The art and fashion world are not just about trends or beauty, it’s about artistic expression and standing by your creativity. To celebrate September, we chose 5 women across the art and fashion industry who trailblazed their respective industries and revolutionized the way we view fashion and art today.
If fashion and surrealism had a child, it would be Elsa Schiaparelli. She wasn’t just an ordinary fashion designer – she was a poet, artist, aristocrat, and lover of the arts. She emerged in Paris in the late 1920s with the now-famous trompe l’oeil sweater, which would be the beginning of her creating more innovative, powerful, and occasionally controversial pieces for many years.
Schiaparelli’s approach to design was to turn the mundane into magic by mixing in elements from the everyday world and turning it into something unpredictable – for example, she made a hat shaped like a shoe, and a bag shaped like a telephone!
Schiaparelli always brought in a sense of fun in dressing, as she focused on designing feminine, yet amusing garments. After her trompe l’oeil sweater’s success, she began designing evening dresses and eventually became the first person to ever design a ladies’ evening jacket. Not only did she innovate silhouettes, but she also innovated the way we make dresses today – many of her designs after 1935 featured zippers, which weren’t popular at the time. She also featured leathers, unique beadings, and different plastics in her designs.
If there’s one person that can spark a conversation, it’s Schiaparelli. Often times she used “wrong” fabrics to stir up controversy, collaborated with famous artists such as Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau, and had Wallis Simpson wear her lobster dress in Vogue, which also sparked controversy (which would serve her well in the years to come).
One takeaway we can take from Elsa Schiaparelli is to bring the fun everywhere you go!
The woman behind the luxury global giant Prada, Miuccia Prada. Prior to Miuccia joining the fashion house, Prada was known for their suitcases, handbags, and trunks which were popular among the Italian royal family. During her young adult years, she earned a political science degree from the University of Milan, which would influence her design principles and revolutionize what Prada would be known for.
After joining the fashion house, she began upgrading previous designs and introduced the first line of nylon backpacks in 1985, which remains an icon to this day. She then debuted her first womenswear collection in 1988 and then launched Miu Miu in 1992. One of her most iconic collections to date is her Fall/Winter 1996 collection titled “Banal Eccentricity”, which critics called “Ugly-Chic”.
Prada’s “Ugly-Chic” stirred conversation within the fashion industry, as the majority of people hold fashion synonymous with beautiful things. Miuccia contrasted what trends were during that time by mixing and matching usually dismissed shades of brown, greens, and yellows, and put supermodels such as Amber Valetta and Kate Moss in a variety of mid-length skirts and clumpy sandals. “Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting. Maybe because it is newer” as she stated in this interview. Miuccia explains that to her, the idea of the ugly holds much more potential than beauty in design.
Through her designs, she courageously asks the fashion industry and its viewers to reconsider the meaning of beauty and luxury.
Ann Demeulemeester had a passion for art, and she expressed this first through fashion and then moved on to ceramics.
As a member of the famous Antwerp-Six, Demeulemeester is most known for her deconstructivist and untraditional approach to design – she featured both menswear and womenswear on the same runway (which was unheard of at the time), and opted for silhouettes that are clean-cut with a blunt and edgy look. Taking heavy inspiration from menswear, Demeulemeester’s works are can be are known for their signature layered monochromatic looks, with a little bit of flair coming in from the usage of distressed and rare fabrics.
During her time designing for her label, she stayed close to her own philosophy that centered around the idea that men and women go hand-in-hand through every walks of life – hence she featured both menswear and womenswear in her shows. Many of her early designs shows re-worked versions of traditional clothing, effectively creating her own narrative and idea of what fashion means to her.
In 2013 she stepped down from her fashion house and began to focus her creative output on ceramics, and later launched her first range of homeware and pottery in 2019.
Self-taught in fashion, Rei Kawakubo is most noted for her work at Comme des Garçons. She began styling whilst working at a textile factory, and after struggling to find clothes that fitted her aesthetic, she started to design on her own, and eventually set up her own company.
At CDG, Kawakubo was committed to offering for women; she specifically designed for the independent woman who did not dress to seduce or gain a man’s approval. Her design principle revolved around creating garments that are made for mobility and comfort, hence never putting models in stilettos during shows. She strayed from the traditional pillars of women’s fashion, and created fashion, on her own terms.
Rather than following trends, Kawakubo’s design process revolved around concepts – interweaving her love for fashion and art into her collections. Kawakubo’s silhouettes are voluminous due to the tremendous amount of fabric used on each garment; fashion critics called this “antifashion”. Going against the grain of what fashion should be is what makes Kawakubo special, and through this, she inspires designers young and old to follow their creative visions.
Known for her extensive use of polka dots, Yayoi Kusama’s journey throughout her career is full of twists and turns.
Prior to her famous installations, she began by testing the physical and psychological boundaries of art through her paintings; she achieved this by repeating an infinite amount of dots across the canvas, illuminating where the painting started or finished. Kusama was one of the first artists who began to use installations to express her creativity. Through her creations, she explores themes of feminism, pop art, abstract expressionism, minimalism, and surrealism.
Kusama makes art with the purpose of spreading the joy and love she has for life. She describes her philosophy towards art and life as “awe for life and death. We are all going through the passage of life” in this interview. Kusama’s artworks are filled with color, and passion for life; invigorating the spirit of viewers and critics alike.
Kusama’s work reminds us to find joy and happiness all around us. It reminds us to be grounded in reality, while still retaining a child-like fascination and love for the world.