While most of us find joy in the classics – the staple pieces that we consider our go-tos – we don’t often remember where they started; the designers that delivered genius pieces like the miniskirt or the wrap dress, and whom are seriously owed some thanks.
Below are are the names you already know but perhaps forgot had crafted these classics, and set trends with their idea of cut, fabric and details…
Ever wondered how women got the idea that they could wear tuxedos too? Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, the brain behind the YSL brand we now now as Saint Laurent, is credited for making them a womenswear staple piece, and introducing them to the world of femme.
The Algerian-born designer created his famed “Le Smoking” suit as part of his 1966 Autumn/Winter “Pop Art” collection, comprising of velvet or wool tailored pieces inspired by black-tie menswear. To date, the “Le Smoking” tuxedo look remains perfectly chic and is synonymous with a grown up, seductive style.
A controversial statement of femininity, the suit did not only mark a shift in fashion, but is also said to have brought the liberated, unfettered, independent woman power.
Every fashionista or shoe addict understands the power of the red sole. Not only does it give a feeling of confidence and empowerment, it has a way of making one feel rebellious, yet super sexy. The red sole however, would not be in existence today if not for Christian Louboutin – the popular French luxury footwear and fashion designer, who is well known for said bold soles.
The talent was inspired to create the red leather soles in 1993, when his assistant happened to be painting her nails with a bright red polish while he was studying drawings of his designs. Louboutin grabbed the nail polish from the assistant and slathered it on the sole of his prototype, and from then on, the classic heels were born.
By 2011, Louboutin became the most searched-for shoe brand online, with the designer a household name among the elite for his red-hued high heels.
One of the pioneers of contemporary fashion in Nigeria, Deola Sagoe helms her own brand and is a considered a revolutionary for the way she celebrates the inherent, ethnic glamour found in local African fabrics and hand-woven materials.
The designer, who has played a very important role in changing the perception of African fashion, is credited for her unique approach to indigenous fabrics, which are common in Nigeria and Africa today. Ms Sagoe also developed a unique technique to create fabric that actually looks like it has been embroidered, when in fact it is all created by hand on looms, fusing African cultural style with a modern approach to design.
The dynamism of her creations has gained international fans like Oprah and Will Smith, and she has also had well-earned recognition from US Vogue’s former editor, André Leon Tally.
Let’s be clear, there were no polo shirts before Ralph Lauren. Introduced by the designer in 1972, the polo shirt design was available as a short-sleeve cotton shirt in a 24 different colours, all featuring embroidery of the now-iconic polo player motif.
Since the short-sleeve, collared shirt bore the Ralph Lauren polo logo on the chest, it soon became the design’s nickname – the “polo shirt”. Years later, the name has stuck to all designs baring similarities to Ralph Lauren’s design, and it’s still known as the signature piece of the brand.
London-based, Nigerian-Jamaican designer, Duro Oluwo is popular for taking inspiration from ancient Nigerian culture and creating classy, elegant fashion statements comprised of colour and clash.
Credited with designs characterised by controversial combinations of African prints, often covering classic seventies silhouettes, the talent is also known for his signature “Duro” dress, first made in 2005 and named the dress of the year by both British and American Vogue. The signature piece also awarded Mr Oluwo with the ’New Designer of the Year Award’ at the British Fashion Awards, making him the only designer to have ever done so without an actual catwalk show.
The sharp tailoring, combined with luxurious, ‘off beat’ vintage fabrics and original prints are now a classic way to make a brave statement, sartorially speaking. But the signature piece – the Duro, which became a cult item and is recreated in all of his collections – remains classic Duro Oluwo and is still sought after today.
Referred to as the ‘most marketable woman since Coco Chanel’, iconic designer Diane von Furstenberg, who launched her eponymous label, DVF, in the early ’70s, is best known for introducing the knitted jersey “wrap dress” in 1974.
Due to the phenomenal success of its silhouette (and why not, as it’s highly flattering to the female form), the wrap dress and its influence on women’s fashion is even featured in the collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Following a re-launch of the classic design in 1997, DVF remains a global luxury lifestyle brand synonymous with luxurious female fashion, and is sold in over 55 countries.
What would the modern be without the mini skirt? Thanks to British designer Mary Quant, we would never know.
Credited with pioneering the mini, the designer raised the hemline of her skirts in 1964 to several inches above the knee, as a way of rebelling. Named after her favorite car, the Mini, the skirt – also referred to as “The Quant” – is defined by the rule that the bottom edge of the skirt must hit roughly halfway up the thigh, and fall no more than four inches below the butt.
Mary’s design began a true fashion revolution and leaves her credited as a pioneer of women’s and ‘60s fashion. Still very relevant today, the classic item is continuously re-imagined on the runways, season after season.
Nigerian fashion designer, Yvonne Nwosu of Vonne Couture made a mark in Nigeria’s style history in December 2009, when she showcased her “Damask Collection”. Featuring Nigerian styles made with damask fabric, the designs were an instant hit.
The talent is credited for the fusion of Damask and African fabrics, with the unique use of such textiles giving Vonne Couture’s pieces a very unique look, considered to be daring and quite irresistible.
The inspiration of the “Damask Collection” came from nothing other than the beautiful Damask fabric, and the creative mind of Ms Nwosu.
Ankara was used in its untouched state, until Lisa Folawiyo came along and changed things up. The designer, who creates highly feminine silhouettes with links to traditional African aesthetics, is well known for adding embellishment to the fabric and upping the ante on wearing the West African wax print.
Her signature jewelled Ankara designs, each featuring a handcrafted and unique history from inception to construction, changed the face of the fabric, creating a global label that is considered a luxury brand the world over.
Lisa Folawiyo has shown collections on international platforms – from Johannesburg to London, Paris to New York – and enjoys success that stems from her invention of a new classic; embellished African print.
Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel, the excellent French fashion designer who founded of the popular brand, Chanel, was an important and influential figure in 20th-century fashion.
An ambitious, energetic and determined woman, she is credited for liberating women from corseted clothes; for being the first designer to create loose women’s jerseys, traditionally used for men’s underwear.
But not just bringing a relaxed silhouette to female fashion, in 1925, Chanel also launched her signature cardigan jacket – typically seen in Chanel’s collections with contrasting trim – and continues to be called classic Chanel today.
But had you already credited these designers as the brain behind the above classics? Did you already know where the mini skirt came from, and who was first to make Damask popular?
Tell us which other designers launched the classics we still consider key today, below in the comments box or online @SPICETVAFRICA.
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