Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Commes des Garçons and Dover Street Market. Here, she adorns a bag that reads;

Rei Kawakubo founder of Commes des Garçons | Source: Pinterest

International Women’s Day: Five of the Most Influential Women in Fashion

History has watched as trailblazing, fearless female designers have helped to pave the way in the fashion industry and create gender parity with their male counterparts. Despite how far women have come in fashion, the industry continues to prop up what McKinsey & Company describe as a “glass runway” with just 14 per cent of major brands being led by female executives, as of 2018.

Today on International Women’s Day, we take a look at some of the women who have made significant breakthroughs in the industry and changed the fashion game, forever.

Donatella Versace

Long hailed as a feminist icon, Donatella Versace is a household name that transcends the fashion industry. Known for her unwavering confidence and cheeky humour, she has been instrumental in the foundation of luxury fashion house, Versace, and she has done it all in heels.

In fact, she has previously disclosed to Italian Vogue editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani that she can give up anything, including her drug addiction which she battled and overcome more than 15 years ago now, but not her heels.

After the tragic murder of her brother Gianni Versace, Donatella became the face of the luxury fashion house. She was responsible for the explosion of the brand in the mainstream media, designing advertising campaigns with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Demi Moore. She is also the creative genius behind the brand’s international resorts such as the Palazzo Versace resort on the Gold Coast and in Dubai.

A patron of the Elton John Aids Foundation, Donatella has also been an eminent activist and supporter of gay rights and the fight against AIDS. She has been instrumental in glamorising activism that, historically, has not reared its head in such public industries and platforms.

Feminism is dead in the world. It comes from another time. I’m a feminist. I want to fight, but I don’t see many people with this desire to fight for something. Women don’t help each other, especially in fashion.

Donatella Versace

Rei Kawakubo

Known for revolutionising Paris fashion, Rei Kawakubo is a self-taught Japanese designer and founder of Commes des Garçons and Dover Street Market. Her avante-garde style and vision weaved Japanese influence into Western high-fashion during the 1980s.

Kawakubo draws her inspiration from a principle in traditional Japanese aesthetics, known as wabi-sabi. This is an artistic perspective in which beauty is imperfection. Seemingly flawed materials were used by Kawakubo to challenge long-held conventions of perfectionism and popular body-hugging silhouette stereotypes.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York highlighted her influence in consistently disrupting and redefining traditional fashion aesthetics.

Her fashions not only stand apart from the genealogy of clothing but also resist definition and confound interpretation. They can be read as Zen koans or riddles devised to baffle, bemuse and bewilder.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
“I make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks,” Rei Kawakubo. Source: Commes de Garçons

Katharine Hamnett

The embodiment of ethical fashion, Katharine Hamnett is best known for her oversized t-shirts featuring political slogans. Well into her flourishing, high-end fashion career, Hamnett ran an environmental investigation into her brand in 1989. The evidence produced showed pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing regions and soaring rates of sweatshop labour. Hamnett responded by reforming her entire fashion brand.

At her behest, lucrative licensing arrangements were terminated and the focus of Hamnett’s brand was shifted to ethical manufacturing and agricultural processes.

Her easily discernible t-shirts featured a myriad of politically driven slogans, including “Choose Life”, “Peace”, “Choose Love” and “Stop War, Blair Out” (a reference to the invasion of Iraq).

Worn by George Michael, Naomi Campbell and featured in Queen’s video for “Hammer to Fall”, these t-shirts made many high-profile public appearances. Today, the style of Hamnett’s t-shirts has been revamped to reflect current political climates, with slogans such as “Global Green Deal Now”, “Vote Trump Out”, and “Don’t Shoot”.

In 1984, Katharine Hamnett meets with Margaret Thatcher, wearing an anti-nuke T-shirt | Source: Vogue

Carolina Herrera

Venezuelan designer, Carolina Herrera, is the quintessential designer of elegance personified.

I have a responsibility to the woman of today- to make her feel confident, modern and above all else beautiful.

Carolina Herrera

After working as a publicist for Emilio Pucci, Herrera began to work at his boutique in her hometown of Caracas, Venezuela. This led to opportunities in New York where she brushed shoulders with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol at Studio 54. Herrera became recognised for her dramatic and diverse style.

Renowned for her eye for sophistication, Herrera has dressed a number of first ladies including Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. Her powerful impact on the fashion industry has been recognised with an accolade of awards, including the Designer of Excellence Award from the Chicago Museum in 2017 and the Council of Fashion Designers of America Founder’s award in 2018.

Carolina Herrera has been praised for her timeless elegance. Source: Harper’s Bazaar.

Lillardia Briggs-Houston

Lillardia Briggs-Houston is a proud Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gangulu woman who designed the brand Ngarru Miimi, which roughly translates to “honey sister”.

Slow, ethical and handprinted, Ngarru Miimi explores culture, self-determination and sovereignty through fashion. Her work challenges traditional perceptions of Aboriginal culture and tells stories through textiles. In an interview with Western Riverina arts, she describes the importance of ethical fashion when paying respects to country.

Ethical fashion is particularly important within Aboriginal art and fashion. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment.

Lillardia Briggs-Houston told Western Riverina Arts

Briggs-Houston’s work has been recognised in the National Indigenous Fashion Awards 2019 across two categories and has been featured in numerous publications including Vogue Australia, Marie Claire and Wild Wellbeing.

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