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Female Fashion Pioneers Who Shaped the Future of Style

Design, ValuesJohanna Bjork, Gap Inc. bloggerComment

There was a time, not long ago, when the average American didn’t own a pair of jeans.

That started to change in 1969, when Doris Fisher — along with her husband, Don — decided to open a new clothing store to make it easier for people to find a pair of jeans. The two succeeded in their mission. More than 45 years later, millions of people globally wear denim every day, and it's become a staple in the American wardrobe.

We look at some of the women who have helped define and shape the fashion industry. From staging the first fashion show to inventing timeless wardrobe staples, these 10 female fashion pioneers and their innovations have shaped the future of style — forever changing how we get dressed:

Jeanne Paquin
The First Fashion Show


Jeanne Paquin was a Paris-based couture designer known for her distinctly modern style and sharp business skills in the early 1900s. She pioneered the concept of global expansion, opening branches in London, Buenos Aires, New York and Madrid. A savvy marketer, Paquin organized public “fashion parades" — the forerunner to the modern fashion show — to bring attention to her designs. 

Jeanne Lanvin
Creator of Lifestyle

Designer Jeanne Lanvin was an avid traveler, often incorporating exotic inspirations and cultural references from her trips into her collections — an unusual concept at the time. She was also one of the first designers to recognize the value of expanding into a lifestyle brand. The Lanvin empire eventually grew to include women's couture, menswear, hats, jewelery, perfume, makeup, home décor and bridal.

Elsa Schiaparelli
Fashion's First Cover Girl

Elsa Schiaparelli was the first female fashion designer to be featured on the cover of TIME magazine. Her designs were heavily influenced by art, featuring trompe l'oeil imagery and fabrics by surrealist painter Salvador Dali. She introduced the decorative use of zippers and created early versions of the broad-shouldered power suit and women's shorts — then called “divided skirts." Schiaparelli had no formal training and, instead of making patterns, was famous for draping fabric directly onto the body. This allowed the garments to take shape organically. 

Coco Chanel
Why You Have a Little Black Dress


Gabrielle “Coco" Chanel borrowed elements from menswear and sportswear to create a signature look that was both elegant and comfortable. The signature Chanel suit and little black dress, both introduced in the 1920s, came to define the timeless wardrobe staple. Chanel herself became a style icon, and her legacy endures: The House of Chanel is still one of the world's most important fashion brands.

Liberating Women through Marketing

As the women's liberation movement took hold, the 1960s and '70s became a period of significant change. The advertisements for Revlon's fragrance "Charlie" captured the spirit of the times and helped popularize the image of the independent woman. “Charlie" was a working woman — happy, confident and always pictured mid-stride. It was the first time a woman was shown wearing pants in a fragrance ad. One of the “Charlies," Naomi Sims, became the first African-American woman to be featured in a cosmetic brand's advertising. The campaign remains an iconic representation of that era.

Bianca Jagger
A Wedding Redefined

When Bianca Jagger married Mick Jagger in 1971, she became an instant fashion sensation. The white suit she wore to her wedding ceremony was daring, glamorous and iconic. In 1977, Jagger's knack for sartorial sensation was further displayed when she rode into her birthday party at legendary New York City nightclub Studio 54 on a white horse. Her style was somehow both rebellious and elegant, and has inspired generations of women.

Vivienne Westwood
The Progressive Punk Rocker

In 1971, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened their now-legendary store on Kings Road in London. Their provocative designs were worn by bands such as the Sex Pistols, and the shop became the center of London's burgeoning punk scene. To this day, Westwood continues to push the fashion envelope. Everything she creates — from eyewear to masterfully tailored evening gowns — remains infused with a signature punk attitude that shows no signs of abating.

Betsey Johnson
Bringing Mini to the Market

In the mid-'60s, Betsey Johnson was the resident designer at Manhattan boutique Paraphernalia, famous for introducing shocking garments such as the mini skirt and the vinyl dress to the U.S. Her style is still feminine, youthful and over-the-top, and her dresses are equal parts embellishment and attitude. At 72, Johnson still finishes every runway show by doing a cartwheel on the stage.

A Pop Icon Defines a Decade — and More

Madonna has been a fashion icon ever since she appeared on the pop scene more than 30 years ago. Her 1980s look — featuring lace, fishnets, gloves, bleached blond hair and lots of jewelry — came to stylistically define that decade. Her unapologetic attitude has paved the way for other strong female musicians and continues to inspire Madonna's league of loyal fans.

Kate and Laura Mulleavy
The New It Girls

The Mulleavy sisters have experienced a meteoric rise to fame. Their first collection for Rodarte was featured on the cover of leading fashion industry publication Women's Wear Daily, and scored them a meeting with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour. Rodarte is known for an innovative, intricately crafted style that mixes couture, art and California cool — a look that will, perhaps, come to define our current decade.