University of Fashion Blog

Category "Women in Fashion"

THE POWER OF THE COLOR

The REDress Project installation. (Photo Credit: ABC News)

Color has long been used to signify social and political status and to convey other critical messages without saying a word. During the Byzantine era, only royals could wear the color purple, which represented rarity, piety, magic, and mystery. In the Middle Ages, red symbolized the blood of Christ and was worn by kings to signify their God-given right to rule. According to Hannah Craggs, senior color editor at trend-forecasting consultancy WGSN, “Throughout history, color has been used as a tool of self-expression and peaceful protest.”

 

demonstrators wearing pink pussyhats

Women wearing pink pussyhats as part of the 2017 anti-Trump Women’s March movement. (Photo credit: Wire)

In present day terms, we only need to look at the first Women’s March in January 2017, whereby millions of women and their allies banded together globally wearing pink pussyhats as a visible symbol of protest to the Trump presidency. At the 75th Golden Globe Awards in 2018, the color black was strategically worn by female actors to support the #TimesUp movement. In 2019, women politicians wore white to the State of the Union as a way to honor suffragists, while also making a pointed statement about the landmark number of women elected to the US Congress. And today, the color purple, used by Alice Walker and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in their novels, The Color Purple and Purple Hibiscus, is used to signify and signal a new awakening and rebirth of their characters.

In last week’s UoF blog entitled Threads of Unity, we discussed Kirstie Macleod’s Red Dress Project, a red dress that took 14 years to complete and was stitched together by the hands of 380 embroidery artisans, across 51 countries.

Today, we will focus on the REDress Project, National Ribbon Skirt Day and the Red Ribbon Skirt Project, projects that draw attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) epidemic in the United States and Canada.

The REDress Project

Video of The REDress Project at the National Museum of the American Indian. (Video Credit: YouTube, Smithsonian NMAI)

Picture a landscape adorned with red dresses hanging from trees, billowing in the wind like ghostly echoes of untold stories. The REDress Project, conceived by artist Jaime Black, is a public art installation that began in 2010, and that breathes life into a poignant symbol aimed at raising awareness about the staggering number of missing and murdered Indigenous women(MMIW) across North America.

The REDress Project installation at the University of Winnipeg. (Photo Credit: National Museum of the American Indian)

Each red dress, carefully selected or donated, represents a life lost or a woman still missing. The installation art project serves as a visual reminder, challenging communities to confront the harsh realities faced by Indigenous women. The choice of the color red is deliberate – the artist chose the color after conversations with an indigenous friend, who told her that red is the only color the spirits can see. “So (red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women and allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community”, Jaime Black told CTV news. The artist has also suggested “red symbolizes both vitality and violence” according to The Washington Post.

As these empty dresses sway in the wind, they carry with them the weight of countless narratives, invoking a call to action for justice and systemic change. The REDress Project transcends its artistic origins, becoming a powerful voice for Indigenous communities advocating for the safety and well-being of their women.

The REDress Project installation at the Seaforth Peace Park, Vancouver, Canada. (Photo Credit: Wipkipedia)

The project has inspired other artists to use red to draw attention to the issue of MMIW, and prompted the creation of Red Dress Day, which occurs on May 5th. The first Red Dress Day was observed in 2010 and is a day to honor and bring awareness to the thousands of Indigenous women and girls, who have gone missing or who have been murdered.

National Ribbon Skirt Day

Isabella Kulak was the center around the National Ribbon Skirt Day Movement. (Photo Credit: CBC News)

Amidst the sobering echoes of the REDress Project, a day of celebration and cultural pride emerged – National Ribbon Skirt Day. This event is observed on January 4th and was first celebrated in 2023. The day was inspired by Isabella Kulak, an Indigenous girl in Saskatchewan who was humiliated for wearing a traditional ribbon skirt to a formal dress day at her elementary school in 2020.

The ribbon skirt, a traditional garment worn by Indigenous women, serves as a testament to the strength and spirit of Indigenous cultures. It embodies a connection to heritage, land, and community. Red Ribbon Skirt Day invites individuals to don this symbolic garment, fostering a sense of unity and pride within Indigenous communities.

The Red Ribbon Skirt Project

The Red Ribbon Skirt Project aims to help grieving Indigenous families heal. (Photo Credit: APTN News)

Complementing National Ribbon Skirt Day is the Red Ribbon Skirt Project, a grassroots movement that empowers Indigenous women through art and storytelling. This initiative encourages women to create and share their own red ribbon skirts, each adorned with personal symbols and stories that reflect their unique journeys.

The Red Ribbon Skirt Project transforms the red ribbon skirt into a canvas of empowerment, giving a voice to those who have been silenced for too long. Through the creation of these symbolic garments, women reclaim their narratives and celebrate the strength inherent in their identity.

According to the Museum on Vancouver, “ribbon skirts and dresses have been worn by Indigenous women in Canada since the early 1800s. Large amounts of ribbon were imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 19th Century for the Indigenous wives of fur traders and their children. The clothing made with ribbon has become an important part of Indigenous culture. Ribbon dresses continue to represent the wearer’s identity and are viewed as symbols of resilience.”

Jamie Smallboy cuts fabric to make a red ribbon skirt at Strathcona Community Centre in Vancouver. (Photo Credit: APTN News)

Jamie Smallboy/Nohtikwew pisim is Plains Cree but lives in Vancouver. In 2019, she began the Red Sisters Gathering, a group that sews red ribbon skirts for the families of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls—and the skirts were worn at the Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver on Feb. 14, 2022. In 2021, Smallboy also founded the non-profit society Sweetgrass Sisters Healing, which now administers the Red Ribbon Skirt Project.  Below is a video to learn more about the movement.

Video of the Red Ribbon Skirt Project. (Video Courtesy of YouTube, Museum of Vancouver)

In a world where the echoes of the REDress Project linger, and the National Ribbon Skirt Day and Red Ribbon Skirt Project flourish, the power of red becomes a unifying force. It is a hue that transcends sorrow while embodying the resilience, pride, and strength of Indigenous communities. Through art, color, activism, and cultural celebration, these projects invite us to listen, learn, and stand in solidarity with those who have long been marginalized.

To learn more about color, color theory and color relationships, view these lessons: on the UoF website:

Color Relationships                                                                         Color Theory-The Basics

poster frame images of color lesson on UoF website

So, tell us, how has color inspired your work?

THREADS OF UNITY: THE RED DRESS PROJECT

- - Women in Fashion

Somerset artist Kirstie Macleod and the amazing red dress changing women’s lives all over the world. (Photo Credit: Somerset Live)

In the heart of British artistry, where creativity knows no bounds, a compelling project has been quietly unfolding over the past fourteen years (from 2009-2023). The Red Dress Project, conceived by the visionary artist Kirstie Macleod, stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, community, and the enduring spirit of femininity. An ambitious effort that began with a single red dress, this artistic journey has grown into a mesmerizing tapestry of stories, stitched together by the hands of 380 embroidery artisans, across 51 countries.

It all began with a vintage red dress that sparked the flame of inspiration in Macleod’s mind. This dress, with its timeless elegance and echoes of bygone eras, became the muse for a project that would unfold over the next fourteen years. The artist envisioned a collaborative effort where women from diverse backgrounds would come together, each leaving their unique mark on the scarlet canvas. According to the dress’s website, RedDressEmbroidery.com, Macleod “provided an artistic platform for women around the world, many of whom are vulnerable and live in poverty, to tell their personal stories through embroidery.”

Women of various cultures working on The Red Dress Project. (Photo Credit: MyModernMet.Com)

What began as a solitary journey soon transformed into a vibrant community of women. The garment has been worked on by “367 women/girls, 11 men/boys and 2 non-binary artists from 51 countries”, according to RedDressEmbroidery.com. “All 141 commissioned embroiderers were paid for their work, and receive a portion of all ongoing exhibition fees, merchandise, and the opportunity to sell their work through the Red Dress Etsy shop. The rest of the embroidery was added by willing audiences at various exhibitions & events.” All these embroiderers were connected by a shared purpose: to weave their stories into the fabric of The Red Dress Project. Through the meticulous art of embroidery, each participant added a personal touch, a symbol of her individuality, struggles, triumphs, and dreams.

The red dress became a canvas for shared experiences, a space where women could express their resilience, celebrate their strengths, and acknowledge the beauty in their imperfections. As the dress evolved, so did the collective narrative, creating a rich tapestry of human connection that transcended time and space.

Woman working on The Red Dress Project. (Photo Credit: MyModernMet.Com)

Over the course of fourteen years, The Red Dress Project underwent a fascinating metamorphosis. The scarlet threads encapsulated stories of joy, pain, love, loss, and the myriad emotions that define the human experience. The dress became a living document, a tangible expression of the resilience of women across generations and continents.

From delicate floral patterns, symbolizing growth and renewal, to intricate knots representing life’s complexities, the dress transformed into a visual masterpiece that mirrored the diversity of the female experience. The artists, once strangers, became a sisterhood, bound by a shared commitment to celebrating the strength and beauty inherent in womanhood.

Lekazia Turner, embroiderer from Jamaica, 2022. (Photo Credit: RedDress Embroidery.com)

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, The Red Dress Project stands as a beacon of social impact. The collaborative effort empowered women to reclaim their narratives, fostering a sense of unity and solidarity that transcends cultural and societal boundaries. The project has become a symbol of empowerment, inspiring countless others to embrace their stories and find strength in vulnerability.

According to RedDressEmbroidery.com. “The Red Dress has been exhibited in various galleries and museums worldwide, including Gallery Maeght in Paris, Art Dubai, Museo Des Arte Popular in Mexico City, the National Library of Kosovo, National Waterfront Museum in Wales, Fashion and Textile Museum, London, an event at the Royal Academy in London, and the Premio Valcellina Textiles award in Maniago, Italy where it won first prize in 2015.”

The Red Dress’s 14-year creation journey around the world is just about completed, with the garment assembled in its final formation. RedDressEmbroidery.com states that the dress is  “covered in millions of stitches, the 6.8 kg. silk Red Dress is weighted as much by the individual stories and collective voices waiting to be heard as by the threads and beads that adorn it.”

A close up of the embroideries from The Red Dress Project. (Photo Credit: MyModernMet.Com)

Kirstie Macleod’s vision has given life to more than just a dress; it has birthed a movement—a movement that celebrates the diversity, strength, and beauty that resides within every woman. As The Red Dress Project takes its final bow, it leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and empower generations to come, reminding us that, like the threads that bind the dress, our stories are intricately connected, creating a tapestry of resilience that withstands the test of time.

Do you have any tories of how fashion and art unite people?

ANNE LOWE: CELEBRATING THE LEGACY OF AN AMERICAN COURTIER

In the hushed corridors of high fashion, Ann Lowe stands as a beacon of timeless elegance and innovation. Her creations, woven with meticulous craftsmanship and a touch of magic, have graced the shoulders of First Ladies and socialites alike. Now, a new exhibit at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, which is located in Delaware, promises to unveil the secrets behind Lowe’s enduring influence on American couture.

The exhibit is titled “Ann Lowe: Threads of Elegance,” the exhibition transports visitors into the enchanting world of this unsung fashion genius. As the doors swing open, the ethereal presence of Lowe’s designs beckons from the pedestals, drawing admirers into a realm where every stitch tells a story.

Anne Lowe’s whimsical creations. (Photo Credit: Winterthur Museum)

Ann Lowe’s journey to becoming a couturier extraordinaire was marked by resilience and passion. Born in rural Clayton, Alabama in 1898, Lowe’s early fascination with fabrics and design was nurtured by her mother and grandmother, a former slave and skilled dressmaker. Lowe was only a teenager when she developed not only her expert technical skills, but also her distinctive style—feminine, graceful, and elegant. Her beautiful creations often incorporated her signature hand-made floral elements which society women adored.

Her remarkable career took her through the Jim Crow South, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Tampa, Florida, and in 1928 to New York City, the fashion capital of the United States. Although Lowe’s work made her an asset to wealthy society women around the country, as a young black woman she also experienced the chaotic hardships of the fashion business and segregated America in a period of dramatic change.

Lowe’s creations place her amongst America’s exceptional fashion designers, and her life illustrates a legacy of Black women’s knowledge and skills that began as enslaved labor. With the odds against woman of color at the time, Lowe fought hard and positioned herself as a creative designer, a fashion insider, and a vital contributor to American culture. This legacy of creativity and determination set the stage for Lowe’s rise in the fashion world.

The Winterthur exhibit expertly curates Lowe’s life’s work, showcasing her evolution from an apprentice to a trailblazer who challenged racial and gender barriers in the early 20th century. Each garment on display is a testament to Lowe’s ability to blend sophistication with simplicity, creating pieces that resonate with grace and charm.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy in 1953. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

A highlight of the exhibit is Lowe’s groundbreaking creation for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding in 1953. Despite the prevailing racial prejudices of the time, the First Lady’s iconic wedding dress was a testament to Lowe’s unparalleled talent. The Winterthur Museum has spared no expense in recreating the magic of that historic gown, allowing visitors to marvel at the intricate details that captivated the nation.

Jacqueline Kennedy in her Ann Lowe-designed wedding dress. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

In 1964, The Saturday Evening Post referred to couturier Ann Lowe as “Society’s Best-Kept Secret.” Although Lowe had been creating couture-quality gowns for America’s most prominent debutantes, heiresses, actresses, and society brides—including Jacqueline Kennedy, Olivia de Havilland, and Marjorie Merriweather Post—for years, Lowe remained practically unknown to the public. The designer has been given far too little recognition for her influence on American fashion, but this exhibit will surely breath new life into Lowe’s whimsical creations.

Elizabeth Mance wears an Ann Lowe design in a wedding photograph circa 1968. Lowe can be seen behind the bride and her father being escorted into the church. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

As you wander through the exhibit, it’s impossible to ignore the influence Ann Lowe had on shaping American fashion. Her designs were a symphony of elegance, transcending the trends of the moment and becoming timeless classics. From glamorous ball gowns to chic day dresses, each piece is a masterclass in the art of couture.

The Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library have gone above and beyond to create an immersive experience. The exhibit space is adorned with floral arrangements reminiscent of Lowe’s favorite blooms, creating an ambiance that mirrors the grace and beauty of her designs.

Ann Lowe, photographed for the December 1966 edition of Ebony magazine. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

Beyond the couture, the exhibit delves into Lowe’s personal life, offering glimpses into the challenges she faced as a woman of color in a predominantly white, male industry. It’s a poignant reminder that her success was not only measured in the stitches and seams but also in the resilience that defined her journey.

Ann Lowe: Threads of Elegance” is not just an exhibition; it’s a celebration of an artist who broke barriers and left an indelible mark on American fashion. As you step into the Winterthur Museum, be prepared to be transported into the world of Ann Lowe—a world where elegance knows no bounds, and creativity is truly timeless.

Ann Lowe: American Couturier can be purchased at the Wintherur Store online. (Photo Credit: Wintherur Museum.)

If you cannot make it to the exhibit, you can purchase her book which features vivid new photographs of Lowe’s creations—including intricate details of her exquisite handwork and signature floral embellishments. The book also includes essays that explore the trials and achievements of Lowe’s life, contextualize her work, as well as profile Black designers whose work reflects her influence. There are also behind-the-scenes looks at the astonishing efforts to preserve Lowe’s gowns.

Lowe, photographed for the December 1966 edition of Ebony magazine. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

So tell us, which historic designers have had the greatest influence on your designs?

Spotlight on Sustainable Designer: Eudora Tucker

image of Eudora Tucker

Eudora Tucker – New York City sustainable fashion designer (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

This week’s blogpost is dedicated to Custom Collaborative’s latest success story, NYC-based sustainable fashion designer, Eudora Tucker. But first, a bit about Custom Collaborative (CC).

Custom Collaborative is a Harlem-based non-profit 501(c)(3) founded in 2015 by Executive Director Ngozi Okaro. The organization provides free training and ongoing support for women from low-income and immigrant communities through their entrepreneurship and workforce-development programs. Their Training Institute teaches the art, craft and techniques used in sustainable garment-making, as well as ethical business practices in the fashion industry.

 CC’s mission is to help women professionalize their sewing and design skills, overcome barriers to employment, and, ultimately, bring greater equity and inclusivity to the business of fashion.

University of Fashion partnered with Custom Collaborative in 2020, gifting full access to our fashion education content library. Since then, Custom Collaborative has graduated 10 cohorts of ‘fashion-preneurs’ who are making their mark by starting their own sustainable fashion brand.

Last week, I had the chance to interview Eudora and learned about her studies at CC, her design philosophy and her career aspirations. Here goes:

 Eudora Tucker’s Graffiti dress

Eudora Tucker’s Graffiti dress (Image credit: Camila Falquez)

Francesca: Tell me about your journey into fashion. Are you NYC born and raised?

Eudora: I was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a Native New Yorker, fashion has always been on my radar. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer early on and attended The High School of Art and Design to study fashion illustration and then went on to study at FIT. Unfortunately, life happened, forcing me to pivot, but fashion has always been a huge interest. I started seriously getting back into fashion when my idol, Prince, died in 2016. As a lifelong fan, I was devastated when he passed away and I started making Prince themed jean jackets and outfits as a tribute to him. I wore them to different Prince related events that I attended. People seemed to love and admire my designs and complimented me on my creativity. That reignited my passion and pushed me to seriously pursue my dreams of being a fashion designer again. I was hand sewing and using adhesives to create my designs, which meant there were constant repairs and maintenance needed. I knew finding sewing classes would be the next step if I wanted to seriously start making custom designs for others.

Eudora Tucker’s Embellished Purple Vineyard Jacket (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: Can you tell me about the program at Custom Collaborative? How rigorous was it and what types of things did you learn?

Eudora: The program is a 15-week course that meets Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm. It was a serious commitment, and it was truly intense. I had never used a sewing machine before so when our instructor, Delia Alleyne, showed us how to thread the needle on the first day, my head nearly exploded. I didn’t think I would ever be able to thread the machine, let alone sew something together. Fear and self-doubt overcame me, and I was questioning why I ever signed up. Delia encouraged and helped us overcome our fears and by the end of the day, I was able to successfully thread my machine. I knew it was going to be a tough road ahead, but I was up for the challenge. During those 15 weeks there were many tears shed out of frustration, but also with happiness when I was able to get through another tough lesson. In the end I completed the course with the ability to design and sew; a portfolio of work including illustrations for two collections, which included inspiration, mood and fabric boards; an awesome business plan that I wrote, and most importantly, the knowledge and confidence to go forward in pursuit of my dream.

Eudora Tucker’s Rocket Man Jacket (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: How were the University of Fashion lessons utilized at CC?

Eudora: We constantly referred to the University of Fashion lessons while studying. We used them to reinforce lessons that Delia taught us and to complete projects on our own. I am a visual learner, so it was a tremendous help and resource for me. The videos that were the biggest help were the lessons on the invisible zipper, pattern making and layout, and draping. These were life saving for me. Due to time constraints, and the amount of projects we covered, it was impossible to learn and complete everything in class. The videos allowed us to review the task, step by step, on our own time to complete the projects correctly.

 

Eudora Tucker’s Incomparable Lady Day Shirt Dress

Eudora Tucker’s Incomparable Lady Day Shirt Dress (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: Can you tell me about your capstone project at CC?

Eudora: My capstone project was a hand painted, full length gown with a train. My design was inspired by the feelings of fear, uncertainty and sense of lawlessness in NYC post Covid-19. With the closing of so many businesses, the graffiti artists had once again transformed our city’s landscape with their artwork, reminiscent of the late 1970s and 80s. Using donated fabric that I treated to create the Ombre effect, the design ascends from darkness to light, reflecting the transitioning of Oppression and Anarchy, rising out of Out Rage and Despair, through Faith and Unity, to ultimately arrive at Love and Peace. My design was chosen as the finale of Cohort 9’s graduation runway show and was also featured in both Vogue Business and Harper’s Bazaar articles. Not only were these very proud moments for me, but they also serve as a testament that my perseverance and hard work are truly paying off.

Eudora Tucker’s Queen Bee Jacket (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: What made you want to focus on upcycling and sustainable design?

Eudora: Custom Collaborative is an organization that is built on the principles of fashion sustainability. I never heard of fashion sustainability and, to be honest, I was a consumer of fast fashion without even knowing it. I had never heard of the term “fast fashion” until I came to Custom Collaborative. Once I found out what it was and how it affects the planet; coupled with the unfair labor practices that affect the seamstresses that work in the factories, I quickly got on board. I started changing my purchasing habits and decided to focus on upcycling and sustainable design. I truly enjoy taking a “pre-loved” garment and repurposing it into something new and creative. It allows me to create one of a kind, statement pieces that make my clientele feel special when they wear it.

Eudora Tucker’s Dear Mum Jacket (Image credit (Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: What is the hardest thing about being a sustainable fashion designer?

Eudora: The most challenging aspect of being a sustainable designer is figuring out how to alter an existing garment. When you are locked into a design it is sometimes hard to come up with creative ways to change the garment to fit your new design. You have to use your imagination and become an out-of-the box thinker and really think about the techniques to use in order to execute your new design with the least amount of complication and in a timely manner.

Eudora Tucker’s Ode to Jean-Michele Jacket (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Francesca: What is your ultimate goal, or goals, as a designer in the fashion industry?

Eurora: I would like to continue creating one-of-a kind statement pieces and growing my fashion sustainability brand, Princess Arabia’s Atelier. I also plan to partner with environmental agencies in NYC to offer fashion sustainability workshops to teach others what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint through more mindful fashion practices. My ultimate goal is to travel around NYC and neighboring states to educate as many people as possible and bring awareness on how the fast fashion industry continues to proliferate the amount of waste in our landfills and how it is fueling the profound negative effects of climate change. This is my small way of giving back to the planet and carrying out my duty as a good global citizen.

 Follow Eudora on Instagram: @princessarabia9

The Rainbow of it All Vest

Eudora Tucker’s  The Rainbow of it All Vest (Image credit: Eudora Tucker)

Are you a woman from a low-income community interested in starting a career in fashion? Apply to our Training Institute.

If you are interested in providing paid internships for their students write to us at: CS@UniversityofFashion.com

Are you a small or start-up clothing business? Apply to their Business Incubator. They provide services including manufacturing, technical assistance, and consulting for those who need it.

Want to volunteer? Sign up here. They’re always looking for folks to help as teacher’s assistants, guest speakers, graphic designers, special event coordinators, or fabric inventory sorters.

Want to donate fabrics, machines, or supplies? Complete this form.

To support their work in supporting striving women. Donate today.

 

HOW INDIA IS BECOMING THE NEXT BIG LUXURY MARKET

Looks from Dior’s Pre-Fall 2023 Collection in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

By now, every dedicated follower-of-fashion has seen the extraordinary Dior Pre-Fall show images from Mumbai that flooded social media with the iconic Gateway of India as backdrop. Having spent seven years working/designing in India, the Dior show was of particular interest to our founder Francesca Sterlacci (FYI-the Taj Mahal hotel is across the street from the Gateway). Francesca’s love of Indian handicrafts, the preservation of those crafts, and female empowerment within the fashion industry are all missions she shares with Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri.

The March 23rd Dior show was not only a celebration of Indian culture and craft, but of its women and its commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Created by women for women, the show reinforced India’s long-standing role in manufacturing European high fashion and the growing power of its luxury consumers. The Dior/India collaboration was a showcase for all the ways the French Maison is interlinked with the artisanship of Mumbai, specifically the Chanakya School of Craft.

Behind the scenes of the Dior and Chanakya School of Craft collaboration. (Photo Credit: WWD)

Originally founded in 1986 by their father Vinod Shah, daughters Karishma Swali and Monica Shah established the Chanakya School of Craft (CSC) in 2016; a foundation and non-profit school dedicated to craft, culture and women’s empowerment and whose mission is to preserve and promote the age-old heritage of hand embroidery.

Today, the school has educated over 700 women providing them with employable skills and autonomy over their lives and their future, making embroideries for international labels such as Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Valentino, Lanvin and Prada. An immersive one-year program on master crafts covering over 300 techniques is taught, while also covering modules on business acumen, basic finance and starting new ventures. The benefit is twofold: ancient techniques and skills are revived while also being rejuvenated by the joy and ambition of those who have finally been empowered. Women of all communities in India can now create their art safely, transforming not just their own lives but the lives of those around them.

The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

Chanakya School of Craft- Mumbai India (Image credit: Chanakya.school)

The show was a testament to Chanakya and Dior’s shared commitment of promoting female empowerment, diversity and inclusivity. In addition to the beautiful embroideries made by women, Dior’s casting of models for the show were a mix of Indian and Western models in a diverse range of body types and skin tones.

Dior’s landmark Pre-Fall 2023 collection was also a celebration of the luxury house’s commitment to sustainability. The brand has been making a concerted effort to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainable fashion and the show featured pieces made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton. Dior announced its commitment to using only sustainable cotton by 2025.

 

A look from from Dior’s Pre-Fall 2023 Collection in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: Vogue)

The Dior collection was a beautiful tribute to India’s vibrant and colorful culture and its women. It was also a perfect example of how fashion can be a powerful tool for cultural exchange. Models walked down the historic square dressed in sari-inspired drapes, kurta shirts, Nehru jackets, sherwanis and lungi skirts in a color palette of rich reds, blues, greens, and golds, featuring intricate embroidery work created by hand, by female artisans from Mumbai.

Looks from Dior’s Pre-Fall 2023 Collection in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: Vogue)

Maria Grazia Chiuri took the final bow in the presence of a bevy of movie stars, influencers, royalty and, of course, the Ambanis (children of Mukesh Ambani, the richest person in India and Asia and the world’s ninth richest person). India has officially secured its place on the luxury fashion map!

 

OTHER LUXURY BRANDS THAT HAVE SHOWN IN INDIA

YSL 1989 show in India. (Photo Credit: Vogue)

While in the past other luxury brands have held shows in India (Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Prada), Dior was the first European luxury brand that held an official calendar show in India with their Pre-Fall 2023 collection.

WHAT DOES THE DIOR SHOW MEAN FOR INDIA’S LUXURY MARKET?

Looks from Dior’s Pre-Fall 2023 Collection in Mumbai. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

Dior’s Pre-Fall 2023 show in Mumbai was quite a success. The turnout of boldface names across industries was high, including India’s leading celebrity Virat Kohli and Bollywood stars such as Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.  The event was significant as it signaled India’s growing luxury status.

The Gateway to Mumbai. (Photo Credit: The National)

As luxury brands tap new markets in a hunt for their next billions, Dior became the first fashion house to unveil their latest collection in India.  The strategic and symbolic value of Dior’s staging their show at Mumbai’s Gateway of India monument is akin to when Fendi staged a fashion show on the Great Wall of China in 2007, a move that foreshadowed the importance of Chinese consumers to the luxury industry over the next decade.

The event was significant as it marked Dior’s entry into India’s luxury market which has been growing rapidly over the past few years. According to a report by Deloitte, India’s luxury market is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 10 – 15% over the next five years. This growth is being driven by an increase in disposable income among India’s middle class and a growing appetite for luxury goods among younger consumers.

To learn more about the types of handicrafts used in the Dior collection, view our Tambour beading and hand embroidery lessons taught by Hand & Lock Award winner Silvia Perramon:

DO YOU BELIEVE INDIA WILL BE THE NEXT LUXURY MARKET HOT SPOT?

 

 

UOF Instructor Update: Jessica Krupa

The success of University of Fashion has always been about the talent and expertise of our instructors, their lessons and the high level of our video production. Now, in our 14th year as the first and largest online fashion education resource, we thought it would be of interest to share with our subscribers what a few of our very talented instructors are up to these days. Over the next three weeks, we will be spotlighting three of these very talented instructors and how they have continued to expand their creativity as entrepreneurs and artists. First up…Jessica Krupa.

JESSICA KRUPA

 Jessica Krupa is a graduate and former instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. With over 15 years of experience creating swimwear and intimate apparel collections for Fortune 500 companies, including Li & Fung, Jessica was awarded a bra design patent for innovation during her tenure at Victoria’s Secret. Needless to say, Jessica has tons of cred.

So, it’s no surprise that Jessica is crushing her new business venture, Panty Promise, the first seamless, certified organic cotton panty imported from Italy.     

UoF instructor and designer/founder of Panty Promise (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

In 2020, Jessica identified the need for better panty options for women without risking their feminine wellness and was driven to solve this; enter Panty Promise. Jessica consulted with top NY Gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck to make her vision come to life and took a year developing the best fabric and design, thus creating the first seamless certified organic cotton panty imported from a high-end mill in Italy.

Jessica’s design eliminates pesky panty lines and uncomfortable seams, like traditional cotton panties, resulting in a smooth and ultra-comfortable look and feel. Her design is Utility Patent Pending in the USA, Canada, EU and UK to keep the innovation and design protected against knockoffs.

Jessica Krupa launched her new brand Panty Promise in 2020 (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

 

 

 

 

Jessica Krupa and NY Gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

Panty Promise packaging/laundry bag (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

Panty Promise strives to be a leader in the biodegradable and sustainable mission to keep the Earth clean. They’re research and testing proves that their panties will biodegrade back into the earth in just 4-6 months, meanwhile synthetics take over 200 years and breakdown into harmful chemicals.

Jessica Krupa ‘s Panty Promise – the first seamless certified organic cotton panty imported from a high-end mill in Italy (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

Panty Promise is proud to be an affiliate of Cotton Incorporated, where the brand is a Cotton Leads Partner, ensuring ethical global harvesting of cotton trading and manufacturing through the commitment of Cotton Inc.

Jessica likes to say, “We’re saving the planet one panty at a time.”

Panty Promise panties sized XS-4X and in a variety of skin tones and styles: low, high, and mid-rise both in covered and bare bottoms. (Image courtesy: Panty Promise).

Panty Promise exhibits at the Curve Trade Show – Los Angeles 2023 (Image courtesy: Panty Promise)

In her first year of business Jessica exhibited at the Curve Trade Show, which helped catapult the brand to over 65 retailers after winning the New Brand Audience award during Curve’s Pitch off Competition.

Panty Promise is currently sold throughout the USA, Canada, the Caribbean, South America, Iceland and the Middle East, in body positive sizes XS-4X and in a variety of skin tones. Panty Promise wholesale price points range from $11-$14, with style offerings from low to high rise in both covered and bare bottoms.

We are proud and fortunate to include Jessica as one of our very talented and accomplished instructors. Catch her extremely popular 9-part swimwear series:
Drawing A Bandeau Swim Top
, Drawing A High Waist & Hipster Swim BottomDrawing A One Piece Plunge Halter With Shelf Bra, Drawing An Underwire Swim Top, Creating A Swimwear Tech Pack In Illustrator, Drawing A String Bikini Bottom, Drawing A String Bikini Top, Drawing A Swimsuit Block Template In Illustrator and Drawing A Push Up Swimsuit.

Big congrats to Jessica for her talent, expertise & entrepreneurship!

 

IS THERE EQUITY, EQUALITY & DIVERSITY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?

According to The New York Times, Tracy Reese is perhaps one of the best-known African-American Female designer. (Photo Credit: Model D Media)

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we thought we’d explore the origin of Woman’s History month, showcase some of the talented female designers from diverse ethnicities and shed light on equality and equity (or lack of) as it pertains to the fashion industry. According to a 2022 Council of Fashion Designers of America study entitled The Glass Runway, “while the vast majority of students who obtain a degree in fashion are women, men still dominate the industry.” The study concluded that “of the top 50 fashion houses in the world, only 14% of them are run by female executives.” In the Unites States, the most common ethnicity of fashion designers is White (63.0%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (11.9%), Asian (11.6%) and Black or African American (7.3%), as reported by Zippia, a career database. Looks like there is a lot of room for improvement in our industry when it comes to gender, race and ethnic equity and equality.

Before we dive in to this hot topic, here’s some history behind Woman’s History Month:

Women’s History Month 2023. (Photo Credit: PR Daily)

  • The origin of celebrating women dates back to 1911 with the first International Women’s Day, which advocated for women’s rights and suffrage.
  • Following a lobbying effort by the National Women’s History Project (NWHP- an organization founded in 1980 by a group of women historians), Women’s History Week was first celebrated in 1982, coinciding with the 91st anniversary of the first women’s suffrage march in the United States.
  • After several years of lobbying, Congress passed a resolution in 1987 designating March as Women’s History Month. It is now celebrated in many countries around the world, with a theme chosen each year by the NWHP. The celebration includes events, lectures, and exhibitions to educate people about the accomplishments and contributions of women in various fields, including science, politics, art, and more.
  • The theme for 2023 is Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” The NWHA encourages the recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade.

Top: Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jovita Idar, Maya Angelou, Middle: Gerda Lerner, Gloria Steinem, Winona La Duke, Lillian Hellman
Bottom: Betty Soskin, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Photo credit: nationalwomensalliance.org)

DIVERSE WOMAN MAKING A MARK IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY

As the fashion industry heeds the call for increased gender equity and diversity in the C-site, the design room, on the runway and in advertising and as women continue to face barriers and discrimination in the industry (with men occupying the majority of leadership positions), we are seeing some an increase in the number of female designers from diverse backgrounds making a name for themselves on their own.

What makes these diverse female fashion designers stand out is their ability to create designs that empower women. They are not afraid to take risks and push boundaries, creating designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also challenge traditional gender norms. Their work has been instrumental in shaping the fashion industry and inspiring other women to pursue careers in fashion design.

It is therefore important that we continue to support and celebrate the work of female fashion designers and promote gender equality in the industry. Here are a few female designers breaking down the barriers:

AURORA JAMES OF BROTHER VELLIES

Brother Vellies founder/designer Aurora James in her boutique. (Photo Credit: Kyle Knodell)

Born in Toronto in 1984, designer Aurora James grew up with a passion for fashion and design. She studied fashion design at Ryerson University in Toronto and worked as a designer in Los Angeles and New York City before launching her brand Brother Vellies in 2013. James is a woman of color who has made a significant impact in the fashion industry with her  luxury footwear and accessories brand that celebrates traditional African craftsmanship. Her designs are inspired by her travels to different parts of the world and incorporate elements of traditional African culture. She has been recognized for her commitment to sustainability, ethical fashion practices and social justice initiatives.

 

Aurora James called her “Tax the Rich” dress for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “powerful message” at the Met Gala. (Photo Credit: The NY Post)

One of James’ most notable initiatives is the 15 Percent Pledge, which calls on retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. The initiative gained widespread attention in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and has been embraced by several major retailers, including Sephora and Macy’s. James was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2015 and was awarded the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2015.

STELLA JEAN

Haitian-Italian fashion designer Stella Jean. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Stella Jean is a Haitian-Italian fashion designer known for her unique blend of African and Western aesthetics in her designs. Born in Rome in 1979 to a Haitian mother and Italian father, Jean grew up with a deep appreciation for her mixed heritage. Jean studied at the European Institute of Design in Rome and later worked in the communication industry before transitioning to fashion. She launched her eponymous label in 2011 and quickly gained international recognition for her innovative and socially conscious designs.

Jean’s designs are a fusion of African and Western cultures, blending traditional African textiles and prints with contemporary Italian tailoring and utilizes bold and vibrant colors, mixed prints, and intricate embroideries. Jean has been praised for her commitment to ethical fashion and sustainability, using eco-friendly materials and partnering with artisans in Haiti and Africa to create her collection.

Throughout her career, Jean has collaborated with several fashion brands and organizations, including the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Center, which supports artisans in developing countries. She has also showcased her designs at several international fashion shows, including Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.

A hunger strike makes headlines before Milan Fashion Week 2023 begins. Stella Jean protests lack of diversity in Italian fashion. (Photo Credit: NY Times)

Jean is also an advocate for social justice and women’s rights and uses her platform to promote diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry, highlighting the importance of representation and empowerment for marginalized communities. Her designs have gained international recognition and are worn by several celebrities, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Amal Clooney.

MAKI OH

Nigerian-born designer Maki Oh. (Photo Credit: Maki Oh)

In addition to these established designers, there are also several up-and-coming Black female designers who are making their mark. One such designer is Maki Oh, a Nigerian-born designer whose designs celebrate African heritage and culture. Her designs are known for their intricate details and traditional African textile techniques. Her work has been featured in several high-profile fashion shows, including New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. She is considered one of the most exciting new voices in African fashion and has gained international recognition for her innovative designs.

Oh studied fashion design at the Arts Institute of Bournemouth in the United Kingdom before launching her eponymous label in Lagos, Nigeria in 2010. Since then, she has become known for her bold prints, vibrant colors, and intricate embroideries, which often reference traditional Nigerian motifs and symbols. She often uses locally sourced materials, such as Adire (a traditional Nigerian indigo-dyed fabric), Aso-oke (a handwoven cloth), and Ankara (a type of African print fabric) to create clothes that are both authentic and contemporary.

Beyonce rocking a Maki Oh creation. (Photo Credit: The designer’s studio)

In addition to her fashion design work, Oh has also been recognized for her contribution to African fashion. She was named a finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize in 2014 and has been featured in exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Oh’s designs have been worn by several notable celebrities, including Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong’o, and Beyoncé.

ANITA DONGRE

Mumbai-based designer Anita Dongre. (Photo Credit: Vogue India)

Anita Dongre is a Mumbai-based designer who launched her eponymous label in 1995, focusing on bridal and special occasion wear. Since then, she has expanded her brand to include menswear and ready-to-wear. Her designs are known for their intricate hand embroidery, luxurious fabrics, and timeless silhouettes. In 2015, Dongre launched her sustainable fashion brand, Grassroot, which focuses on supporting local artisans and promoting environmentally-friendly practices using natural materials and traditional handcrafting techniques. Dongre’s designs have been worn by numerous celebrities and she has won several awards for her contribution to the industry.

Looks from Indian designer Anita Dongre. (Photo Credit: Anita Dongre)

Dongre has received numerous awards and recognition for her contribution to Indian fashion, including being named one of the 50 most powerful women in Indian business by Forbes India in 2018. She is also a member of the Fashion Design Council of India and has been a guest speaker at several prominent fashion events and conferences.

MASABA GUPTA

Mumbai-based designer Masaba Gupta. (Photo Credit: India TV News)

Masaba Gupta is another female Indian fashion designer who has been making a mark in the industry. A Mumbai-based designer, Gupta was educated in fashion design at SNDT Women’s University before launching her label in 2009. Her designs are a blend of traditional and contemporary Indian prints and often feature asymmetrical silhouettes with unconventional draping, making her a stand out from other designers in the industry. Gupta has been recognized for her innovative approach to design, thus winning the 2012 Vogue India Fashion Fund award in 2012.

Looks from Masaba Gupta’s Wedding Collection. (Photo Credit: Shaadiwish)

In addition to her fashion design work, Gupta is also a prominent social media personality and has used her platform to promote body positivity and mental health awareness. She has been vocal about her struggles with depression and anxiety and has used her experiences to inspire others to seek help and speak out about mental health issues.

Gupta has received numerous awards and recognition for her contribution to Indian fashion, including being named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, in 2012. She has also been featured in several prominent fashion events, including Lakme Fashion Week and Amazon India Fashion Week.

PAYAL SINGHAL

Indian fashion designer Payal Singhal. (Photo Credit: Vogue India)

Payal Singhal is another Mumbai-based designer who launched her eponymous label in 1999 after completing her education in fashion design from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. Singhal uses traditional Indian textiles and embroidery techniques, such as Zardozi and Chikankari, but gives them a modern twist with innovative cuts and silhouettes.

Looks from Payal Singhal’s past collections. (Photo Credit: StyleGods)

In addition to her fashion design work, Singhal has also collaborated with several prominent Indian brands, including Coca-Cola and Lakme, to create limited edition collections. She has also been a guest speaker at several prominent fashion events and conferences, including Lakme Fashion Week and India Fashion Forum and her designs have been worn by numerous celebrities .

Singhal has received numerous awards and recognition for her contribution to Indian fashion, including being named one of the 50 most powerful women in Indian business by Forbes India in 2018. She is also a member of the Fashion Design Council of India and has been a vocal advocate for promoting sustainable fashion practices in the industry.

ANAIS MAK

Hong Kong-born Parisian designer Anaïs Mak. (Photo Credit: Prestige)

Anaïs Mak was born and raised in Hong Kong, but today the fashion designer is based out of Paris.  Mak has gained international recognition for her unique and innovative designs that blend contemporary and traditional elements. She launched her eponymous label in 2016, after working for several high-end fashion brands, including Lanvin and Alexander McQueen.

Mak’s designs are known for their experimental silhouettes, bold colors, and unexpected combinations of materials. She often incorporates unconventional fabrics such as PVC and latex into her designs, while also using traditional materials like silk and cotton. Mak is also known for her use of asymmetrical cuts and unconventional draping techniques, which give her designs a unique and edgy look. Mak’s designs have been worn by several prominent celebrities, including Rihanna and Solange Knowles.

A look by Anaïs Mak. (Photo Credit: Luke Casey)

In addition to her fashion design work, Mak is also a trained visual artist and often incorporates elements of sculpture and installation art into her fashion designs. Her background in the arts has given her a unique perspective on fashion, allowing her to create pieces that blur the lines between fashion and art.

Mak has received several awards and recognition for her contribution to the fashion industry, including being named one of the top 10 designers to watch by Vogue in 2018. She has also been featured in several prominent fashion events, including Paris Fashion Week and London Fashion Week.

CELINE KWAN

Singapore-based designer Celine Kwan. (Photo Credit: Prestige)

Celine Kwan is a Singaporean fashion designer who is known for her intricate and innovative designs that combine traditional techniques with modern elements. She launched her eponymous label in 2014, after completing her studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

Kwan’s designs are characterized by their intricate detailing and use of traditional techniques such as embroidery and beading. She often incorporates elements of her Singaporean heritage into her designs, such as the use of Peranakan embroidery techniques and batik prints. Kwan is also known for her use of unexpected materials such as plastic and PVC, which give her designs a unique and edgy look.

Kwan’s designs have been featured in several prominent fashion events, including Singapore Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.

In addition to her fashion design work, Kwan is also a passionate advocate for sustainable fashion practices. She has collaborated with several eco-conscious brands to create sustainable fashion collections and has been a vocal advocate for reducing waste in the fashion industry.

Looks from Celine Kwan. (Photo Credit: Lifestyle Asia)

Kwan has received several awards and recognition for her contribution to the fashion industry, including being named one of the 30 Under 30 designers in Asia by Forbes in 2017. She has also been featured in several prominent exhibitions, including the Singapore National Museum’s “Century of Light” exhibition in 2019.

EQUITY VS. EQUALITY: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director at Dior created “We Should All Be Feminists” for her debut collection in 2016. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Over time, female fashion designers have made significant contributions to the fashion industry (ex. Chanel, Vionnet, Madame Grès, Donna Karan, Diane von Fürstenberg, etc.). And yet, access to a top tier design house job remains unequal for women, even though they may have the same training as their male counterpart. That’s inequality. When the fashion industry continues to support a system where male designers are favored over female designers that’s inequity. 

While the industry has slowly become more racially and ethnically diverse (ex. Tracy Reese, Kimora Lee Simmons, Reem Acra, Aurora James, Virgil Abloh), we have a long way to go toward equality and equity, especially when it comes to hiring and promoting female fashion designers. 

Achieving equality and equity in the fashion industry requires a multi-faceted approach that involves various stakeholders: schools, designers, brands, retailers, consumers and industry associations. Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Diversity and Inclusion: embrace diversity and inclusion by promoting and showcasing a range of body types, skin colors and gender identities in marketing campaigns. Fashion brands should also include a diverse range of people in their hiring practices, from models to designers to executives.
  • Equal Pay and Opportunities: The fashion industry should strive to provide equal pay and opportunities for both genders. Women should be represented in all areas of the industry, from design to management positions. Brands should also ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work and that there are no barriers to their career advancement.
  • Sustainable and Ethical Fashion: The fashion industry should adopt sustainable and ethical practices, which benefit both the environment and workers in the supply chain, many of whom are women. This includes promoting fair labor practices, safe working conditions, and using eco-friendly materials.
  • Collaboration and Advocacy: Industry associations, fashion bloggers, influencers, and media outlets can collaborate to promote gender equality in the fashion industry. They can highlight brands that are inclusive and sustainable and advocate for policies that support gender equality.

Promoting diversity and gender equality/equity in the fashion industry requires a long-term commitment. But, by working together we can create a more inclusive and sustainable industry.

What about choosing a female designer to replace Jeremy Scott at Moschino? Care to share your thoughts on the subject?

 

 

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: FEMALE DESIGNERS WHO ARE INFLUENCING FASHION

British Fashion Royalty Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood. (Photo Credit: WWD.)

Long before Women’s History Month was put into motion in 1981, female fashion designers were paving their own path, empowering women by providing women fashion options that instilled confidence, helped build careers so that they could support themselves and their families. While many associate fashion with style, these creative geniuses have used their talents to foster an individualistic path to self-expression and to alter old-fashion notions of what a woman ‘should be’. Can you name even one female friend of yours who aspires to be like June Cleaver from the TV series Leave it to Beaver?

Female Italian powerhouses Miuccia Prada and Donatella Versace. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

This year, due to so many female caregivers and frontline workers who have worked tirelessly through the global pandemic, the 2022 Women’s History theme is, “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” and is a tribute to the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.

As we celebrate Woman’s History Month, UoF is exploring some of the most influential female designers today who continue to make an impact not only in fashion but in the world.

MIUCCIA PRADA

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT PRADA & MIU MIU

A photo of Miuccia Prada. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

As a young woman, Miuccia Prada did not dream of a career in fashion. The iconic designer, originally named Maria Bianchi, studied political science and graduated with a PhD from the University of Milan. As part of the Italian Communist Party in the Sixties, Prada is quoted in a Document Journal, “Fashion was the worst place for a feminist in the ’60s.” Thankfully she couldn’t ignore her calling and talent to pursue a career in fashion, and by 1979, she joined the family business.

In 1989, Prada launched her first woman’s ready-to-wear collection, and by the early ‘90s every fashionistas saved their pennies to purchase anything that Prada created. She forever changed fashion. With a swift pivot of her chunky heeled loafer, women everywhere threw their teetering stilettos in the back of their closets, and the “ugly shoe” trend began. For her Spring 1996 collection, Prada transformed ‘ugly’ into the most fashionable and sought after looks, from upholstery prints to putrid, acid colors to square-toed, T-strap shoes. By Ms. Prada’s own admission in an interview with Vogue magazine, “Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer. The investigation of ugliness is, to me, more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty.”

Throughout the years, Prada has stuck to the DNA of the brand she created. Prada’s “ugly prints” range from geometric prints, lip motifs, and even an ode to Frankenstein, but somehow, she makes it all so desirable. Prada continues to find countless ways to render what is traditionally considered unconventional, attractive. For example, designer has paired midi skirts with lug-soled brogues. She has clashed babydoll tops with board shorts. She has advocated socks with sandals, nubby wool tights, and body-concealing nylon puffas, while simultaneously creating sexy little scarf dresses, miniskirts with trains, and naughty frocks with pointed busts.

Her history as a feminist fighter still shines through in her collections, something that’s obvious in the lack of traditionally sexy pieces. Prada designs intellectual pieces for both her Prada and Miu Miu labels, and her focus is always on what women want and need.  “I want to be more clever, or more difficult, or more complicated, or more interesting, or more new,” she says to Document Journal.

DONATELLA VERSACE

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT VERSACE

Leave it to Donatella Versace to create a golden supermodel moment. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

On the opposite side of the Prada spectrum is Donatella Versace, another strong, Italian female designer, who has changed the way women and men around the world dress.

Donatella Versace is known for her platinum blond hair, sun-kissed skin, teetering platform heels, and sexy, second-skin clothing. The designer is having a major moment as Gen Z is obsessed with the ‘90s, and Versace’s golden-tinted fantasyland. Sadly, Donatella’s iconhood  was, in fact, created out of tragedy, following the murder of her brother Gianni (the founder of the house) in 1997.

Gianni Versace’s shocking murder was a huge lose to the world. His bold approach to fashion with loud colors, ostentatious prints, and plenty of sex appeal was epic and up until his death, Gianni and his sister Donatella were always in the fashion limelight. Their zest for life was translated into each collection and every supermodel in the ‘90s wanted to walk Versace’s show.

Donatella had always worked closely with Gianni and was instrumental in forging the house’s heritage status. Donatella was more than Gianni’s muse, she worked tirelessly promoting the brand and was responsible for creating the relationships between the house of Versace and all the rockstars and rappers who loved the label. Donatella amped up the celebrity quotient at the Versace front row and was friends with all the supermodels at the time: Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford – to name a few.

Once Gianni passed away, Donatella took the reins of the house and became creative director for the brand. But the Italian rockstar and non-stop party girl lifestyle took a toll on her. According to Vogue Magazine, “she was one of the first in fashion to find redemption in rehab and yet not suffer public vilification for it. This, too, has contributed to giving her iconography a human and vulnerable aspect. Donatella, the survivor.”

MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI

CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF WOMENSWEAR FOR DIOR

A photo of Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director for Dior’s Women’s Collection. (Photo Credit: Jean-Paul Goude)

Maria Grazia Chiuri rose to fame in 2007 when she became co-creative director of Valentino alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli, her design partner for 26 years. Then, in July of 2016, she went out on her own and was also hired as the creative director of womenswear for the legendary house of Dior. Chiuri became the first-ever female to take on such a prestigious role at the storied house.

Thanks to Chiuri, the brand reinstated its iconic Saddle bag, which has been spotted on countless celebrities and fashion enthusiasts since its return in 2018. Under Chiuri’s leadership, the French house saw a 44% increase in sales in 2021.

Chiuri is an active feminist, and her designs reflect the sociological environment that we live in today. For her debut collection at Dior Spring 2017, she featured message tees that boldly stated, pre-#MeToo, “we should all be feminists,” a literal reference to the writing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a sartorial nod to another female design pioneer Katharine Hamnett. Chiuri mixed these tees with a nod to fencers and ballerinas and a new Dior woman materialized: strong yet delicate, with a fighting spirit and a desire for romance.

For her spring ‘18 collection, Chiuri was inspired by Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” handing out copies of the essay and printing its title on T-shirts. For her spring ’20 collection, Chiuri gave a nod to goddesses throughout history, in front of a backdrop that read, “What If Women Ruled The World?”

The designer’s efforts surrounding gender equality have been noticed and taken seriously. In fact, she received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian distinction, from the country’s gender equality minister Marlène Shiappa in 2019.

REI KAWAKUBO

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT COMME DES GARÇONS

A photo of Rei Kawakubo and looks from her MET Exhibit. (Photo Credit: MTV News)

“I work in three shades of black,” Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo once said, but the throngs of women who have been captivated and inspired by her clothes might beg to differ—she utilizes far more variations of black than a measly three. The revolutionary Kawakubo has been creating avant-garde fashion for over a half century. The elusive designer has been, and still is, hell-bent on toppling conventional ideas of attractiveness, arguing, “for something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.… Comme des Garçons is a gift to oneself, not something to appeal or to attract the opposite sex.” (A rare statement Kawakubo has made on record to Vogue Magazine).

The press nicknamed her customers “the crows”, as they are draped in their voluminous deconstructed Comme des Garçons fashions.  But her artsy clients understand the true freedom in wearing Kawakubo’s unique designs. Kawakubo is known for her dramatic designs from her “added lump” collection to her flattened “paper doll” looks. Often Kawakubo uses polyester, leaves seams frayed, and blurs the line between masculine and feminine clichés.

In 2017, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City celebrated Kawakubo with an exhibition entitled, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons, Art of the In-Between.” The show was designed as an austere, all-white maze and presented approximately 150 Comme des Garçons creations. Andrew Bolton, the curator for the Met show, stated: “I really think her influence is so huge, but sometimes it’s subtle.… It’s the purity of her vision.”

SARAH BURTON

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

A photo of Sarah Burton, in her studio at Alexander McQueen. (Photo Credit: David Burton)

Another rise to fame came from another tragedy. On February 11, 2010, Lee McQueen, the creative director, and founder of the brand Alexander McQueen, committed suicide, leaving the fashion industry shook to its core. Two months later Sarah Burton was named Lee McQueen’s successor. Burton, who had been working with McQueen since 1996, first as an intern, then as his personal assistant, rose to head of womenswear in 2000, so it was a natural progression for her to replace McQueen.

Through the years since McQueen’s death, Burton stayed true to the brands aesthetic and has been a diligent guardian of the McQueen flame, but… she has also enhanced it. Under Burton’s leadership, many of McQueen’s signature elements —the beautifully dramatic but also the painfully dark juxtaposition that were part of McQueen’s inner demons (that he could not let go of), have been transformed into less radical and significantly more femicentric.

On April 29, 2011, Burton and her label became a household name as she was commissioned to dress Catherine Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge, for her wedding to Prince William. The world watched the extravagant wedding and Middleton looked like the perfect princess in every way. Burton created a silk satin gown, tapestried by the Royal School of Needlework, which was a key moment in her new chapter at the house.

Burton’s runway shows are always theatrical, in keeping true to the house’s DNA. Burton told Vogue Runway in an interview: “Lee always said to me, “You have to make things your own, you have to believe in it, and it has to be an emotional thing, what we do.” She has achieved the perfect balance between her creativity and Lee McQueen’s vision, he would be proud.

STELLA McCARTNEY

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER OF STELLA McCARTNEY

Stella McCartney in her London Studio. (Photo Credit: Jules Esick)

Stella McCartney has been the fashion industry’s conscience for decades. As a leading advocate for sustainability in fashion, she has been a pioneer to reduce the carbon footprint of her namesake collection. For McCartney, sustainability is not a gimmick or a one season effort, she’s been championing the movement before it was the “thing to do,” and she practices what she preaches every season. No green-washing here.

Always ahead of a movement, McCartney debuted her fur and leather free collection in 2001 and faced plenty of criticism: How could a designer possibly build a business without luxury leather goods? Her now-signature Falabella bag proved precisely how. For McCartney’s fall ‘20 collection, the designer sent models dressed as animals down the runway, followed by an Instagram campaign featuring cartoons of animals expressing things like, “My coat looks better on me” and “What the fox?? I’m not fashion.” The collection was cruelty free.

Fast forward to today. McCartney is not only known for her signature non-leather goods and her playful, sporty ready-to-wear, but she’s inspiring a generation of women to think about the environmental impact of what they buy. McCartney believes that fashion shouldn’t just be about how we look; it should be about how our choices relate to the environment and people around us.

In addition to her sustainability efforts, McCartney is also known for her very British and feminine design aesthetic, so much so that she was selected to design the dress Meghan Markle wore to the Royal Wedding reception (which was made of viscose, a fluid material made from wood pulp). Apart from the obvious reasons for accepting the design gig, McCartney said she designed the dress for Markle because she’s “a women’s woman,” according to Harper’s Bazaar UK.

McCartney is not only a successful designer, but she is also a true environmental activist. In a past campaign, she enlisted women from the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, and she’s still the only designer who has encouraged people to consign their used designer items through the commerce site, The RealReal. In a Vogue.com story, she spoke candidly about the lack of progress from her designer peers: “I just think it’s time to man up and have an element of honesty. I do need a few more colleagues linking my arm and standing shoulder to shoulder with me, because that’s how we can make significant change.”

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

FOUNDER AND DESIGNER AT VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

Vivienne Westwood modelling in her own show. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Since arriving in London in the late 1960s, Vivienne Westwood has captured the many ways women express themselves through fashion—and her collections have often been as cheeky, controversial, and surprising as their creator.

Westwood exploded onto the fashion world when she teamed up with Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, and together they launched the garments that the world would come to know as punk: “… punk fashion itself was iconographic: rips and dirt, safety pins, zips, slogans, and hairstyles,” she once declared. But Westwood is far from a one-trick-pony, while the creative designer still has many elements of punk within her collection, she also offers clothes that rely on brilliant tailoring made their rebellious points—collections with names like Savages (1981), Buffalo/Nostalgia Of Mud (1982), Punkature (1982), and Worlds End (1984). Successive shows went on to channel young romantics, which offered a twisted homage to the mini-crinis of Christian Lacroix.

For almost a half of a century Westwood dressed generations of women with chic yet rebellious clothes, and even today, Westwood hasn’t lost her ‘punish’ charm.

In 1992, Vivienne Westwood was awarded an OBE (the British Empire award, it is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award). Westwood arrived at Buckingham Palace knicker-less, a decision documented by a photographer in the palace courtyard. Westwood later said, “I wished to show off my outfit by twirling the skirt. It did not occur to me that, as the photographers were practically on their knees, the result would be more glamorous than I expected.… I have heard that the picture amused the Queen.”

A true rebel through and through.

DIANE VON FURSTENBERG

FOUNDER AND DESIGNER OF DIANE VON FURSTENBERG

Diane Von Furstengerg in her iconic dress on the cover of Newsweek in 1976. (Photo Credit: Newsweek)

Not many designers are as closely associated with a single garment as Diane von Furstenberg is with the wrap dress. A staple in every woman’s wardrobe, von Furstenberg introduced her iconic dress in 1974. The socialite and former princess came up with the idea when she separated from her then-husband Prince Egon von Furstenberg and wanted something that felt modern and independent, something that was the complete opposite from her former socialite wardrobe. “Usually, the fairytale ends with the girl marrying the prince,” she said in a 2012 issue of British Vogue. “But mine started as soon as the marriage was over.”

The DVF wrap jersey number was more than a dress: It was a quiet feminist symbol. Although women were not familiar with von Furstenberg’s story when she first introduced the wrap dress, they quickly became fans of the dress’s slinky ease and vibrant prints. By 1976, von Furstenberg was selling 25,000 of them a week. DVF’s signature dress was copied by many, and suddenly wrap dresses were everywhere, von Furstenberg’s business experienced a significant lull—but unlike many of her fellow designers, she weathered the storm and made a successful comeback in the early 2000s.

In 2006, the glamourous von Furstenberg was named president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a position she held until 2019 when she passed the baton to Tom Ford. Von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses are still selling successfully. Through the years, she experimented with a variety of silhouettes and avant-garde prints, but on the verge of fifty years in business, von Furstenberg’s going back to her roots: clothes with simplicity, ease, and a joyful spirit. “If I have made any contribution, I want it to be that we were the friend in the closet,” she said in a past interview with Vogue Magazine. “We serve women’s needs.”

There are so many other influential female designers in the world today, can you tell us, who are your favorites?

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH-IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTIONS BY FEMALE DESIGNERS THROUGHOUT HISTORY

Coco Chanel with model friends during her show in 1959. (Photo Credit: Willy Rizzo)

Women in every industry have been chipping away at the glass ceiling for decades. Do you know who was the first female prime minister? Answer: Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka in 1960. She was followed by a series of other competent women who held high office, such as Indira Gandhi (India-1966) and a slew of other women who you would have never known about unless you googled Women Prime Ministers many of whom are from Asia Pacific countries. Therefore it is quite astonishing that it took decades for the U.S. to elect its first female to hold high office with the election of V.P. Kamala Harris. Perhaps her being a part of the AAPI community is prescient? In any case, finally…the glass ceiling in the U.S. has been broken, proving once again that girls really can run the world!

As we celebrate Woman’s History Month, and because you know how much we love history…UoF is celebrating the origin of Woman’s History Month and some of the most influential female designers who have made significant contributions to the world of fashion. Oh, and did we mention that the fashion industry accounted for 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020 and is projected to do about 2.25 trillion dollars by 2025? And women helped get them there.

 

HISTORY OF WOMAN’S HISTORY MONTH

There is much info to be found online about how the celebration of women began. What started out as a one day celebration would later become a month long celebration. According to Britannica.com, “In 1908 a branch of the New York City Social Democratic Women’s Society declared that the last Sunday in February would be celebrated as National Woman’s Day. The observance was first held on February 23, 1909, in New York City. However, the better-known precursor to Women’s History Month was International Women’s Day, which was created in 1910 at the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference and first observed on March 19, 1911. Led by German social democratic activist Clara Zetkin, the women of the conference intended International Women’s Day to focus on the struggles of working women—in contrast to the mainstream feminist movement, which the socialists associated with the bourgeoisie. The March 8 date became official in 1921 when Zetkin, by then a communist, proposed it in honour of a strike led by women workers in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) on March 8 (February 23, Old Style), 1917, that marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution.”

The International Women’s Day (IWD) website states that “International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.  More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on March 25, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events. 1911 also saw women’s Bread and Roses campaign.”

On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on February 23, the last Sunday in February. Following discussions, International Women’s Day was agreed to be marked annually on March 8 that translated in the widely adopted Gregorian calendar from February 23 – and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914, further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity. For example, in London in the United Kingdom there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.” On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers in World War 1. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Sunday February 23 on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was March 8.”

Fast forward to 1978 when Women’s History Week was championed by Austrian-born, Gerda Lerner, the single most influential figure in the development of women’s and African American women’s gender history and whose development of an MA program at Sarah Lawrence College further promoted the National Women’s History Alliance. The following year, in 1979, a fifteen-day conference held at Sarah Lawrence College from July 13 – July 29, focused on women’s history. The event, led by Lerner and co-sponsored by Sarah Lawrence College, the Women’s Action Alliance and the Smithsonian Institution. Celebrating Woman’s History Week quickly grew nationwide, although it was not recognized as a national week until 1980.

Then, in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week. The proclamation stated, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, ‘Women’s History is Women’s Right.’ It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision. I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2–8, 1980. I urge libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality –Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Alice Paul. Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people. This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that ‘Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.'” Carter was referring to the Equal Rights Amendment, which was never ratified as a amendment, but did become the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution after his presidency.

Woman’s History Week was quickly growing in popularity. In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women’s History Week. Congress passed their resolution as Pub. L. 97-28, which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as Women’s History Week. Schools across the country also began to have their own local celebrations of Women’s History Week and even Women’s History Month. And finally in 1986, fourteen states  declared March as Women’s History Month. Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1988, U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations designating the month of March as Women’s History Month.

What colors symbolize International Women’s Day?

Purple, green and white are the colors of International Women’s Day. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolizes hope. White represents purity and the colors originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908.

FEMALE PIONEERS OF FASHION

Long before Woman’s History Month came into existence, female designers were breaking the fashion industry’d glass ceiling. These designing women carved out their own paths toward empowering women through fashion by instilling confidence through dress and by creating jobs so that women could support themselves and their families.

The list is thankfully long and growing, but here’s some of our favs whose groundbreaking creative genius still influences fashion today. We will be  covering more female designers in subsequent posts so stay tuned.

Madame Grès

Madame Grès draping a dress, c. 1945 (Photo Credit: credit unknown)

Madame Grès was born Germaine Emilie Krebs in Paris France.  She took her first pseudonym, Alix Barton, while a milliner. In 1936, she made her mark on couture under the name Alix, and by 1942, she dropped Barton and assumed the surname Grès from her only marriage in 1942.

This creative intellect experimented with fabric and form to achieve perfection. A trained sculptor, Madame Grès used mathematical precision as she draped her pieces to perfection. Madame Grès was known for draping right on a female figure, no flat patterns or muslin for her. She let the fabric help dictate the design and sculpted her dresses on the form using a needle and thread.

From the beginning…I didn’t have the knowledge. I took the material and worked directly on it. I used the knowledge I had, which was sculpture,” the couturier told WWD in 1963.

Madame Grès is most famous for her 1930s Grecian-influenced column gowns made of silk, rayon and later, polyester jersey. Because the dresses were sculpted and sewn on the body, selvedge to selvedge, no two dresses were alike. And, she used an average of 13 to 23 meters of uncut fabric, which remained weightless. Grès continued to be influenced by multicultural costumes throughout her career.

Madame Grès gown. c1958. Silk. (Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The designer’s house thrived through the 1950s and 1960s with her couture business. In 1959, Madame Grès introduced her first perfume, Cabochard, to much success. In 1981 the designer created her first ready-to-wear collection, which ultimately limited the house’s growth.

Grès’ approach to her art informed the originality of her genius. But her death, as in life, was shrouded in mystery. In 1994, it was announced to the fashion press that Grès had passed away, but her actual passing was a year earlier. Her death was kept a secret by her daughter.

Appreciation for Grès’ work has permitted her most essential pieces to be preserved by time, allowing her devotion to the couture she loved and her legacy to stay alive.

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel in her Parisian Apartment. (Photo Credit: Architectural Digest)

Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was born in Saumur, France on August 19, 1883. This designer had such a passion for her creations that she worked right up until her death in 1971 at the age of 87. The majority of industry insiders consider Coco Chanel to be the greatest fashion force who ever lived, she created a fashion spirit, as well as a look. The late designer not only influenced young designers of her time, but she still has an enduring impact on global fashion today, having created some of the most iconic looks that are still in fashion today: the Chanel suit, the Little Black Dress (LBD), costume jewelry, then trench coat, the quilted leather purse, turtlenecks, pants, the peacoat and her signature fragrance, Chanel No.5.

 

Coco Chanel works on tailoring a piece on a model in 1962. (Photo Credit: of Daily Mail UK)

Her career began around 1912 (though she said it was 1914) with the opening of a small hat shop in Deauville, France. With her fiancé at war, she was looking for something to pass the time. According to WWD, After borrowing a sweater from a jockey at the races one day to fend off the chill, Chanel sparked a sweater trend with all “the smart Deauville ladies” within a week. Provocative and scandalous, Chanel was criticized by many for her romantic ties to a German diplomat during WWII and the years that followed. The designer returned to Paris in 1954 and reopened her couture house. And Chanel’s business boomed, and she became one of the most iconic female designer in history.

Bonnie Cashin

Bonnie Cashin in her studio. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

Modern clothing is only valid if it works…and going into history for gimmicky ideas is not modern,” Bonnie Cashin told WWD in 1968.

According to the Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry:

Bonnie Cashin – “Born in California in 1908, Cashin began her career as an apprentice in her mother’s dressmaking shops. From there she went onto work as a Hollywood costume designer and during 1943 to 1949, she was costumer for more than 60 Hollywood films. Cashin did not devote herself to ready-to-wear until the early 1950s. It was fashion editor Carmel Snow who encouraged Cashin to go to New York’s Seventh Avenue to design for the company Adler & Adler. Cashin, who developed an interest in clothing styles from various cultures, built her collections based on timeless favorites such as ponchos, tunics, and kimonos. Additionally, Cashin was commissioned to design World War II civilian-defense uniforms which would later be the inspiration for her concept of lifestyle dressing; combining ease of dress without compromising look. Cashin developed the layering system of dress that played a key role in setting the tone for American fashion. In 1953, Cashin designed leather clothing for the company Philip Sills and brought the use of leather into the world of serious fashion. In 1962, she became the first designer for Coach and pioneered the use of the brass toggle on her handbag carriers, which she later used on clothing. Her carriers fit perfectly into the Coach philosophy; the bags packed flat, were utilitarian, and maintained a timeless sense of style.”

 

A look from Bonnie Cashin. (Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Cashin continued to run her design studio until the mid-’80s and passed away in 2000, having largely kept her distance from the grips of fashion’s standards. “I didn’t want to be boxed in by any one company or any one design problem,” she once said

Anne Klein

A photo of Anne Klein. (Photo Credit: Harpers Bazaar)

Anne Klein was born August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, as Hannah Golofski. The Anne Klein label is synonymous with American sportswear. The company she created in 1968, Anne Klein & Co., grew out of a concept; chic, comfortable, uncomplicated fashion that fits well and is wearable from season to season. “No fads,” the designer once declared to WWD. By the mid-1970s, she changed the concept of American sportswear into what is known as ‘designer ready-to-wear’.

Even today, many of the pieces in our wardrobe can be attributed to Anne Klein. She steadily introduced new silhouettes to women at the right time. A few Anne Klein signature pieces include the button front A-line dress, the leather midi skirt, the long sweater vest cardigan and pants that fit perfectly. These and many more were a part of what WWD called Anne’s “separate into togetherness” concept. While women had long been buying sets, Klein introduced coordinated separates that would allow women to mix and match their wardrobe, a concept that was met with great success throughout department stores.

Versailles show in 1973, Anne Klein was the only female designer to represent the United States. (Photo Credit: Anne Klein Archives)

Anne Klein was such an influential force in the American fashion world that she was the only woman from the American fashion industry invited to participate in the Battle of Versailles extravaganza. In 1968, she introduced the concept of group design when she launched Anne Klein Studios. The studio mentored and helped catapult the careers of many Seventh Avenue designers, such as Donna Karan. Klein died from cancer in 1974, but her legacy lives on.

Liz Claiborne

A photo pf Liz Claiborne in her design studio. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

Liz Claiborne was not only a successful designer, but a savvy businesswoman as well. Launching her namesake label at the age of 47, Claiborne ‘s groundbreaking success was certainly connected to how she wanted to live in her own clothing.

Anne “Liz” Claiborne was born in Brussels to American parents who came from a prominent Louisiana family. She began her career working as a design assistant and model. Her concept for creating effortlessly chic clothes for working women came from her own experience. As a working mother, she knew that time was precious and that fussing over a wardrobe you couldn’t afford was pointless. So, in 1976, Claiborne, along with her husband Art Ortenberg, Leonard Boxer and Jerome Chazen, founded her namesake brand, Liz Claiborne Inc. While her partners focused on sales and operations, Claiborne focused on design.

Liz Claiborne and her models. (Photo Credit: Liz Claiborne archives)

Claiborne bypassed trends and fads and instead followed her gut on what she liked and wanted to wear to fit her lifestyle. Her instincts were spot on, as she attracted a consumer, much like herself, who wanted to fill the void in their work wardrobes. She built a brand that leaned into comfort, with a focus on quality, style, and value. Claiborne was also commitment to interacting with her consumer, which naturally drove the brand’s success.

This concept worked so well for Liz Claiborne that she went from one to more than 10 successful brands. In 1981 the company went public and by 1989 Claiborne and her partners turned the better-priced sportswear market into a multibillion-dollar industry.

Shortly after Claiborne and her husband retired from Seventh Avenue to focus on humanitarian efforts and travel, they left behind, in just under two decades, a portfolio of 40 labels including Dana Buchman, Ellen Tracy, Juicy Couture and Kate Spade, among others. According to WWD, Liz Claiborne was an award-winning designer and the first female CEO and chairwoman of a Fortune 500 company. She passed away from cancer in 2007 at the age of 78.

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

In honor of Women’s History Month why not take our short quiz to test your knowledge of  how women helped make the fashion industry what it is today:

1. Who is considered the first known fashion designer and the couturier to Queen Marie
Antoinette?
a. Joséphine Chantrell
b. Marie Cremon
c. Rose Bertin

2. Male designers throughout history often engaged a female ‘muse’ for inspiration,
beginning with Marie Augustine Vernet, wife of designer Charles Frederick Worth. Do you
know who was Yves Saint Laurent’s muse? She also went on to create her own brand.
a. Loulou de la Falaise
b. Ava Gabor
c. Ariana Rockefeller

3. Which French couturier began her career as head seamstress at Maison Callot Souers?
a. Jeanne Lavin
b. Madeleine Vionnet
c. Jeanne Paquin

4. Which French designer is known as the “Sculptor of Couture”?
a. Madame Grès
b. Madame Agnès
c. Nina Ricci

5. French designer Paul Poiret is often credited for freeing women from the corset, but it was
actually this female designer who showed her first collection of lingerie-inspired pieces while
working at Maison Doucet.
a. Jeanne Paquin
b. Madeleine Vionnet
c. Coco Chanel

6. Claire McCardle is known as the pioneer of the “American Look”. In the 1940s she created
the pop-over dress and the concept philosophy of “5 easy pieces”. Her wrap and tie dress was later popularized by this designer.
a. Donna Karan
b. Diane von Furstenberg
c. Donatella Versace

7. This designer was the first to make the Little Black Dress (LBD) famous.
a. Hanae Mori
b. Elsa Schiaparelli
c. Coco Chanel

8. This American designer began her career as a Hollywood costume designer. She went on to
design for Coach where she created her famous metal turnkey closure that she later added to
clothing.
a. Vera Maxwell
b. Tina Lesser
c. Bonnie Cashin

9. This designer is considered the inventor of the miniskirt.
a. Hattie Carnegie
b. Mary Quant
c. Twiggy

10. This American designer patented her own pleating technique in 1975, based on a pleating
technique known as Marii.
a. Mary McFadden
b. Donna Karan
c. Norma Kamali

11. This designer was the first to use shoulder pads, animal and trompe l’oeil prints and known
for her whimsical “tongue-in-cheek” approach to fashion.
a. Coco Chanel
b. Elsa Schiaparelli
c. Jeanne Paquin

12. Which designer is known for her fashion innovation known as the “three sleeve-hole”?
a. Adeline André
b. Liz Claiborne
c. Anne Klein

13. Who created the original push-up bra called the Wonderbra in 1964?
a. Diane von Furstenberg
b. Louise Poirier
c. Donatella Versace

14. Who is credited with creating the robe de style, a dress silhouette that flatters all body types.
a. Jeanne Lanvin
b. Madame Gres
c. Vionnet

15. Who is considered the first female African-American designer in the U.S.?
a. Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes
b. Elizabeth Keckley
c. Ruby Bailey

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

ANSWERS TO OUR QUIZZ

1) Rose Bertin, 2) Loulou de la Falaise, 3) Madeleine Vionnet, 4) Madame Grès, 5)

Madeleine Vionnet, 6) Diane von Furstenberg, 7) Coco Chanel, 8) Bonnie Cashin, 9) Mary

Quant, 10) Mary McFadden, 11) Elsa Schiaparelli, 12) Adeline André, 13) Louise Poirier, 14)

Jeanne Lanvin, 15) Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes

For more on fashion history read Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry c0-authored by our founder Francesca Sterlacci

HOW WELL DID YOU DO ON OUR QUIZ?

All Hail the Queen of Raw

Nothing makes us happier at the University of Fashion than featuring power players who are making positive change in the fashion industry. And little did this designer realize I would have my design and production mind blown by the incredible woman you are about to meet.

Enter Stephanie Benedetto, self-proclaimed Queen of Raw.

This former corporate attorney on Wall Street and descendent of an Austrian immigrant turned Lower East Side master furrier is realizing her mission of turning pollution into profit. And maybe more importantly, she’s contributing to a world in which her son can grow up and thrive by breathing in clean air, enjoying access to clean water and wearing non-toxic clothing.

Benedetto suggests turning our traditional design process on its head in an effort to make design sustainable by powering design with dead stock fabrics.

Benedetto explains: Pen to paper or stylus to screen, designing a garment can be one of the most special and intimate experiences an artist can have. It’s no mystery why designers want to start their process with this creative expression. But it’s taking its toll on our world. Where is the business or environmental sense in designing a garment with a fabric in mind without having secured the specific material, figuring out the quantity available, knowing where it’s located, and the ethics in its production? The funnel is broken. Starting with design leaves the rest of the battle uphill.

Have you ever had one of those designer a-ha moments, where everything you’ve been taught somehow goes out the window, and suddenly you see your craft in a new light? Keep reading…

The Queen of Raw continues: The back and forth of swatching and communicating shipping, confirming color, managing orders, the possibility of the material becoming unavailable in the midst of communication – it happens all too often. What if (just trust me for two seconds), what if we started with a material? What if there was a way to see that something was already manufactured and ready to go?”

Once again, a-ah. I’ve faced this production quandary and it wasn’t pretty. On the flip side of things, as an emerging designer with only small orders to fill, I found myself wanting to use fabrics that I could only get by meeting the manufacturer’s minimums. This unfortunate situation left me with all kinds of extra fabric for some garments in my collection and running out of the right fabric (as Benedetto describes above) for others. Had I of started my design process with specific, available fabrics in mind, oh my, how things would have turned out differently.

As if reading my mind, Benedetto continues: You have all the information on where it’s [fabric] coming from, how much is available, how it was made, and it’s cheaper at the same quality you’re used to because it’s “dead stock.” What if designers began with what’s available instead of creating all the problems (for themselves) that slow production down by using/creating new? 

Benedetto will tell you exactly how a fledgling (or seasoned) designer’s business could benefit from this fabric-first design model, and this designer will concur.

Bottom lines would improve.

Price points on finished goods could be more accessible with production costs severely lowered.

Billions of gallons of water would be saved in using already existing excess (700 gallons per yard repurposed).

And fashion could move to the forefront of the sustainable mission instead of being the second biggest contributor to climate change.

Take in those last few words…fashion is the second biggest contributor to climate change. As responsible designers and global citizens, it’s important for all of us to consider all the design and production resources (and options) we have at our fingertips, thanks to thought leaders like Benedetto. If sourcing existing fabric options first makes sense to you, waste no time visiting Queen of Raw. As a bonus benefit, Queen of Raw will calculate the environmental impact of your order free of charge and you can pass the good news (and the savings) on to your customers.

Finally, we couldn’t write a post on responsible design and sustainable uses of fabric without giving a shout out to our friends at FabScrap. This incredible resource transports unused fabric from designers’ factories and warehouses to its sorting location. Then FabScrap either recycles scraps or prepares them for sale at a lower cost for designers and crafters. FabScrap even offers fabric sorting volunteer opportunities where you can earn fabric in trade. If you are in NYC, take advantage of one of two FabScrap locations!

If you have sustainable resources of your own to add, please don’t hesitate to comment and share what you know with our community below!