The impact that fashion designers have had on the clothes that we wear can be gauged from the fact that even those who know little about fashion and care even less for the latest trends would recognise so many of their names instantly. Calvin Klein, Georgio Armani, Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren – these are all household names with which the large majority of people would be immediately familiar.
Designers come from all over the world, but some countries definitely seem to produce much more than their fair share. Klein and Lauren are amongst the most well-known fashion icons to hail from the USA; Versace and Armani are probably the best known Italians in the trade. But it is doubtful whether there is a country anywhere in the world that has produced so many renowned pioneers of the craft as France. There are far too many to list, but here are just a few of the most popular:
- Yves St. Laurent
Founded as a company in his own name in 1961, St. Laurent specialised in redesigning traditional male clothes into beautiful feminine garments for the ladies. He is credited as being the driver behind the “power dressing” concept for women in business – stylish, but business-like, dynamic and purposeful, combining fashion and functionality in the most effective way. One of the most famous of all the designers, St. Laurent passed away in 2008, aged 71.
- Pierre Cardin
Although born in Italy in 1922 Cardin’s family relocated to France when he was just two and he was brought up as a French national. He is known primarily for his futuristic designs, which have not been limited solely to fashionwear (his products have included umbrellas and motor cars!).
- Coco Chanel
Chanel was a businesswoman as well as simply a designer. Her works went beyond fashionwear, extending to handbags, jewellery and perfumes – for which she is every bit as famous as for her clothes. She popularised a casual, sporty style which helped liberate women from the “corseted” designs of the pre-war period. Chanel passed away in 1971, aged 87. She was the only fashion designer to have been listed on Time 100’s The Most Important People of the Century.
- Christian Dior
Dior is credited with having revolutionised the way that women dressed in the post-war period, being best known for his “new look” silhouette. Although he passed away at a young age – only 52 – his famed fashion houses still exist all over the world and his legacy is evident in the works of numerous other designers.
- Jean-Paul Gaultier
Gaultier has won his reputation as one of the finest designers around by tackling both ends of the range, with custom-fitted items as his high-end fashion designs as well as prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear). Many of his collections have been built upon the concept of street wear with an emphasis on popular culture, whereas others such as his haute couture collections are formal, whilst at the same time eccentric and playful.