WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: THE DESIGNERS WHO CHANGED THE GAME

WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: THE DESIGNERS WHO CHANGED THE GAME

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH:

THE DESIGNERS WHO CHANGED THE GAME

Jeanne Lanvin, Miuccia Prada, Marine Serre: we’re exploring the history of fashion with the designers who changed everything.

WORDS: MARNI ROSE MCFALL Photographer: JANE DOE

Vision, innovation, legacy. Fashion was moulded, shaped and created by women. The seamstresses, the models, the muses, and of course, the designers. How can you summarise what it is to be a woman in fashion? Legendary celebrity stylist Law Roach said it best. Speaking to Emily Ratajkowski on her podcast High Low, he described fashion as: “The art form of being a woman”. So, to celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re going on a journey. A journey through the past 100 years in fashion. A journey through the art of being a woman. Through the lens of the female designers who changed the game, from Jeanne Lanvin and Miuccia Prada to Vivienne Westwood and Marine Serre.

 The fashion industry is one that, historically, has been wrought with issues. Elitist and exclusive, representing the upper echelons of society that was impenetrable to others. Including women. Like many (or indeed, any) areas of business in the late 19th and early 20th century, fashion was one where women weren’t welcome. They could make the clothes, and of course, wear the clothes. But participating as a part of a business? Taking the reins and creating? It didn’t happen.

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But women were never going to stand for it. Not for long anyway. And one woman who shattered the status quo? Jeanne Lanvin. Back in 1889, a then 22-year-old Jeanne Lanvin was designing hats in Paris. But by the time she was 30, she was one of the most influential designers in the world. The origin of her creative genius can be traced back to when she gave birth to her daughter, Marguerite, who quickly became her muse. Lanvin began by making clothes for her daughter and soon everyone wanted a piece of their own. The rest, as they say, is history.

By 1909, Lanvin had transformed her hat business into a fully-fledged fashion house. The roaring ‘20s were in full swing: flapper dresses, ball gowns and silk skirts dominated. From forays into perfumes and, eventually, menswear, no territory was off-limits for Lanvin. But so much was off limits. Throughout her career, Lanvin didn’t even have the right to vote - in France women weren’t given the vote until 1944, just two years before her death. Lanvin’s road to success was completely her own. Paved by hard work, determination and her own financial resources, she created an empire. To become one of the most influential designers in the world is an unimaginable accomplishment. To do it when every odd in the world is stacked against you is something else. Over 100 years since the brand was founded, the Lanvin logo continues to reference Marguerite and Jeanne.

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Fast forward a few decades and the world was changing. The ‘60s and ‘70s represented a new era, one of possibility and freedom, especially for women. This was also a time where women all over the world were fighting for their rights. In 1961, women were granted access to oral contraceptives, gaining autonomy over their bodies. Divorce was more readily accessible and less stigmatized, and women were starting to take control. More and more women were entering the workforce. And two women in particular were taking on new roles. Suffice to say, the world would never be the same.

 One of these women? Miuccia Prada. Creative director of the hottest brand in the world (according to Lyst) Mrs. Prada is the O.G. But her path into the fashion industry? It wasn’t easy. Her grandfather, Mario Prada, who founded the brand, believed that women had no place in business. Miuccia Prada had a deep love of fashion, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) didn’t plan on pursuing a career in the fashion industry. In fact, she told Vogue in 2020 that fashion was: “The worst place for a feminist in the ‘60s”. Against the odds - and wishes of her late grandfather - she took over the reins of the business in the mid ‘70s. And thank God she did. Mrs. Prada singlehandedly orchestrated a fashion revolution, taking the brand from tired leather goods house to one of the hottest labels in the business.

Prada’s list of accolades is infinite. The fortune teller of the fashion industry, the brand not only shapes, but dictates the trends each season. From Miu Miu’s viral mini skirt to the Pradification of the tank top, Prada’s influence on the fashion industry is huge. How does she see fashion? Speaking to Vogue, she explained that “fashion is a representation of one’s vision of the world.” And Mrs. Prada’s genius vision changed fashion forever.

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Closer to home at around the same time, another designer was shaking things up. Well, maybe not shaking things up as much as she was setting them on fire with a safety-pin through her nose. Vivienne Westwood opened her iconic brand in 1971, with her first shop, originally titled Let It Rock, at 430 Kings Road in London. The shop, which she co-owned with Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, would go on to be known by many names, but the most iconic was simply, SEX.

 If any designer was a rebel, it was Westwood. Architect of the punk movement, her vision was characterised by provocation, activism and a refusal to conform. A formidable force, Vivienne Westwood used fashion as a call to arms, a platform and a megaphone to fight for change and make an impact across not only the industry, but the world. She took no prisoners, fighting for sustainability and a better, kinder world. In her own words, she said: “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world.”

Throughout her career, compassion and love were hallmarks of her work. From dressing punk group, The Slits, one of the only female bands to exist in that space, to working with Madonna in the ‘80s and of course, with the O.G. supers in the ‘90s, Westwood’s work and designs featured a sense of intimacy and understanding of what it is to live in the world as a woman.

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The following decades in fashion were comprised of highs and lows, as the ‘90s and ‘00s created some of the most iconic moments in fashion and a culture of shame, stigma and misogyny that was less iconic. But by the late Noughties, fashion was once again, changing. A phenomenon was being born (or rather re born) that would go on to change the fashion world forever… Enter streetwear - the start of a fashion revolution. A subculture was infiltrating the mainstream, changing – forever – the currencies that fashion dealt in, bringing new voices and a new vision to the industry.

 And one of the women at the forefront of this fashion revolution? Yoon Ahn. Creative director and co-founder of streetwear heavyweight Ambush, Ahn exploded onto the streetwear scene in the late 2000s, ready to completely change the game. For Ahn, culture is always changing. Hailing from South Korea and now based in Tokyo, the world is a playground for her vision. As far as she is concerned, there’s a space for everyone in fashion.

Ambush began as a jewellery brand, and today their pieces remain some of the most iconic in the streetwear realm (read: blown-up safety pins, on-the-nose pill necklaces and cult POW motifs). Ahn co-founded the brand alongside her now husband, hip-hop artist Verbal. The brand started to infiltrate the mainstream when the likes of Pharrell, Beyoncé and Rihanna were spotted in the designs. It’s hard to imagine now, but then, the high fashion world was turning its nose up at streetwear and hip-hop culture. But Ambush would go on to become one of the industry’s biggest players when she expanded the brand in 2015.

 Since then, the brand has made its runway debut and collaborated with the likes of Off-White and Converse, cementing its status as one of streetwear’s biggest names. Her most recent venture? Expanding into the metaverse. Famed for its limitless possibilities, it’s hardly surprising that Ahn would choose to expand into Web3. Once again, Ahn is using her voice and vision in the fashion industry to create a path towards infinite creativity.

 Piece by piece, Ahn is dismantling gender stereotypes in the industry. How? Aside from the obvious (existing as a woman in a male-dominated field), her designs adopt a genderless spirit; in Ambush stores, clothes are separated by concept rather than divided by gender. This is clothing that can be worn by anyone; pioneering fashion that is for everyone. Speaking to Vogue, she said: “Let’s not have these stereotypes for women, but just celebrate everybody, no matter how they look or what they appear to be”.

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At the forefront of this journey, are three very different designers. Roberta Einer, Magda Butrym and Marine Serre. If designers like Jeanne Lanvin represent fashion’s history, then these designers represent its future.

Marine Serre is a cultural giant. Hailing from France, she’s often dubbed one of Paris’s most exciting designers – which is no small feat. Her goal? Questioning the fashion industry. Speaking to Dazed she said: “Fashion is about more than draping fabric and making a profit, it can be a place where we are free to take meaningful action”. Her label is one of a kind. Across the 67-person company, women account for 81 per cent of managers and 100 per cent of the core executive leaders. It’s about being thoughtful, considered and asking the hard questions. Committed to responsible fashion, her upcycling process is one of the best in the game, producing one-of-a-kind pieces that celebrate the past, the present and the joy of transformation.

Serre’s designs are expansive and not limited to any one style. But the ones she has become most famous for? Her second-skin designs. Form-fitting, buttery soft to the touch and moving seamlessly to the body, they are decorated with her iconic moon print, which she described as the symbol of the woman to Vogue. Having the power to change the tides and turn day to night? Sounds like women to us.

 Maybe that’s why it’s hard to think of Serre’s designs without thinking about women and the female body. Because they’ve become so interlinked. Her second-skin tops have survived for years since they were initially established as the hype piece of 2020 when Beyoncé donned the second skin moon designs in the video for Black Is King. Three years later and they’re as in demand as they ever have been: that’s the difference between a hype piece and a piece with cult status. The insane success of these garments proves one thing: pieces made by women, for women, will always stand out.

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Roberta Einer and Magda Butrym are on similar missions to empower. Both queens of hyper feminine dressing in their own right, Einer and Butrym emerged in the 2010s ready to set the fashion world on fire.

The thin knit dresses you’ve seen all over social media are likely the work of London-based designer Roberta Einer. Hailing from Estonia, Einer has always employed a unique approach when it comes to clothes. A master of creating sexy, powerful pieces that women want to wear and that celebrate the female form in all its glory. Naturally, she’s inspired by women. Speaking to FLANNELS, she told us that her designs are all about confidence. “It’s about making clothes that are inclusive for different body shapes and make women, in different body shapes, feel really great and feminine and strong”. The Roberta Einer woman gets dressed for her. And that is a sentiment we are fully behind.

 As for Magda Butrym? She’s concentrating on allowing women to be their own muses. Speaking to FLANNELS she told us: “Every woman can be her own muse. It’s fascinating to see how women can feel empowered regardless of their age, ethnicity, education or background”. Her designs fuse elements of gender and identity to create clothing that exists to empower. And her journey toward empowerment is fuelled by fashion. “We have to understand the power of clothing and fashion as a mechanism to change the way we feel.”

Fashion would not be as it is today without women. In every area, women have pioneered a path toward a better future in the industry: through vision, innovation, and limitless creativity. In 2024, the world is changing but one thing will always be certain – fashion owes its past, present, and future, to women. And at FLANNELS, we’ll be celebrating incredible women, all day, every day, always.


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