patterns for everyday wear and reinvigorated how women dressed. Things, such as how to roll your sleeves, and the daringness of wearing sequins to work, made Jenna a powerhouse in the fashion world. Jenna enjoyed dressing women in their authentic style with pieces that were timeless, but also fun. She believes pieces can be recycled, and that anyone can seamlessly blend casual and formal wear.
Lyons started her journey at the famed Parson’s School of Design in New York, and then immediately began working at J. Crew at 21 years old in menswear. She quickly rose through the ranks, infusing her quirky sense of style wherever she went. She managed to put J. Crew back on top with new ad campaigns and bringing fun back to the brand. Jenna Lyons has been dubbed, “the woman that dressed America.” Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, has admitted she has many J. Crew designs in her closet.
#3 – Coco Chanel
The next designer on our list is classic, and merely saying her name invokes imagery of luxury and clean lines. May we present to you Mademoiselle Coco Chanel? Coco was credited for inspiring a chic, but sporty style post World War I in France. Not only did she go beyond clothes, but she realized she had a flair for designing accessories, such as jewelry and handbags. She created an entire brand that allowed women to feel feminine but still allowed them to be out in the workforce and play sports. She could dress women for any occasion and chose shapes that were flexible, but also inspired women to own that “little black dress.”
Chanel was an avid outdoor fan and even brought into vogue the idea of sunbathing. Coco believed being out in the sun was an act of leisure and privilege. This removed the notion that pale skin meant you were wealthy. Her concept brought women to the beaches to get a tan like Coco. Chanel has become a staple in the fashion world forever and has a worldwide reach that reimagined how women could dress.
#4 – Claire McCardell
Fascinated by fashion at a very young age, Claire McCardell is our next fashion designer. In 1923, she graduated with a certificate in costume design from Parsons (then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts). She started work after graduation with Robert Turk, who then brought her along with him to a larger company called Townley Frocks. She was one of the first American designers to have her own label with her own name recognition, “Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley”. This is where she created her famed “Popover Dress”, which became a staple of her collections.
The dress got its name because it could be “popped” over your clothes. This versatile wrap dress had patch pockets, wide dolman sleeves, and various fabrics and lengths. She created the dress in 1942 as a response to a challenge to create something fashionable to wear while cleaning the house, but could also be worn as a party dress. Her clothing incorporated zippers on the side rather than down the back so that women wouldn’t need help in getting dressed.
Unfortunately, her life and work were cut short after she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. In March 1958, just a year after finding out, she died at the age of 52. Over her years, McCardell helped craft a long-lasting, versatile, and attractive wardrobe, and we can relate to this philosophy of hers today more than ever. There are versions of the popover dress all over; Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum at F.I.T. of New York City, the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, and the Rhode Island School of Design. The American Magazine, Time, recognized her as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century.
#5 – Vera Wang
Last, we have a designer that entered the fashion world with her own designs in her 40’s, when most people feel like life may be fleeting. This designer goes by the name of Vera Wang. Vera had been in fashion since her career started as an editor for Vogue. She was the youngest editor at the time, and then after 17 years, she left the position to join Ralph Lauren. It was a short time after she left and began designing bridal gowns. Vera also expanded to figure skating outfits and award show gowns as well. She took a sabbatical from in-person shows, then debuted her newest collection in 2020 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her fashion house.
Vera is known for balancing modern designs and traditional elegance. Forbes magazine recognized her as a self-made millionaire. Vera is of Chinese descent and brings such a delicate homage to tradition with her upbringing. Her contribution to the fashion world made wedding gowns chic again. She showed the world that women can have timeless wedding gowns that aren’t dictated by any current trends and still feel beautiful.
Another amazing thing about Vera is she didn’t let her age stop her from opening her own fashion house at 40, which for many seemed too old. Vera showed everyone that no matter your age, you matter. Currently, in her 70’s, Vera still designs clothes and has an active role in her fashion house.
These women in fashion are so incredibly different, but persisting in an industry that is dominated by men is astounding. Each of them has a unique take on fashion and how they connect other women to their own sense of fashion. Empowering other women to use their voices is important for any topic, not just fashion. These women are also advocates for being inclusive and welcoming to other women in the industry.
They were, and are, genuine human beings that want to induce the world with beauty and showcase to other amazing women just how beautiful they really are. Being authentic in a world that may want to silence your uniqueness is truly beautiful, and these women reflect that. If you’re looking for a sign, here it is. In fashion or not, go out there, conquer the world, and be the amazing women that you all are!