This month, Cicilia Brognoli looks into a selection of the most influential designers of our contemporary time.

These legendary names in the fashion industry have created their fame by working for famous fashion houses or creating their own luxury brand. In both cases, they made their way into this lively and competitive industry, becoming true fashion royalty. These designers continue to be talked about both for their creative skills and their commitment to commendable causes.

They have somehow influenced the way we dress: many mass-market brands take inspiration from these masters of fashion, turning luxury trends into affordable options. Their creative ability not only inspires all categories of the clothing marketplace, but in some cases, they brought back the fashion houses they worked for. Meanwhile other designers made their eponymous brands real fashion fixtures, turning their stores into pilgrimage destinations for fashion lovers who hang out in the trendiest cities.
Among the most influential and loved luxury brands, there is certainly Armani, founded in the mid-’70s as a small start-up. This Italian brand now boasts a turnover of around £1.9 billion per year. Giorgio Armani, the only artistic director since the foundation of the brand, started a subtle but powerful revolution. Regardless of the opinions of others, Armani has decided to subvert the rules of fashion, proposing outfits with flat shoes also for occasions such as gala evenings. He showed how women can dress extraordinarily androgynously while maintaining their femininity. In womenswear collections by Armani, suits always stand out. The dichotomy created by masculine cuts and sensual and feminine materials makes the outfits capable of winning the admiration of consumers and the many Hollywood stars in love with the refined Armani style.

Moving to the Ville Lumière, one of the most-loved Parisian brands is Chanel. Although everyone attributes the success of this fashion house to Karl Lagerfeld, few know his right arm. Virginie 
Viard assisted the German designer for three decades in the leadership of the empire created by Madamoiselle Chanel. After Lagerfeld’s death, Viard took the reins of the Chanel, continuing to adapt the elegance and detailedoriented style of the brand to contemporary fashion. This is how the iconic tweed Chanel keeps on being the protagonist of many outfits, accompanied by sumptuous jewellery and sophisticated accessories. Viard carries on the traditional Parisian elegance of the brand, always shown in settings so realistic that they make everyone forget the artificiality of the show.

Remaining in Paris, another fashion house symbolic of both heritage and innovation is Balmain. The young and resourceful Olivier Rousteing became creative director at the age of 25, and immediately made the brand an emblem of sophisticated glamour. Rousteing thus became the darling of many stars who appreciate the French craftsmanship he brought back, homaging the style of Pierre Balmain. Rousteing celebrates multiculturalism in his campaigns and catwalks, refusing to consider it as a passing trend, and commendably defending the beauty of inclusiveness.

This is how the traditional French artisanship is worn by beauties of all ethnicities. Those are part of the ‘Balmain Army’, just as Rousteing defines the brand’s models. Tradition, innovation and ethical commitment blend perfectly, and they are not slow in gathering the admiration of Rousteing’s social followers.

Leaping back to Italy is the extrablonde Donatella Versace who, from the top of her stilettos, is a long-time supporter of the LGBTQ + community, AIDS activism, and sisterhood. Wrapped in outfits printed in the typical Greek-inspired Versace motifs, Donatella has always forged friendships with the stars of the jet-set. Strong colours, sensuality, and Mediterranean prints are the key elements of the style created by Gianni Versace. Over the years, his sister Donatella united the brand’s heritage with more contemporary silhouettes and colour palettes. She is seen by many as an irreverent free spirit, aesthetically over the top, but always on the front line together to defend the ideals in which she believes.

In the case of Versace, the artistic direction after the death of the founder fell on a family member. However, for the majority of brands, this is not possible. Thus, some figures silently emerged on the fashion scene, generating a great rumour thanks to their stunning visionary fashion aesthetic. As in the case of Hedi Slimane, one of the most powerful contemporary designers who led two of the most prestigious French fashion houses. Shortly after becoming assistant in the marketing department of Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), Slimane was appointed ready-to-wear menswear director. In the F/W 2000 collection Slimane showed his predilection for the superskinny silhouette. This collection named Black Tie strongly clashed with the baggy fashion of the time. However, once he became the creative direction of Dior, he further accentuated his razor-thin iconic style. The new androgyny proposed by Slimane marked the restyling of Dior Homme as a brand. Once back at YSL he was determined to revolutionise the brand, and he did so starting by boldly dropping the ‘Yves’ in the fashion house’s name.

Another overwhelming fashion talent capable of revolutionising one of the biggest brands is Alessandro Michele. Since he became Gucci’s creative director in 2015, he instilled in the brand his colourful and bold aesthetic, making it a cool topic to talk about. Michele started the genderless fashion revolution, sending endless genderfluid outfits on the catwalk. He loves strong clashing colours and bold patterns that characterise statement garments. Michele’s peculiar vision is applied indifferently to womenswear and menswear. The fluidity in fashion is precisely what Michele wants to accomplish, particularly reshaping the definition of masculinity. Alessandro Michele continually expresses his quirky taste allowing shoppers to escape from style conventions by diving into a world of bold genderless escapism.

Environmental commitment is one of the pillars of corporate social responsibility, and in recent years pledging to safeguard the environment is a key focus for many brands. Although all the designers already mentioned diverted through more ecofriendly collections, two British designers are pioneers of sustainability. The forerunners of the contemporary craze for fashion sustainability are Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood. The first dedicated her creative genes to the design of feminine tailored-based collections, always 100% ethically committed. Since the debut of her brand in 2001, McCartney presented furand leather-free collections. Thus, recycled polyester, upcycled materials, and vegetable-based leather are used in all her collections and runway shows. Also, the signature product of the brand, the Falabella bag, is made of soft leather-like polyester. During the Fashion Awards 2017, McCartney was awarded the Special Award for Innovation.

Vivienne Westwood was also honoured with an award for her commitment to more sustainable fashion. Westwood won the Swarovski Award for Positive Change at The Fashion Awards 2018. From the beginning of her career, she mainstreamed punk and new wave fashion, with irreverent and thorny collections always ready to send strong messages. It is also thanks to special merchandise that Westwood spreads her environmental commitment by promoting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and climate change awareness.

The defence of tradition and the pursuit of innovation, on the verge of upheaval, are common and obvious elements in the progression of the history of fashion. However, what makes these designers the pillars of contemporary fashion is their ability to remain faithful to their ideals and aesthetics, albeit sometimes outside the box. Furthermore, their commitment to leverage their fame to defend ideals such as environmental sustainability and inclusiveness are fundamental aspects for their success as style icons and ethical committed leaders of one of the most talked about creative industries.

You can read more of Cicilia’s work on

Images via Wikimedia Commons

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