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7 women who changed the world of fashion

  • Published in Icons

For many, fashion is not merely about clothes, but is a mode of expression, empowerment, creativity and social commentary. In honour of the women who contribute to fashion's immense influence in the world, we celebrate 7 of fashion history's visionary women.

Coco Chanel, born 1883

coco channel

Arguably the most influential fashion designer of all time, Coco Chanel was instrumental in defining feminine style and dress during the 20th Century. Her ideas were revolutionary, often taking traditional menswear and redesigning it for the benefit of women, and emphasising comfort as a necessity equal to style. In particular, Chanel played a huge part in accelerating the popularity of women's trousers as a fashion item, and her iconic suits were popular for the post-war woman attempting to build a career in the male-dominated workplace. These innovative styles spread quickly as her legions of followers emulated her. Always ahead of her time, Coco Chanel revolutionised the way women wore clothes.

Edith Head, born 1897

Edith Head

One of Hollywood's most famous costume designers, Edith Head earned more Academy Awards than any other woman, attaining 8 awards out of 35 nominations. She defined the cinematic stylings of Hollywood, dressing everyone from Lucille Ball and Bette Davis to Olivia de Havilland, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. It took her a mere five years to become chief designer at Paramount Pictures — the first woman to ever hold the position. Over the course of her career, Head worked on more than 1,100 films, wrote 2 books, and became a style icon in her own right, known for her tailored suits, dark glasses and blunt bangs. Head passed away in 1981, though her legacy lives on through the superstar style she crafted, which is as much a part of today's cinema as it was during her era.

Norma Kamali, born 1945

Norma Kamali

Norma Kamali has worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years. Known for her transformative designs such as her sleeping bag coat, parachute collection and swimwear line, she’s now pioneering a campaign to empower women and end female objectification. Her campaign “Stop Objectification” includes a short film titled “Hey Baby” in which Norma re-appropriates the male gaze, highlighting the accomplishments unseen by objectifying eyes. Her effort also includes the website Stop Objectification, in which she seeks to foster dialogue by having women upload photos of themselves with an empowering statement that celebrates their favourite body part.

Franca Sozzani, born 1950

Franca Sozzani

During her 20 years as Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani has transformed the publication into one of the world's most authoritative and rebellious fashion magazines. Sozzani is a strong believer of using the globally accessible nature of fashion as a channel for tackling major global issues. She has dedicated past issues of Vogue Italia to topics such as rehab, racism, the 2010 BP oil spill, cosmetic surgery addiction, and domestic violence. She often uses provocative and controversial photos, like a model gagging on oil in the aftermath of the BP disaster. Sozzani consistently champions groups that fashion has traditionally rejected; Vogue Italia's July 2008 issue featured only black models, and the June 2011 issue featured a 20-page spread of plus-size models removing their bras.

Robin Givhan, born 1965

Robin Givhan

Robin Givhan made history in 2006 when she became the first person to win a Pulitzer Prize in criticism by writing about fashion. Givhan's fashion journalism focuses mainly on matters of power and race, and she is celebrated for her witty observations that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism. She believes that choice of attire reflects values, status and opinion. She closely examines the clothing choices of the world's most influential women, such as Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton.

Jamie Brewer, born 1985

Jamie Brewer

In 2014, Jamie Brewer became the first Down's Syndrome model to walk at New York Fashion Week. The model and actress walked for designer Carrie Hammer as part of a Role Models Not Runway Models show. In the US, until 1984, doctors refused to carry out life-saving procedures on people with Down's Syndrome, and by 1981, 60,000 had been physically and sexually abused through forced sterilisation. The inspiring star has highlighted the plight of people with disabilities; she served on the ARC Governmental Affairs Committee for Texas to improve legal rights and recognition for disabled people, and has argued against the use of the word "retarded" in state legislation.

Petra Collins, born 1992

Petra Collins

Petra Collins is a portraiture photographer and fashion designer from Canada. She combats taboos that exist against female bodily functions, such as menstruation, claiming that in a society filled with sexually violent and derogatory images, it is inexplicable that displays of physical female nature are often deemed to be appalling and shocking. In 2013, Collins designed a number of controversial graphic t-shirts for American Apparel; one featured a menstruating vagina and a hand in a masturbatory position, and another featured a wet t-shirt view of breasts. Her work in the worlds of both art and fashion are working to redefine traditional ideals of feminine beauty.