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Fashion by and for Women

4 Mar 2020

“Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes,” said Coco Chanel. “Fashion is in the sky and in the street. It has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” In its contrasts, inventions, and reinterpretations, fashion is a testament to our time. Constantly on the move, it accompanies and acknowledges social changes. So many women designers, icons, and pioneers have contributed and are currently contributing to make fashion an innovative and evolutionary field in terms of aesthetics, technology, and environment. 

This year, the United Nations announced that the theme of International Women’s Day on March 8 is, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” For the occasion, let’s highlight women’s contributions to fashion’s progress, contributions which are too infrequently mentioned in mainstream history.



Below are brief portraits of ten influential personalities who have helped women’s wardrobes to evolve.

At a time when stylists were called dressmakers, Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936) introduced herself as a fashion designer. She became the first woman to be elected president of the Fashion Section at the Universal Exhibition, the first to receive the cross of the Légion d'Honneur, and the first to open branches of her line abroad.  

While propriety required women to cover themselves from head to toe, dancer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) dared to be the first to go barefoot, without a corset, and without artifice. She is the creator of what is known today as modern dance.

Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971), better known as Coco Chanel, made her mark on history by fighting against the constraints imposed on women. While the ideal of beauty was having an S-shaped silhouette with a full chest, wide hips, and a tightly corseted waist, Chanel got rid of the cinched waist. Instead, she proposed sleek and casual shapes.
She popularized women’s pants, although at this time, it was still frowned upon to wear them in public. In fact, in 1931, the mayor of Paris ordered Marlene Dietrich to leave the city immediately because she dared to wear a man’s suit on the street!

Caresse Crosby (1891-1970), born Mary Phelps Jacob, invented the first modern bra. Using silk handkerchiefs and ribbons, she made a comfortable model that was easy to conceal under a dress, unlike a corset. She opened the Fashion Form Brassiere Company in which women workers, who made up the entirety of the factory, made a series of wireless bras.

Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975) is responsible for the bias cut and artistic draping that today is inseparable from the idea of Hollywood glamour. The designer wanted dresses to follow women's silhouettes, whereas up until this time, it had been the reverse: women's bodies needed to adapt themselves to fashion. An avant-garde woman, Vionnet offered her workers short breaks and paid holiday long before these became legal obligations.    

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) bridged the worlds of art and fashion, collaborating with numerous artists such as Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. She is the first designer to have given themes to her runway shows, a practice that today is fundamental in any designer’s creative process. Her unbridled imagination led her to design innovative pieces like the famous shoe hat.   

London-based Mary Quant (born in 1934) invented the miniskirt. The garment, judged indecent by conservative circles, became a symbol of female emancipation. The designer came up with colourful creations that were designed to be comfortable and to allow freedom of movement. 

During the 1970s, British designer Vivienne Westwood (born in 1941) introduced fashion to punk. Having a rebellious spirit and being a fervent activist, she used clothes to convey her messages. She is still politically and environmentally involved, especially in the fight against climate change.

With her label Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo (born in 1942) breaks the rules of Western fashion and distances herself from traditional standards of beauty. This Japanese designer is a master at using textiles and presents iconoclastic designs without worrying about the trends. Unable to be defined, she places no limits on herself and asserts her right to not want to people please.

Since founding her label in 2001, Stella McCartney (born in 1971) offer has offered a responsible vision of luxury. She follows the principles of sustainable development and monitors her environmental impact. The brand has banned fur, invests in recycled and recyclable materials, and stands out for its exemplary social responsibility, both in terms of employee conditions and the meticulous selection of its suppliers.  

There are so many women designers, editors, photographers, models, and players from within the style community and beyond who have driven fashion forward with their strength and vision.

Thank you for your indispensable and inspirational work.