The Present Is Female: The Designers Behind a Fashion Revolution

There’s a paradigm shift in the fashion industry—a cadre of women designers of all generations rethinking standard practices, designing with intuition, and putting human values first.

A female culture runs far and wide across the landscape of 21st-century fashion. It’s there at the top of the canopy, in major Parisian houses; it pervades the uprising of young, self-made independents and generations of established entrepreneurs: a multifaceted critical mass of women steadily working to change an indus- try for the better. What’s remarkable is the way they talk about feeling, their agile ability to intuit the time we live in, and their quiet but steady turning of the fashion world toward the overthrow of bad and old institutional behaviors.

This new normalization of visibility includes women leading major houses, from Maria Grazia Chiuri at Christian Dior and Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy to Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and Virginie Viard at Chanel. Innumerable major women leaders, meanwhile, have succeeded by doing things in their own ways: Miuccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood, Donatella Versace, Vera Wang, Alberta Ferretti, and many more.

Yet progress today can hardly be quantified as linear, up-the-ladder stuff. It’s gyrating around whole new axes of celebrity and social media. Doors to the luxury-fashion fortress that didn’t even exist a decade ago are now being stepped through by female upstarts from everywhere in the digital age—including those who’ve credibly switched to fashion from acting and music careers: first the Olsen twins, then Victoria Beckham, and now Ri-hanna, the first black woman to have a label backed by LVMH.

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Mellissa Miller