The business of fashion is cut throat. It’s an unforgiving industry that is changing so ridiculously fast it’s near impossible to keep up let alone have any kind of success in. To be successful in fashion you have to be able to be straightforward, flexible and basically have a thick skin because no one has time for your breakdown at 7pm on a Friday night while working overtime to meet deadlines, it just need’s to get done. For those who don’t live and breathe fashion, the industry is seen as extremely superficial, which let’s be honest, it is, or pointless and full of air heads. But this my friend, is far from the truth because at the end of the day whether you follow fashion or not, you still need to wear clothes and no matter what you are wearing or how ‘out of date’ it might be, you are still contributing to this multi billion dollar industry. So how exactly does one become successful in fashion and still live to tell the tale? Well I have done some research and put together a few of my favourite trailblazers that have made the industry what it is today.
- Grace Coddington
You will be hard pressed to find someone in the fashion world who doesn’t adore Grace Coddington, Grace effectively was the women who made fashion art. She has been described as one of the most influential Creative Director in the last 30 years of fashion and is the creative direction behind some of the most iconic photo’s in the industry. Her fellow stylist describe her as someone who is able to see beyond the clothes and create a story and dream like vision through her styling that embodies the vision and creativity of the designer. Most stylist are only able to work with one look but Grace is able to create incredible images from grunge to couture and everything in between and having famously said “always keep your eyes open, always keep watching because whatever you see can inspire you” let’s you know that nothing is off limits when it comes to Grace’s creative direction. Throughout her years as both a model and creative director, she has never been altered by current trends and has always stayed true to her own creative self, making he one of the most successful faces in the industry to date.
2. Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld is the designer and creative director at Chanel. He came to Chanel at a time that many thought the brand was near dead, and was able to bring some life back into the brand, and make it into the enormously successful label it is today. Karl is huge on never looking back, he doesn’t see the point in looking into what happened yesterday, only today matters. He basically traffics in trends, he makes the trends, if you sneeze you will miss it and he famously said ‘”a trend is the last stop before it becomes tacky”. He designs over 16 collections a year for Chanel, Fendi, his label Karl and numerous other projects, he has been described as “not a designer but a mercenary”. Karl has been able to take classic pieces from Gabrielle Chanel’s designs and make them current, adding extra chains to her classic one chain belts, making her pearl necklaces into golf ball size layered masterpieces, cut off bright coloured jeans and her iconic quilted bags using different prints and colours. Karl needed to moderise Chanel and make it less about the fifty something ministers wives and more the thirty and forty something fashionista, “only the minute and the future are interesting in fashion- it exists to be destroyed. If everyone did everything with respect, you’d get nowhere”.
3. Jenna Lyons
Jenna started working at J.Crew as a menswear designer when she was 21, designing rugby shirts for the company and in 2003 she had worked her way up through the company and had become the Vice President for Women’s Design. In her role she was overseeing hundreds of designs, layout’s and look books, and with her close guidance and creative directions, Jenna was a key player in tripling J.Crew’s revenue from 690 million in 2003 to 2 billion in 20011. Some key designs that Jenna was famous for, was making sequins appropriate for day and work wear, neon colour blocked dresses, going braless and big statement piece jewellery particularly in turquoise with tortiseshell. She famously sparked a debate about gender identity when a J.Crew promotional email went around featuring Jenna with her young son painting his toenails pink, the caption read “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favourite colour is pink”. She pushed boundaries and changes tradition’s like turning up to Met Gala red carpet in 2012 in a denim jacket and casting real people for New York Fashion week instead of models.
4. Bill Cunningham
The late Bill Cunningham is the reason street style is a thing. He would take to the streets of New York and and photograph everyone and anyone, from the stylishly flamboyant to the plain jane’s, going about their day to day life. In his nearly 40 year career with The New York Times, he flashed away at decades of ever changing fashion trends and would always be waiting for the next statement piece just around the corner, be it the fanny pack, the Birkenstocks or the fluorescents shorts, Bill shot it all. Anna Winter famously said ‘We all get dressed for Bill’ in itself is a statement to the influence he had on the industry, always snapping at the coming’s and going’s of fashion week, the jewelled gown ‘s and the ripped jeans and never himself wanting to be in front of the camera. Bill always wanted to search for the subject not be the subject, in 2009 he was such an icon in New York that he was named a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Being able to find beauty and style in everyday people in the streets of New York is some Bill will always be remembered for.
5. Alexander McQueen
Where do I even begin to describe this incredible artist’s work, Alexander McQueen was the creative mind behind the brand Alexander McQueen. Taking his middle name to be the name for his brand, his first name being Lee, he pushed boundaries and was incredibly controversial but forced people to see fashion for what it was, art. McQueen designed the costumes for David Bowie’s 1996-1997 tour and designed the famous Union Jack coat Bowie wore on his 97 album cover for Earthling. McQueen’s runway shows were always a talking point as he explored the dark and tortured Scottish history with his collection called ‘Highland Rape’ and ‘Widows of Culloden’, as well as a recreation of a shipwreck for his 2003 spring collection and human chess game for his 2005 spring collection. He started to use skull’s on a lot of his designs from scarves to clutches, saying “I want to empower women, I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”, now his designs have been copied and re-done many time’s around the world. McQueen saw fashion as a way of expressing himself and his vision through his theoretical runway shows and incredible designs, it was a way to tell a story through clothes in a way no one had ever seen before. He famously said as baby faced young designer for Givenchy “when I’m dead and gone, people will know the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen”.
6. Anna Wintour
You couldn’t have an influential list of fashion without Anna Wintour. Anna Wintour is the Editor in Chief at American Vogue since 1988 and has had many iconic moments changing the way we see fashion. She famously stopped the supermodel on the cover of Vogue era by introducing celebrities instead and by mixing high end and affordable fashion, her first cover in November 1988 included a 19yr old Israeli model in $50 jeans and a $10,000 jumper. Wintour has forged many careers by taking an interest in new young designers and helped launch the career of Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs, but maybe the biggest reason for Anna’s success is her work ethic, her ability to see talent before the rest of the world notices it and to speak her mind. Anna is a very straightforward talker and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, this has given her the reputation of cold and aloof. During the pregnancies of both her children she famously wore Chanel micro mini skirts with many saying that she see’s no excuses and when it comes to work, nothing can’t be done. Anna has had an incredible career and is still to this day the reason for the rise or fall of any fashion somebody, she is a forced to be reckoned with. “In today’s world you have to interact. You can’t be some difficult shy person, who is not able to look someone in the face, you have to present yourself, you have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus and what you believe in”- Anna teaching us how to be a Boss.
There are so many incredible successful innovators but these are my favourite. I have learnt a lot of different things from each of them that I try to use in building my career. I hope they inspired you as well!