Have you ever felt so passionate about something that you let nothing stand in your way? That is the case with many famous American fashion designers who felt so driven to produce clothes, shoes, and accessories that they did not let anything stand in their way.
Come along as we look at designers who scraped together $300 to build a multi-billion-dollar company and learn about their failures along the way. Feel the fear that was so great that one designer pushed his garment rack down the streets in New York City’s Garment District so that his clothes would not get wrinkled. Celebrate the success of designers who started with two sewing machines and built one of the most successful workwear companies in the world.
Learn to recognize their names and follow them on social media as they continue to influence how the world dresses.
Introduction to American fashion
While leaders ordered clothing for Massachusetts Bay Colony from Europe, it did not take Americans long to start creating their fashions, most of which women sewed at home. One of the earliest leaders on the fashion scene in America was Louis A. Godey, who published Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1830 through 1878. Before the American Civil War, it was the most read periodical and one of the most expensive. Each issue of the magazine, which was the first publication to be copyrighted, opened with a hand-colored fashion plate. Each issue included instructions allowing women to sew the item at home, along with original music and short stories. Many American traditions came from reading this publication, including wearing white for weddings and the creation of Thanksgiving.
Main Rousseau Bocher was one of the first American citizens to receive recognition for his fashion design. He was born in Chicago in 1890. After dropping out of college, he moved to Paris, where he designed the Duchess of Windsor’s wedding dress and had many other important clients. He returned to New York before World War II, where he became the first well-known fashion designer to put his brand on clothes in the United States after he opened a fashion house in New York City.
There are many first in America’s fashion scene. For instance, while Charles Goodyear was searching for a way to keep rubber from melting in the summer, he invented a way to add rubber to fabric so that it would stretch. In 1863, Luman Chapman received the first patent for a bra. In 1869, David Hough Jr. revolutionized women’s wear by introducing the hoop skirt.
American fashion designers continue to revolutionize what we wear regularly. You will want to follow many of them so that you can see their fabulous work.
Male fashion designers
Calvin Klein graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He became a fashion editor before opening his first clothing store with his business partner Barry Schwartz inside the York Hotel for $10,000. In order to prevent his clothes from getting wrinkled, Klein rolled a clothing rack 1.5 miles to meet with his first big client Mildred Custin who operated a department store. At the suggestion of a man he met at the iconic Studio 64, Klein started putting his name on jeans and sold over $200,000 in the first six days they were on the market.
Willi Smith died before receiving the credit he deserved for inventing American streetwear. The fashion designer got his first big breakthrough from his grandmother, who cleaned the house for Canadian couturier Arnold Scaasi. After doing a brief internship, he attended the Parsons School of Design for two years before getting kicked out for having a relationship with another male student. After working in several firms in the Garment District, he designed his WilliWear Pant that women instantly fell in love with, and soon, he was on to creating other unisex clothing designs.
Female fashion designers
Gloria Vanderbilt was a lady who excelled at many different things, including acting and being a Hollywood socialite. One of her earliest fashion designs appeared in Haper’s Bazaar when she was only 15 years old. She also made a lot of money from selling her name to be placed on perfume, jeans, and handbags. She studied at the Art Students League of New York and held at least two one-woman art exhibitions. In the fashion world, she created the first designer jeans for women. These pants were tapered to fit women’s curves and make them look sexy. She sold her brand for $35 million in 1998.
Kate Spade was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and studied at the University of Kansas and Arizona State University. While working at Mademoiselle as a fashion editor, she realized that women lacked choices in practical handbags and launched her line. After her marriage to her husband Andy, the pair opened Kate Spade New York. While they initially made bags with Scotch tape, they soon expanded into clothing, jewelry, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby items, fragrances, and gifts. She committed suicide on June 5, 2018.
L’Wren Scott was adopted by a family and raised in Troy, Utah, where she was known as Laura Bambrough. She turned to fashion design as a child because she was 6 feet 3 inches tall when she was 12. She spent time working in Paris at fashion houses before returning to America. She is best remembered for her silky outfits with a very feminine form. She is also known for her practical tips in The Sunday Times, such as wearing a nude-colored shoe to make your legs look longer. She was the wife of Rolling Star legend Mick Jagger and committed suicide on March 17, 2014.
I will cover quotes from top fashion designers in the next chapter, so be sure to keep reading. You may find some beneficial advice to help you dress more fashionably.
High-End American Fashion Designers
Roy Halston Frowick was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and he took night classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He first developed his interest in hats by designing them for his mother and grandmother to wear. He quickly rose to popularity after designing the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s inauguration. After hats fell out of favor, he went on to open a Madison Avenue boutique that he was operating when millionaire Mary Wells picked him to design her jade green wedding gown for her wedding to Braniff International Airways, Harding Lawrence. While he designed Braniff’s stewardess uniform, he continued to work for many high-end clients, including Greta Garbo, Margaux Hemingway, Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger, and Liza Minnelli. Known simply as Halston, he revolutionized fashion by removing items from women’s clothing that did not work while allowing the fabric to drape naturally. While people will never forget his pillbox hat, he also was one of the first designers to make women’s pants fashionable for many occasions.
James Galanos grew up in his parent’s restaurant in Southern New Jersey, surrounded by well-dressed women. After graduating from high school, he attended Traphagen School of Fashion for two years before working in the Garment District. After being disappointed in his job, which was more clerical than fashion design, he started selling his designs on the street for $10 per sketch. After opening Galanos Originals in 1952, he immediately received orders from high-end department stores. He is mainly known for putting fur coats over silky bodysuits. His clientele list included Marilyn Monroe, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, and Ivana Trump.
While both of these fashion designers have died, there are many luxury fashion designers that you will want to learn about, so be sure to keep reading. I have included a short bio on names that shaped American fashion. You can draw inspiration from many of the hardships they overcame on their way to success.
While these American designers and many others shaped women’s fashion worldwide, they also had interesting things to say, so be sure to keep reading. Some of the quotes that I have included are great fashion tips that you can apply to your current wardrobe, while others are inspirational quotes that you will want to apply to your life.
I love learning about different people who have become successful because I find their stories very inspirational. One of the best ways to learn about people is to read the words they have spoken. I hope reading these fashion designers’ quotes will inspire you as they have me. Fashion reflects life, and these fashion designers seem to sense that their comments need to encourage people to build a better world together. You may even want to share these quotes on your social media feeds so that your friends can be inspired too.
Be well dressed, behave like a gentleman, and keep your shoes polished.Joseph Abboud
In case you were in an accident, your mother may have told you to wear clean underwear, but fashion designer Joseph Abboud has slightly different advice. He says, “Be well dressed, behave like a gentleman, and keep your shoes polished.:” This Lebanese American designer who worked for Ralph Lauren before creating his line is the author of “Threads: My Life Behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion,” which is a very enlightening look at the industry and being of Lebanese descent in America.
Delete the Negative and Accent the Positive.Donna Karan
Donna Karan rose to the top of the Anne Klein company before launching her DKNY and her Urban Zen companies. Life has not always been easy for Donna Karan, as she was raised by her single mother after her father passed away when she was just three years old. Donna also went through a divorce when her daughter was little. Despite the negative, Donna has been quoted as saying, “Delete the Negative and Accent the Positive.”
I won’t allow myself to have tremendous fear.Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein redefined American fashion in many ways, including making it fashionable to wear jeans in many places. He is quoted as saying, “I won’t allow myself to have tremendous fear.” He also stressed the long hours it takes to build a successful company and admitted that the only thing that mattered to consumers was the success of its latest line.
There are no problems, only opportunities.Halston
After becoming successful, Halston signed a six-year deal with J.C. Penny. It was the first time that a high-end fashion designer had sold their products in a mid-priced department store, and many felt that it cheapened his name. In fact, high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman withdrew his line from their stores. Yet, Halstrom believed that “There are no problems, only opportunities.” After his death from AIDS, many organizations paid tribute to his work, including a show and reception at the Lincoln Center given by fashion models Liza Minnelli and Elsa Peretti.
Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren was born to Ashkenazi Jewish parents living in New York City. He started his career as a sales associate, but he is now estimated to be worth more than $7 billion. Numerous times, Lauren stressed the importance of creating a personal style that transcended the latest collections. He is quoted as saying, “Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.,” while building one of the most successful labels in the fashion world.
The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.Tommy Hilfiger
Tommy Hilfiger worked a summer as a clerk at a Cape Cod clothing store before spending his entire savings of $150 to open his first store, which went bankrupt. Yet, he did not let that stop him and founded a second company using the lessons that he learned with his first failed attempt. This designer that is worth an estimated $450 million says that “The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.”
If one is telling the truth, there’s nothing to fear. It’s very freeing.Gloria Vanderbilt
Gloria Vanderbilt was from the old Vanderbilt family. Yet, her father passed when she was only 18 months old. She dated Errol Flynn and Howard Hughes. When her son Anderson Cooper produced a documentary about his mother’s life, he says that he realized that the public and private figures were immensely different. A favorite quote from Gloria Vanderbilt is, “If one is telling the truth, there’s nothing to fear. It’s very freeing.”
I love this quote as it is how I try to lead my life. It amazes me that a woman with her power and wealth feels the same way.
Success isn’t about the end result; it’s about what you learn along the way.Vera Wang
When she was hired, Vera Wang was the youngest editor at Vogue Magazine. She stayed in that position for 17 years before joining Ralph Lauren for two years. She was a national competitor in ice skating, barely missing the 1968 U.S. Olympic team. Yet, she is quoted as saying that “Success isn’t about the end result; it’s about what you learn along the way.” That is a lesson that we can apply to our lives to be better people, even if designing wedding dresses for celebrities is not our calling.
You have to focus on your dreams, even if they go beyond common sense.Anna Sui
I will be sharing more about Anna Sui’s fantastic career in the next chapter, but I love the advice from this Chinese American designer raised in Detroit. It is true of every successful person. They have gone for their goals at some point, even if they did not seem logical. Therefore, if you have dreams to pursue and people want to argue with you, tell them Anna Sui says, “You have to focus on your dreams, even if they go beyond common sense.”
In the next chapter, we will take a deeper look into these designers, along with other industry giants. Therefore, you will want to keep reading as you want to know about their inspirational stories. They may encourage you to do a better job in your personal life and work.
Male Fashion Designers
I have already shared with you the inspirational stories of some male designers, like Halston, Calvin Klein, and Main Bocher, but there are many others that you will want to know about. The great news is that once you learn about their stories, you can follow many of them on social media, allowing you to keep up with the latest fashion trends.
Bob Mackle is best known as the designer who created all the clothes worn on the 11 seasons of the Carol Burnett show. He also designed dresses worn by Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune, and Whitney Houston, Cher, Diana Ross, and Barbara Streisand wore outfits he designed on tour. Mackle says that many overlook costuming as part of the fashion design industry. Like the nude dress he designed for Cher with its carefully placed sequins, Mackle’s clothes are for women who are not afraid to be noticed.
Mackle was raised in California by his grandmother, who would lock him on the front porch to get some fresh air. His mother would visit on the weekends and take him to the movies. After spending time at two art schools and getting degrees from neither, Mackle, who loved to sketch evening gowns, got his first break in Hollywood in the movie Love is a Ball designing menswear. He was soon able, however, to switch to designing women’s clothes on The Judy Garland Show. That was only the beginning of this man’s career as he has created many gasp-worthy outfits.
Narciso Rodriguez III
As of 2022, Narciso Rodriguez III is the only fashion designer to have won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Designer of the Year award two years in a row. Rodriguez may be best known for the red dress that Michelle Obama wore in Chicago when her husband was elected president of the United States. She also wore a dress he designed for her first State of the Union speech. He later sold copies of the dress to the public, and they sold out in minutes. Julianna Margulies vividly remembers how much she loved her Rodriguez-designed wedding dress. She and many other celebrities that Rodriguez has worked with recall that he was so easy to work with and a true friend.
Rodriguez was born in New Jersey to parents of Cuban descent. After attending Parsons The New School for Design, he went to work for the Ann Klein company and rose to be their women’s design director. Rodriquez left that company and worked for Calvin Klien for a while before setting out on his own. He launched his brand after designing Carolyn Bessette’s wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy Jr. He went bankrupt and sold a 50% share in his company for $1 million to Liz Clairborne to keep his company afloat. He was able to pay her back $12 million.
On August 6, 1944, Dapper Dan was born in Harlem, where his parents named him Daniel Day. After graduation, he intended to become a fashion wholesaler, but he discovered that many were not willing to sell to him because of his race or his Harlem location. Therefore, Dapper Dan taught himself as quickly as possible to design clothes. He was already bringing in hundreds a day as a gambler. Still, a 1974 trip to see Mohammed Ali fight in the Dominican Republic of Congo inspired Dapper Dan to become a fashion designer. He fell in love with the luxurious fabrics and designs made by a local tailor on that trip. He also credits the trip with giving him the knowledge that he could do a better job creating leather goods than the shops where laws prohibited his shopping because of his color. Dapper Dan soon began a process that allowed him to screen-print onto leather. In 1982, he opened his first store, but authorities closed it because he used knockoff logos.
He re-entered fashion design in 2010 and was soon known for creating clothes for hip-hop artists, including Eric B. & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z. This led Time Magazine to name him one of the most influential people of 2020.
Marc Jacobs had a rough New York City upbringing. His father died when he was 7 years old, and he describes his mother as having a mental illness. She remarried three times after Marc’s father’s death before Marc finally lived with his grandmother. He was only 15 when he became a stock boy for the upscale clothing store Charivari. He designed his first line of sweaters while attending Parsons School of Design. In 1987, he became the youngest person to receive the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent. From 1997 to 2013, he was associated with and became the head of the creative department at Louis Vuitton while simultaneously creating his lines of products.
Jacobs became one of the first fashion designers to admit that his creations shared common elements with clothes from earlier periods. He said that fashion never emerges full-blown from the head of just one individual. Jacobs’ lines can be described as street-wise, meaning they are a little mash-up of couture, prep, and grunge. Jacob and his partner live in a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Rye, New York.
Kors’ mother was a fashion model, and she believes that his early exposure to fashion may have influenced his career choice. He redesigned her wedding dress when he was only 5 years old. He began his business selling clothes out of his parent’s basement when he was still a teen. He attended the Fashion Institute of Technology for nine months before becoming a salesperson at a boutique clothing store. After launching his line at Bergdorf Goodman, he designed dresses for many of Washington D.C.’s elite, including Michelle Obama. Vice President Kamala Harris wore a black cape dress that he created for the Kenndy Center.
Michael Kors’ attention to detail is almost unsurpassed in the industry. When he debuted his first show in Autumn 1984, he did not believe it would show well against the background wall color at the venue he selected. Therefore, the night before the show, he repainted the wall. He was a judge on Project Runway for 10 seasons, where he would often deliver zingy one-liners. Kors describes his taste as a mixture of yin and yang, saying he prefers runway hot and at the same time timeless simplicity. While Kors is a billionaire, he also gives his money to organizations he supports, like God’s Love We Deliver, which delivers food to people with specific medical conditions.
Steve Madden was born in Queens, New York. While still in high school, he worked in a shoe store and fell in love with the industry. After graduation, he went to the University of Miami for two years before returning to Long Island, where he worked for L.J. Simone for eight years. While working there, he attempted to launch a woman’s shoe company called Souliers.
He started the Steve Madden Company for $1,000 by selling 500 pairs of shoes that he designed out of the trunk of his car in 1990. One of the most successful shoes was the Mary Lou, which was very similar to the classical Mary Jane shoe. Stockbroker Danny Porush lent Madden money for his company and to take it public. He was arrested and served 40 months in jail because of stock manipulation. Yet, while he was in prison, he drew a salary of $70,000 per month as his company’s creative design head. You can learn more about this side of the story by watching The Wolf of Wall Street. Once released after serving 31 months, his company quickly rebounded.
You can think of Herve Pierre as a ghostwriter who has finally come out on his own. He worked for Carolina Herrera for 15 years after designing gowns for Oscar de la Renta. The reason that Herve Pierre has been able to break free is that he created the off-white gown that Ivana Trump wore to her husband’s inauguration. Still, he has also designed dresses for former first ladies Hilliary Clinton, Laura Busch, and Michelle Obama. Herve Pierre started at Balmain in Paris when he was 23 years old. He would send boxes of elaborately designed dresses to Thailand’s Queen Sirikit. He has also designed dresses for many Hollywood stars, including Renée Zellweger.
Herve was born in France, but he is very proud that he became an American citizen in 2016 after living in the country for many years. He says that much of his inspiration comes from his mother, who always told him never to be underdressed. That is advice that he follows to this day because he is usually seen walking through the Design District in a smart jacket and waistcoat with a flower in his lapel.
Following a stint at Baruch College at the City University of New York, Ralph Lauren joined the United States Army. Then, he worked as a salesperson at Brooks Brothers and a necktie salesman at a small boutique. While working at the boutique, he created his first line of ties. Most manufacturers were selling thin ties made from cheap fabric, but Lauren went with traditional-width ties and made them from luxurious fabric. He made over $500,000 from selling his ties. Lauren wanted to look like a classic English gentleman, so he would alter his clothes as he could not afford the real ones.
He created his first line of polo shirts while working out of the Empire State Building. Ralph Lauren broke ground by opening the first flagship store by an American designer. The store is located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. In 1976, Lauren was elected to the Coty Hall of Fame. Saks Fifth Avenue took out a congratulatory ad showing Lauren dressed in a tuxedo jacket and jeans. The designer quickly adopted it as his style and is often seen wearing it. In 1964, Lauren married Ricky Ann Low-Beer, and the couple has been together for more than 55 years.
Tom Ford graduated from New York’s New School, and he set his ambitions on working for Cathy Hardwick. He called her every day for a month before she finally agreed to interview him. She asked him who his favorite European fashion designer was, and he quickly answered Chanel and Armani. Later, she asked him why he had given that answer, and he told her because that was what she was wearing. He moved on to Perry Ellis after working for Cathy Hardwick for two years. After working beside Marc Jacobs for two years, he felt led to move to Europe because he felt American fashion was tacky. He was hired as the women’s director at Gucci and soon expanded that role to become the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. After serving as the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford launched his own fashion design company in 2005. He quickly added many celebrities to those wearing his clothing, including Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Will Smith. At the same time that Ford was starting his fashion brand, he also became a film director.
Ford is very active as a Democrat. He openly supported President Obama and felt that the federal government should approve homosexual marriages.
Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois, to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Ghana. He held a master’s degree in civil engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He wrote a fashion blog to help pay his way through college. He also designed t-shirts. Abloh accidentally met Kayne West and developed a friendship with him that led him to introduce him to Michael Burke, the CEO of Louis Vuitton. In 2012, Abloh launched his first company calling it Pyrex Vision. He purchased merchandise that was not selling from the Ralph Lauren company, printed graphic designs on it, and sold it to the public. In 2013, he started his second fashion company, Off-White, which offered upscale streetwear.
In 2018, Abloh became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready wear line. After his first show, he created an outfit that Serena Williams wore throughout the U.S. Open. He also designed Hailey Bieber’s wedding dress. In 2018, Time Magazine named this black fashion designer one of the world’s top 100 most influential people. That same year, Ebony named him as one of their top innovators. Unfortunately, Abloh passed away on November 28, 2021, from cancer.
Zac Posen was born in New York City. As a small child, he would steal yarmulkes from his grandparent’s synagogue to make doll dresses. While still in high school, he did an internship with Nicole Miller before attending the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When he turned 18, he started attending the University of Arts London. His work gained early acceptance, and a dress he designed was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum while he was still a student. In 2001, he returned home and set up a workshop in his parent’s living room while living on the $15 a week that they gave him. He presented on a New York runway and received a $20,000 grant, which he used to create his first studio. The high-end luxury brand Sara John gave him his first major deal, and Ashley Olsen interned with him. As of 2022, the most significant order filled by Posen was designing the outfits worn by over 60,000 employees employed by Delta Airlines.
In addition to being a fashion designer, Zac Posen has also written a cookbook. He promises readers that his recipes are every bit as good as his clothing.
Female Fashion Designers
While fashion design in the United States continues to be a male-dominated career, there are numerous female fashion designers whose stories will inspire you. If you dream of being a fashion designer, you can apply lessons from their lives to your work. Alternatively, you may want to know more about these famous women and their work.
Betsey Johnson started her career at Mademoiselle after winning a scholarship program. While most winners spend only 3 months in the program, Betsey had continued working at the magazine because one of the editors was on maternity leave. After hunting for a different place to live, she started supplementing her income by designing women’s tops, which became popular with the women at the magazine and readers of their periodical. She soon created what she nicknamed the Betsey girls look: a poofy tulle skirt, a slinky slip, and a baby-doll dress. The look was slightly roughed up with skulls, studs, or a leopard print. Her editor at Mademoiselle told her that Paul Young was looking for a fashion designer for a shop he planned to open to cater to British rock fans.
After a while, Johnson left the company and spent a short time at Alley Cat. She left there when she said that the company demanded that she use ugly fabric. Then, she went into partnership with Chantal Bacon, a former model, to operate her fashion stores. Finding herself heavily in debt, Steve Madden eventually purchased the company. While her clothes are memorable, she may be best remembered for the cartwheel she did, leaving every award and fashion week stage.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Norma Kamali quickly rose to fame for designing outfits made from silk parachute fabric. While on a camping trip with her husband Mohammed Houssein Kamali, she created her sleeping-bag dress that women could adjust in length using a drawstring. She changed the world of fashion by being the first fashion designer to open an eBay store. She may best be remembered for creating the little red swimsuit worn by Farrah Fawcett on her infamous poster that adorned the walls of every boy’s bedroom during the late 1970s. While she takes great pride in hiring diverse models, including those with gray hair, this fashion designer in her 80s strives to stay current, and Lizzo and J.Lo have worn her recent creations.
As relevant as her clothes are to women in many phases of their lives, the designer says that she is most proud of helping women feel empowered. This designer, who can still put her foot above her head at 75, says that after a bad day, she chooses to meditate, get an acupuncture treatment or a massage. Karmali says that she likes to travel light. She uses moleskin notebooks and felt-tipped pens to create her sketches because she finds them easy to carry throughout her five-story office.
Kate and Laura Mulleavy
Sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy were raised in Northern California and attended the University of California Berkley. After graduation, they moved home, where they decided to become fashion designers. A friend invited them to stay with her in New York City. While there, they cut out and hand-colored outfits for paper dolls, which they sent to many fashion houses. The editors at Women’s Wear Daily saw the dolls and put them on the front of their publication the day before New York Fashion Week started.
Soon, the sisters had created their line of clothing, which they named Rodarte, after their mother’s maiden name. Kate says that her favorite pieces are the ones that were so hard to design that they say they will never do that again. For example, she cites the mermaid dress that they created with sand in the tulle. The duo designed the clothes for “Black Swan.” They say that is a different process because, in fashion design, you bring your ideas to life, while in costuming, you bring someone else’s ideas to life.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Another set of sister fashion designers is Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They may be better known for their television roles, but their passion lies in fashion design. In particular, Mary-Kate is known as the pioneer of the ashcan look, consisting of oversized sunglasses, boots, loose sweaters, and flowing skirts. They sell a clothing line in Walmart, which is sewn in Bangladesh. The sisters made news for being one of the first textile companies to offer full maternity leave for women sewing their clothes.
In 2006, they opened their own company and called it The Row, after London’s Savile Row, known for its bespoken-tailored menswear. The girls take their fashion industry work very seriously, and other designers have noted how they discovered a small niche market and are filling it beautifully. The girls say that they are deeply scarred by events that happened to them in Hollywood. They are frequently seen chain-smoking at fashion events and say they have no desire to act again, even though it made them millionaires before they were 10. Part of their secret of building The Row into a fashion line worn by the world’s elite is to shun publicity by choosing to appear at very few events annually. They also create a minimal line annually, which usually sells out quickly.
When Monique Lhuillier was planning her wedding to Tom Bugbee, she knew that she did not want a dress with lots of lace. Yet, she was very disappointed in the choices she found in the market, so this graduate of the Saint Theresa’s College and Chateau Mont-Choisi Finishing School in Lausanne, Switzerland, decided to design her wedding dress. Many guests left their business cards at the wedding, asking her to contact them about designing their wedding dresses. Soon, she designed wedding dresses and red-carpet gowns for Reese Witherspoon, Taylor Swift, Melania Trump, Katy Perry, and others. She and her husband operate a flagship store in Los Angeles, where she does most of her design work. The couple also runs a store in New York City. She has also designed pottery and home décor for nurseries and children’s rooms in cooperation with Pottery Barn Kids.
Monique says that the first step in her design process is to create a mood board. Then, she begins the draping process using silk, chiffon, and silk organza. Then, she works with a patternmaker and a live model to ensure that the wedding dress is what she has envisioned and that it moves well. The dress is first created from muslin before a paper pattern is completed, and the dress is cut and sewn using fabrics from around the world.
Nicky Hilton Rothschild
Nicky Hilton Rothschild was born into the Hilton family and, through her marriage to James Rothschild, makes her a member of this prestigious family. She is the younger sister of Paris Hilton, but two more children are younger than her.
Rothschild started creating handbags that she sold in collaboration with other fashion designers. She launched her first clothing line in 2006, calling it Chick because she says that Little Chick was her childhood nickname because of how she looked. Most of her first line consisted of graphic tees, with credit cards, diamonds, and money printed on them. In 2014, she launched a capsule collection of clothing, where she named each item after a member of her family. Especially when designing her handbags, Rothschild focused on using quality materials and timeless designs. She does not want to create anything that women cannot proudly use for several years. She is also the author of the book “365 Style,” giving tips and tricks that she has learned to help you look like you just stepped off a fashion runway every day. This book may be beneficial if you need to clean out your closet as it gives constructive advice about creating a functional wardrobe.
Vera Wang was born in New York City to first-generation immigrants from China. She started figure skating when she was 8 years old. After barely missing the United States Olympics team in 1968, she became an editor at Vogue Magazine, where she continued to work for 17 years. Then, she went on to work for Ralph Lauren for two years before finally launching her own bridal design company when she was 40. She has made bridal gowns for many famous people, including Ivana Trump, Chelsea Clinton, Hilliary Duff, and Campbell Brown. She has also designed dresses worn by Michelle Obama. Wang describes the transition from journalist to fashion designer as painful. She says that she regularly makes decisions that seem small when designing outfits that have significant ramifications throughout her company and the vendors they choose.
While Wang is best known for her wedding dresses, she has also designed many ice skating outfits, including Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan, and Nathan Chan. She has also designed cheerleader uniforms for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tory Burch was raised in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. While still in high school, she worked as a sales representative at Benetton in the King of Prussia Mall. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she moved to New York City, where she spent a short time working for Zoran, a Yugoslavian designer, Harper’s Bazaar, Vera Wang, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Loewe. She launched her clothing label in 2004. Most of her creations are preppy or Bohemian. She says she takes inspiration from her parents and travels around the world. Her dad operates on the New York Stock Exchange and owns a paper cup factory.
In 2009, Burch launched the Tory Burch Foundation. This program gives women living in the United States the knowledge and capital to succeed in business. The foundation operates a year-long fellowship allowing participants to network, get money and use resources to build their businesses. Several organizations sponsor the program, and the Tory Burch Company sells products in their stores that are specially designed to fund this program.
Kate Spade was born Katherine Noel Brosnahan in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 24, 1962. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, Spade spent five years working for Mademoiselle magazine. She was initially in charge of their accessory pieces but eventually became a senior editor. In 1993, she opened a small boutique in New York City’s SoHo district to sell handbags she designed. Her husband, who she fell in love with after giving him a ride home when his car broke down, was her business partner. While the couple was dining at a Mexican restaurant, he asked her about starting a handbag company, and the idea was hatched. They grew the business to include several items, including sunglasses and shoes. The company was sold to the Neiman Marcus Group in 1999.
Spade released three books in 2004, which her husband widely promoted while Spade worked diligently at raising the couple’s son. Then, the couple started Plum TV before launching a new fashion company in 2016. The company called Frances Valentine often sold Mickey Mouse-themed outfits. On June 5, 2018, she was found dead from an apparent suicide. The next day her husband announced that Kate had been battling severe depression and that the two were living separately.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed learning more about these American designers. You will want to keep reading because I will share some ideas on popular American fashion brands, and you will want to see this list.
Now, let’s turn our attention to some of the best American fashion brands. Each of these companies has a unique story and a specific focus, and I hope you discover some that you will want to look at more closely the next time you go clothes shopping.
Brooks Brothers is the oldest continuously operating clothing brand in America. Henry Sands Brooks was 45 years old when he opened H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. In Manhattan. His four boys inherited the company in 1833 and renamed it Brooks Brothers. Abraham Lincoln wore a coat made by this company to his second inauguration. He was also wearing a Brooks Brothers coat when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him. Julius Garfinckel & Co. Purchased the brand in 1946, and shortly after that, the last Brooks was employed at the store. Marks & Spencer acquired the store in 1988, and the company has sold several times since then. It continues to sell many clothing items made in the U.S.A., but it also imports clothing worldwide. As of 2022, Michael Bastian is the company’s chief creative head. While you could find many clothing items at Brooks Brothers over the years, including polo shirts, pink dress shirts, and no-iron cotton dress shirts, from 1865 to 2003, the company did not sell any black suits. The theory says it was to pay tribute to President Lincoln being shot while wearing one of their coats.
While no one can claim to be older, there are many other brands that you will want to learn more about when shopping for clothes.
Levis Strauss and Jacob Davis started Levi’s in 1873 to produce blue jeans. They called their first pair of jeans the Levi’s XX. Similar jeans were the company’s only product until 1895, when they made bicycle pants. After Levis Strauss passed away, the company introduced khaki pants and denim jackets into their lineup in 1909 and created their first children’s line in 1912. The company introduced its first blue jeans for women in 1934, calling them Lady Levi’s. The company’s iconic red tag with its name on it was first added to jeans in 1936.
The company manufacturers clothes for every member of the family. Yet, its biggest demographic is young people between the ages of 20 and 30. While you can find Levi’s at several price points, they tend to be preferred by people of middle-income or above. Some of the company’s main rivals include Gap Jeans, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Converse, a subsidy of Nike, was founded by Marquis Converse in Malden, Massachusetts, as Converse Rubber Shoe Company to produce winterized rubber-soled footwear. The company made its first pair of athletic shoes in 1915. Converse hired Charles H. “Chuck” Taylor to promote their first high-top basketball shoes, and he continued to work for the company until 1969. During World War II, the company shifted its focus to producing shoes for the military. The company had such a monopoly on the athletic shoe market during the 1970s that the government used anti-trust laws to force the company to divide. All Converse shoes were made in the U.S. until 2001.
The next time you watch a classic movie or T.V. show, see if you can spot characters wearing these shoes. They were worn by David Tennant when he played Dr. Who. You can also spot them in “Back to the Future,”” I, Robot, “” Grease,” and “Stand by Me.”
William J. Riley founded the New Balance Arch Support Company in 1906 to create arch supports that would help people walk better. Starting in 1927, Arthur Hall traveled the country selling these arch supports. The company produced its first running shoes for the Boston Brown Bag Harriers team in 1938. Hall’s daughter Eleanor and her husband purchased the company in 1956. The couple started focusing on athletic shoes, and they made the first running shoe ever to be offered in different widths in 1960. Jim Davis purchased the company that was only making about 25 pairs of shoes daily in 1970. In 1976, the company introduced its iconic N logo so that customers would start seeing each of their shoes as different models with unique strengths. The company released their first Gore-Tex running suits, nylon and mesh tops in 1978. The company continued to maintain the philosophy that no one would endorse their shoes until 2014, when they made a clothing line for Heidi Klum. All New Balance shoes are made in the United States or the United Kingdom.
University of Oregon’s track and field coach Bill Bowerman and a student named Phil Knight founded Nike as Blue-Ribbon Sports in 1964 to import Japanese running shoes. The company had no offices, but they managed to sell about 1,300 pairs of shoes out of the trunk of their cars. They opened their first retail location in 1966 in Santa Monica, California. The company manufactured its first shoes in 1971, before changing its name to Nike in 1978. Bill Johnson, who ran the company’s early East Coast division, named Nike after the Greek winged goddess of victory. Portland State University student Carolyn Davidson was paid $35 for designing the company’s iconic logo. She also worked as the one-person marketing department for the struggling company. One of the first shoes manufactured by the company was moon shoes. Bill Johnson created the tread on these shoes using his wife’s waffle maker to melt the rubber. In addition to shoes, the company headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, sells a variety of streetwear. Almost all Nike shoes are made outside the United States, mainly in China and Vietnam.
In 1969, Donald and Doris Fisher opened the first G.A.P. store in San Francisco, California. The store sells only men’s Levi’s jeans and record tapes. Donald remained as the head of G.A.P. until 2004. Levi’s guaranteed the company that they would never be out of stock of a type or color of their jeans for longer than 24 hours when larger department stores were often out of stock for weeks. In 1970, the company chose Burlingame, California, as its headquarters. Millard Drexler served as the chief marketing director for more than 19 years. He refused to sign a non-compete agreement when he was let go and founded J. Crew. G.A.P. purchased the Banana Republic in 1983 and rebranded it as an upscale clothing store. The company created its Old Navy stores, starting in 1994, and they also operated Forth & Towne to sell clothing to women over 35 for a concise while.
American fashion designer launched his company by selling women’s dresses to high-end department stores, starting with Bergdorf Goodman in 1981. Soon, you could find his dresses and handbags in other stores, including Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, and Neiman Marcus. Kors launched his KORS Michael Kors line in 1990, aimed at very high-end women. Three years later, Michael Kors had to declare bankruptcy. He reemerged on the fashion scene in 1997 with a lower-priced line that women adored. In 2002, he introduced menswear to his lineup. Two years later, the company introduced their Michael line, which was the first time they had offered ready-to-wear clothing for women. Headquartered in New York City, the company opened its first retail store in 2006. While the stores remain Michael Kors, the designer rebranded his company as Capri Holdings on January 2, 2019, after purchasing Jimmy Choo Ltd. The company also owns Italian fashion house Gianni Versace S.r.l. Capri Holdings is headquartered in London.
C. N. Williamson and E. E. “Colonel” Dickie started the United States Overall Company in Bryan, Texas, in 1918. The pair had already worked together on vehicles and making harnesses. The company’s first products were brace and bib overalls. In 1922, the company changed its name to Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company after Williamson, his cousin, and his father purchased Dickie’s share of the company. While the company was best known for its overalls and other clothing that men wore to work, they also made over 9 million uniforms during World War II. As Texans went to the Middle East in the 1950s to work in the oil fields, they brought their khaki work pants, which had become called chinos. Along with help from Harris Laboratories, Dickies’ work pants became the first to have a permanent crease down their front. In the 1990s, while other workwear companies were folding, Dickies found new customers in the Hip Hop industry. When company officials decided to move into the Asian market, they again changed their product line to accommodate their new customers. V.F. Corporation purchased Dickies in 2017. They own Wranglers, North Face, Timberland and Vans, and other companies.
Ham Carhartt founded Hamilton Carhartt & Company in 1893, with two sewing machines, in a Detroit, Michigan, loft. The company quickly expanded to meet the needs of railroad workers. By 1910, they operated sewing facilities in Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, San Francisco, and mills in South Carolina and Georgia. They offered seven facilities during World War I and produced countless uniforms and outfits for women during World War II. When Ham passed away in 1937, his son took over the company. Robert Valade, who married Ham’s daughter, assumed company leadership in 1958. Shortly after he took over, the company started producing private label workwear for Sears, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward. Many of the workers who built the Alaskan Pipeline during the 1970s wore Carhartt clothing. Some within the hip hop industry made Carhartt their favorite brand. In 1989, the first Carhartt clothing was sold in European and Asian markets. The company remained under family control until Linda Hubbard became the first non-family member to be the company’s C.E.O. in 2013. Although they operate sewing factories in Mexico and Ecuador, much of their clothing is still made in Tennessee and Kentucky.
German immigrant Ehrhardt Koch borrowed money from his sister Rose to start the New Era Cap Company in 1920. The company produced 80,000 Fedoras in its first year in its rented facility in Buffalo, New York. In 1932, noticing that the demand for men’s hats was quickly diminishing, Ehrhardt and his son Harold who had joined him in the business, produced the company’s first baseball cap. During World War II, fabric to make caps was scarce. The company went to the Garment District, brought material in any color they could find, and dyed it to match the color of local baseball teams in the family’s washing machine. The company became the only one allowed to sell directly to Major League Baseball teams during the 1950s. In 1972, Harold’s son David assumed management of the company after working there for 14 years. After years of being the official cap of Major League Baseball, New Era became the official sideline cap of the National Football League in 2012 and the National Basketball Association in 2016.
Polo Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren was already working in the fashion industry for Beau Brummell when he started Polo Ralph Lauren in 1967. He added Polo to his name because he felt it sounded more English so that more people would be attracted to his company. He took out a $50,000 loan, and he worked out of a tiny office in the Empire State office building. In 1969, Bloomingdale’s opted for exclusive rights to Ralph Lauren’s menswear line, and they provided him with an office. In 1970, he launched his first women’s line and created his first polo shirt, which quickly became a staple because men could get it in 24 colors. Everyone wanted Polo Ralph Lauren after designing the costumes for “The Great Gatsby.” In 1976, the company added men’s and women’s fragrances to their offerings. The company is one of only two listed on the New York Stock Exchange, known simply by the founder’s name.
Georges and Maurice Marciano immigrated to the United States in 1991 and opened a fashion store in Beverly Hills, California. Their brothers, Armand and Paul, joined them a year later. They had to get out of their native France to avoid a huge tax bill on the 12 stores they operated in their homeland. Georges Marciano designed the jeans sold in the new store, which he called Guess because it was easy for the brothers to pronounce. George flew to New York City to meet with the buyers of Bloomingdale Department Store, and he convinced them to put 24 pairs of his jeans in their flagship store. The jeans sold out in hours. The company relied on internally famous stars who they called the Guess Girls to sell their jeans for them. Guess Girls included Carre Otis, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova, and Anna Nicole Smith. The popularity of these jeans caused a problem because the company could not manufacture them fast enough. Therefore, they sold 50% of their company to Jordache to use their Hong Kong manufacturing facility. Guess also signed an agreement with Jeff Hamilton, Incorporated to sell their menswear line. Business between Jordache and Guess soured, and the companies spent five years in court trying to destroy each other’s businesses. The company’s lawyer even sued Guess because they refused to continue the legal battle. The company’s quality marketing program continued to drive outstanding performance.
Lillian and Miles Cahn started Coach in 1941 as the Manhattan Leather Bags. He worked with 12 artists to create the first collection based on the durability and softness of a good baseball glove. While the company survived, it did not thrive until Bonnie Cashin took it over in 1962. She introduced the company’s iconic industrial hardware and started making purses in various colors and shapes. Lew Frankfort was hired to lead the company through its next stage in 1979. He quickly positioned the company in women’s minds to be an affordable luxury. Until that point in time, women only had the choice to buy a costly handbag or a department store knockoff. The company opened its first flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City. Sara Lee purchased the company in 1985, and they entered the watch market three years later. In 1992, the company offered its first outerwear collection. Reed Krakoff joined the company in 1993 and added even more products. The company purchased Stuart Weitzman in 2015 and Kate Spade New York in 2017. In 2017, the company’s name was changed to Tapestry Inc. Joanne Crevoiserat was named the new C.E.O. in 2020, and it will be interesting to see what changes she brings to the company.
The North Face
Douglas and Susie Tompkins started The North Face in 1968 to supply San Francisco-area climbers with needed supplies. With only $5,000 to invest, the couple focused on providing camping gear for climbers. The Grateful Dead performed at the store’s opening. Two years later, Kenneth “Hap” Klopp purchased the company from the Tompkins for $50,000. The company chose the north face of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park as their logo because it symbolized the ruggedness they wanted consumers to think of when selecting their products. One of the company’s first products was a rugged tent, where the poles were designed to bend when hit with wind force. In the 1980s, the company introduced ski clothes for extreme conditions. In contrast, the company also started featuring streetwear for the hip-hop crowd, with Notorious B.I.G. and Sean “Puffy” Comb regularly appearing in their clothing. In 2000, V.F. Corporation purchased the brand for $25.4 million.
Tommy Hilfiger started his first company in 1992, selling used blue jeans out of an Elmira, New York, basement. He invested $300 into this venture while still in high school. He used this humble beginning to create People’s Place, which he expanded to seven locations before declaring bankruptcy. Then, Hilfiger started a new company while doing freelance work. His new company failed within a year. Mohan Murjani, an Indian textile magnate who owned the license rights to Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, contacted Hilfiger about updating the look of Ralph Lauren jeans and thought Hilfiger was the perfect person for the job. The first line, introduced in 1985, consisted of oversized polo shirts and baggy jeans. Murjani proved unable to focus on the Vanderbilt jeans, Coca-cola clothing that he also licensed, and the Hilfiger line. Therefore, he spun off the Tommy Hilfiger Company in 1988. Hong Kong businessman Silas Chou. Chou’s firm, Novel Enterprises, agreed to purchase a share of the new company and manufacture the clothing. The new partner infused confidence into the company, and it went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992. In 1999, the company had more than $1.63 billion in sales and sold fragrances, clothing for every family member, and home decor. As of 2022, the company sells about $4.7 billion worldwide.
In 1897, C.C. Hudson traveled over 500 miles to secure a North Carolina textile mill job, where he worked for $0.25 an hour. He kept his position until the mill closed 17 years later. He purchased two sewing machines from the closed mill and his brother Homer. After renting a space above a grocery store, the pair started the Hudson Overall Company to make workwear. The pair continued working for 15 years before moving to a larger area and creating the Blue Bell Overall Company. Another 17 years passed until the company had its first breakthrough product in Super Big Ben Overalls, which was one of the first options made from preshrunk fabric. The brothers purchased Casey Jones Company which already had a product called Wranglers. They also hired a well-known tailor named Rodeo Ben to promote their products on the rodeo circuit. They allied with the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association to be their official outfitter and became the sponsor of Dale Earnhardt’s National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing sponsor. The company merged with V.F. Corporation in 1986. The company closed its last U.S. sewing plant in 2005. In 2019, V.F. Corporation spun off Wrangler, Lee, and Rock & Republic into a separate company named Kontoor Brands.
I have so enjoyed telling you about these American clothing companies and their rich history. Thankfully, these and other companies continue to cloth Americans and people worldwide. I certainly appreciate the hard work that goes into founding these quality companies. I hope you will keep reading to the end of this post.
Have you thought about being a fashion designer? As you have read the stories of these famous American fashion designers, I hope you got a sense of their passion for designing clothes. They did not let lack of money or other issues stand in their way of success, and many built highly successful companies.
Even if you do not want to be a clothing designer, I hope you came away with an idea or two that you can apply to your own life to be more successful. If you have any questions, I would love to answer them.
Think about a friend who can use a little uplifting as they are struggling and share this post with them. It is sure to encourage them as they go through a rough patch.
I hope you will take some time to read my other posts. Each is filled with informative content designed to help you look more fashionable.