To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we’ve looked back through history to find out more about the women who have influenced fashion over the years.
Ironically, those early influencers made their mark by adopting more of a masculine look than a feminine one and therefore became the first to adopt a range of styles and outfits, giving women the chance to live a more balanced lifestyle, unhindered by the corsets and bustles that came before.
Credited with being the person to ‘set a woman’s body free’, Coco Chanel redefined the silhouette by adopting androgynous styles, turning her back firmly on the restrictive corset, and stepping out in flat shoes.
Daughter to a laundrywoman and market stall holder, she started out as a hat designer but eventually established herself as one of the greatest fashion designers the world has ever seen.
It wasn’t just her clothing that broke trends; she was also a fan of tanned skin and short haircuts, something that, back in her day, was frowned upon by the upper echelons of society.
Of course, Chanel’s Breton tops, crewneck jumpers, trousers suits and flat shoes now form the backbone of women’s fashion, proving her incredible foresight and talent for creating a sustainable style choice for women.
Quant burst onto the fashion scene in the 1950s with the launch of fashion that was fun, and an attitude to match. She is quoted as saying “Fashion is not frivolous. It is a part of being alive today.”
And, boy did she breathe some life into ladies wardrobes. Credited for creating the mini skirt and hot pants, Quant was one of the most influential fashion designers of the day and shaped the image of the Swinging Sixties. She encouraged the younger generations to dress for themselves, in a way that made them happy and suited their lifestyle.
Her life story so far is littered with awards and recognition. She quickly broke into the American and Japanese markets, also diversifying into home décor and textiles as well as the cosmetics for which she is still known today.
Diana Vreeland was a force to be reckoned with in the world of fashion. She was responsible for launching many iconic careers and establishing trends which have stood the test of time but it was her incredible resolve and strength of character which made her stand out from the rest.
On success, she is quoted as saying “I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public. That was my job. I think I always had a perfectly clear view of what was possible for the public. Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted.”
One of her most visible roles was as columnist and editor for Harper’s Bazaar from 1937 to 1962 and for Vogue from 1963 to 1971. Her perspectives on the world of fashion have been described as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘incontrovertible’. Her own personal style was recognised when she was named on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1964.
Helena Rubinstein was a Polish-American business woman who emigrated to Australia, without the ability to speak any English, and then founded one of the world’s first cosmetic companies after mixing lanolin and scented flowers. As a result she became one of the world’s richest women. Despite only measuring 4ft 10 inches in height, she was a formidable business woman. Another contradictory element of her personality was her propensity for crude quips at dinner parties, compared with incredible media and publicity savvy which was credited for turning her into a self-made millionaire.
During her career, she experienced huge rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, and is quoted as saying “With her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world.”
This 19th Century French novelist and essayist, born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, shocked high society’s circles by wearing men’s clothes and smoking in public. Her work was widely credited with spreading feminist consciousness at the time as she covered topics associated with women’s limited choices in love and marriage.
Her lifestyle was unconventional to say the least as, despite being married with children, she took a string of lovers. Despite being a controversial figure, her work was immensely popular and, perhaps surprisingly, she was highly respected by the literary and cultural elite in France.
Perhaps they would today be known as ‘influencers’, but back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Hollywood and the rise in popularity of televisions started to have a huge impact on fashion and style.
Following a period of economic depression, styles changed dramatically and the likes of Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn came to the forefront of a new, rebellious style. Dietrich is famous for saying “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.” She’s known for being the first woman in history to be photographed wearing a full tuxedo, which brings us on to perhaps the most famous and influential actress of this period, Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn played a string of strong-willed women and won more Oscars than any other actress. Her masculine style choices are now her trademark. She’s credited with making women’s trousers acceptable in a time where this fashion choice was considered highly taboo.
Again, we see the link between successful or memorable clothing choices and masculine style. Many of these famous faces chose shorter haircuts too. The ‘bob’ was born, with actresses like Colleen Moore being credited as one of the greatest beauty influencers of all time for sporting this new, controversial hairstyle.
We couldn’t put this blog together without mentioning Klein, who championed authentic style and empowered the way women dressed. She changed the face of American fashion and is still influential and celebrated, 50 years later. Her prioritisation of the person inside the clothes is evident in her quote “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”
The ultimate pop diva of fashion, Madonna quickly evolved into one of the most influential fashion gurus in the music industry. Concerts wouldn’t be as extravagant as they are today without her on-stage fashion choices that changed the way people viewed artists. Another feisty and strong character, she wasn’t afraid to challenge boundaries and frequently reinvented her image.
The Supermodels of the ‘80s and ‘90s
Last, but by no means least, the concept of the Supermodel. A term coined in the 1980’s, Supermodels were deemed to be those with a worldwide reputation and pay packet to match.
Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista: all household names to the generations that grew up with them. These were the grandmothers – if we can use such a word – of celebrity. Their profiles enabled them to do whatever they wanted: from opening restaurants, to appearing in music videos and mounting (sometimes controversial) campaigns.
Ultimately, the supermodels of the ‘80s and ‘90s marked a turning point in the way women in fashion were viewed. No longer simply ‘clothes horses’, these catwalk stars had opinions and they weren’t afraid to share them. The difference with these decades was in the size of the deal the models were able to negotiate plus the emergence of ‘exclusivity’, where fashion houses or cosmetic brands would claim a face as their own brand persona. It’s not surprising that this level of fame and fortune empowered these women to take charge of their careers and change the face of modelling.
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