Last update on: 8:37 am October 24, 2023 by fashionabc

This list of the most influential women in Fashion, attempts to turn the spotlight on women excelling in all aspects of the fashion industry with a vision, determination and resilience that offers inspiration to the next generation of fashion writers and designers.

Anna Wintour

Editor in Chief of American Vogue and Chief Content Officer and Global Editorial Director of Condé Nast, Anna Wintour is one of the most commanding figures in the history of American Fashion industry, with her net worth estimated at US$5,000,000,000. When she became editor of US Vogue, she made a radial departure from her predecessors: the first issue she was in charge of, November 1988, featured a Peter Lindbergh photograph of Michaela Bercu in faded jeans and Christian Lacroix outerwear worth $10,000. It was the first time a Vogue cover model had worn jeans; when the printers saw it they called the office to make sure there wasn’t a mistake. 

Anna Wintour. Image Credit: Business Of Fashion

Through the years, there is no one in fashion as powerful as Wintour, setting trends and championing new talent. She encouraged fashion houses such as Christian Dior to hire the younger, fresher John Galliano or Brooks Brothers to hire Thom Browne. In 2003, she and the Council of Fashion Designers of America  jointly inaugurated the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which offers financial support and business mentoring to promising American fashion designers. Interestingly, former personal assistant, Lauren Weisberger, wrote the bestseller ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, later made into a film starring Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, a fashion editor believed to be based on Wintour. In 2009, Wintour was the focus of another film, R. J. Cutler’s ‘The September Issue.’ At the time of Conde Nast’s editorial overhaul in 2020, Wintour was named Chief Content Officer. Chief Executive Officer Roger Lynch was clear in his support of her to BoF. ”There are very few people in the world who can have the influence on change and culture, as it relates to the activities that our business has, than Anna. The reason she is here is because she can help influence the change that we need to make, and I know she is committed to it.”

Wintour reflected on the cover: ‘It was so unlike the studied and elegant close-ups that were typical of Vogue’s covers back then, with tons of makeup and major jewellery. This one broke all the rules… It looked easy, casual, a moment that had been snapped on the street, which it had been, and which was the whole point… I had just looked at that picture and sensed the winds of change.’

So it came as no surprise when Anna Wintour was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and a dame by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for services to fashion and journalism. Also named “unofficial mayoress” of New York City by The Guardian, Wintour is a trustee of the New York Metropolitan Museum and transformed the museum’s annual gala into one of the most high profile annual events. In addition, she is a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party and has raised funds for both Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s presidential bids.

Miuccia Prada

The youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada, Miuccia Prada transformed his leather goods business into a multi- million dollar ready-to-wear powerhouse, Prada. Today she is co-creative director and co-chief executive of Prada and founder, creative director of its subsidiary Miu Miu. 

Miuccia Prada. Image Credit: Brigitte Lacombe for Telegraph UK

Miuccia Prada entered the family business in 1978 and eventually began designing accessories in 1985, producing a line of lightweight backpacks that were an immediate success. Three years later, with the encouragement of her husband Patrizio Bertelli, Prada debuted her womenswear line in 1988 and launched Miu Miu, a secondary line, in 1993, which now shows in Paris and has become a powerhouse fashion brand in its own right. In 1993 she and Bertelli founded Prada Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that supports new design talent, including architects and artists. In the same year, she added a menswear line and in two years, released a line of activewear.

In 2014, the namesake designer stepped down as chairman of the company and joined her husband Patrizio Bertelli as co-chief executive of Prada which she expanded into leather goods, footwear, fragrance and apparel. Prolific acquisitions include Helmut Lang Alaia and Jil Sander and a stake in Fendi. Prada has received numerous accolades for her body of work, including CFDA International Designer Award in 2004 and International Designer of the Year at the 2013 British Fashion Awards. In 2015 she was honoured with the WSJ Magazine Fashion Innovator of the Year Award and Knight of the Grand Cross. In 2017, she was listed as the 79th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes, and the following year, British Fashion Council awarded Miuccia Prada the Outstanding Achievement Award at The Fashion Awards 2018.

Prada is now the flagship brand of the Prada Group, which encompasses Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe and in 2019, Forbes estimated Miuccia Prada net worth at US$50M. In 2020, the Italian fashion brand announced Raf Simons as co-creative director. Miu Miu, on the other hand, has always been her personal vehicle. She told BoF,  “Prada is always more formal. But with Miu Miu, I can sneak more in, I can be more out there with people.”

Vivienne Westwood

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is largely responsible for bringing punk into the mainstream fashion and came into prominence since she began retiling her designs in Malcom McLaren’s store, Sex, in the Seventies. The Dame of the British Empire introduced aspects of BDSM, including safety pins and chains, to fashion, and later focused on sustainable processes that would have a reduced impact on the environment.

Vivienne Westwood. Image Credit: Fashionista

Westwood’s first runway presentation was staged in 1981 and she went on to open four shops in London, eventually expanding throughout the United Kingdom and the world, selling an increasingly varied range of merchandise, some of it linked to her many political causes such as climate change, nuclear disarmament and civil rights, especially that of freedom of speech. ”I make the great claim for my manifesto that it penetrates to the root of the human predicament and offers the underlying solution. We have a choice to become more cultivated, and therefore more human; or by not choosing, to be the destructive and self-destroying animal, the victim of our own cleverness. To be or not to be…” she wrote in a manifesto entitled Active Resistance to Propaganda.

Westwood also worked with Richard Branson to design uniforms for Virgin Atlantic. The duo was keen to use sustainable materials and chose recycled polyester. In June 2013, Westwood announced she was not considering expansion and focused on environmental and sustainability issues. The following year, as part of Milan Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015, Westwood allied with nonprofit organisation ‘Farms Not Factories’ to design T-shirts and tote bags made using ethically sourced organic cotton. In 2015, Vivienne Westwood Ltd had expanded worldwide and was operating sixty-three outlets, as she continued to design with sustainable materials that have a reduced impact on the environment. The proud recipient of British Fashion Designer of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 2006, her net worth is estimated at US$50M and growing.

Vera  Wang

Former Vogue editor Vera Wang transformed a bridal boutique into a fashion and lifestyle empire that spans diversified products from ready-to-wear to engagement rings, dinner plates and bridal couture. Her net worth is estimated at US$6.5B.

Vera Wang. Image Credit: WWD.

Vera Wang began her career at the forefront of fashion as Editor of Vogue in 1971 and stayed on for seventeen years, later joining Ralph Lauren as Design Director for Accessories. In 1989, Wang wed Arthur Becker. Word has it that disappointed with the slim selection of bridal wear, she sketched the design and commissioned a dressmaker to make her wedding gown which subsequently led to opening a salon in Carlyle Hotel, New York carrying evening wear and bridal gowns. She later opened bridal boutiques in New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney, expanding to fragrance, jewellery, eyewear, footwear and home-ware. Though Vera Wang is a favourite with celebrity brides she is acclaimed for designing costumes for figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan, Evan Lysacek and Nathan Chen and was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2009 for her contribution to the sport as a costume designer. Council of Fashion Designers of America honoured Vera Wang by naming her Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2005 and gave her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

There was no looking back. Wang is the owner of a unit in 740 Park Ave co-op, reportedly the childhood home of Jackie Kennedy. The designer collaborated with Kohl’s to produce an inexpensive line of ready-to-wear titled ‘Simply Vera’ and teamed up with Men’s Wearhouse. The same year, she expanded in Australia with “Vera Wang Bride Sydney” and opened her first Asian flagship “Vera Wang Bridal Korea” in Seoul. Wang ranked 34th in Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women in 2018. The following yer, after a sabbatical of two years, Vera Wang returned to New York Fashion Week Spring Summer 2020 with a showing that celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of her brand. Her wedding gowns have also been widely reference in popular culture, including the “Sex and the City”, “Gossip Girl”, NBC’s “The West Wing”, “How to Get Away with Murder” and many more.

Donna Karan

With an estimated net worth of US$500M, Donna Karan evolved and expanded her namesake womenswear and diffusion label into a cult lifestyle brand.

Donna Karan. Image Source: WWD

After college, Karan began her career as an assistant designer with Anne Klein in the late Sixties, where she was eventually promoted to associate designer. When Anne Klein passed away in 1974, Takihyo Corporation of Japan became the new owner, both Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Ollio became head designer. In 1984, Karan left Anne Klein and, along with her then husband Stephan Weiss and Takihyo Corporation, launched her namesake label. Karan became popular for her Essentials line, which offered seven pieces that could be mixed and matched. It gave birth to the term, capsule wardrobe. Nicknamed The Queen Of Seventh Avenue, she extended Donna Karan New York by creating a less expensive youth-driven line, DKNY, in 1988.  A year later, she created DKNY Jeans and shortly, DKNY for men. Donna Karan won a number of awards in her illustrious career.  In 1984 she was inducted into the Coty Hall Of Fame. The Council of Fashion Designers of America named her Womenswear Designer of the Year 1990, Menswear Designer of the Year 1992 and subsequently the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Karan left her position as CEO in 1997 but continued as chairwoman and designer for Donna Karan and DKNY. LVMH acquired the company in 2001 and resold it to mega licenser G-III when Karan left. The fashion designer now focuses on Urban Zen, her multi-pronged, socially conscious brand and foundation launched in 2006.