While first thoughts of high fashion may conjure up places like Paris and Milan and extremely hard-to-pronounce European design houses like Balenciaga and Givenchy, remember that there’s a reason New York City is considered the fashion capital of the world. A plethora of renowned American designers that you may not have even realized come from the ol’ U.S. of A. Here are a look at some of the most successful American designers today:
Klein is often associated with racy underwear ads, but there’s a lot more to this designer than boxer-briefs. Born in 1942 in the Bronx, Klein learned to love sewing from his grandmother, who was a seamstress. After graduating from FIT in 1962, Klein began an apprenticeship for a coat and suit house. In 1968, Klein started his own coat line with the help of his friend Barry Schwartz and struck it big by a stroke of luck. A buyer from New York department store Bonwit Teller got off on the wrong floor (Klein’s floor) and placed an order with him for $50,000. His coats were a critical hit and shortly after Klein started his company, Calvin Klein Collection.
Sophomore Kelly Murphy loves how Klein’s ads verge on the scandalous, “His ads always make me want to buy his underwear. It’s simplistic but sexy at the same time.”
However, his design aesthetic is often very different than the image his ads give off. Klein is known for minimalistic, sophisticated looks with a focus on separates that can be interchanged. Today he is one of the most successful American designers ever and has created a worldwide empire with his recognizable brand.
Associated with preppy American luxury, Ralph Lauren and his famous pony logo are ubiquitous in stores across the world. Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in New York City in 1939 to immigrant parents from Belarus. Lauren attended Baruch College for two years and after a brief stint in the Army, he took a job with Brooks Brothers. Starting in 1967, Lauren started selling ties under the “Polo” brand. His success led him to expand his fashion lines to women’s wear, the iconic “polo” shirt, home furnishings and a luxury line.
Today, Lauren is a fashion icon. He has amassed a $6.5 billion fortune and is the 122nd wealthiest person in the world.
“I love how iconic Ralph Lauren’s designs are,” says Reed McDonough, sophomore. “His clothes are synonymous with classic American prep. They always make me feel put together.”
Like our two previous American designers, Marc Jacobs was also born in the good ol’ Big Apple in 1963. His father died when he was 7 years old, and he spent the rest of his childhood bouncing around with his mother, after every remarriage, between the Bronx, Long Island and New Jersey. By the time he was a teenager, Jacobs had had enough of the moving and settled with his grandmother in the Upper West Side. He attended the High School of Art and Design and worked at an upscale boutique, Chariavi. After high school he attended Parson’s Institute for design where he received the Perry Ellis Gold Thimble Award and Design Student of the Year at graduation in 1984, at just age 21.
Jacobs continued his success at the womenswear brand Perry Ellis. In he became the youngest ever to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent and in 1992 he won the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year. But after he launched his now famous and critically successful “grunge” collection in 1993, Perry Ellis shut its doors and Jacobs ventured on his own, forming the Marc Jacobs label. In 1997, he was also named the creative director of Louis Vuitton. With his new found success came struggle too and Jacobs began abusing alcohol and drugs until he checked himself into rehab in 1999.
Since then Jacobs has won numerous more CFDA awards and continues to helm not only Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, but several other Jacobs brands including menswear, children’s clothes and Marc by Marc Jacobs. His aesthetic is known for being cool and urban, and he is even able to translate some of his edge to the classic French Louis Vuitton house. He continues to be a name synonymous with “cool” in fashion and will continue to have a role in the fashion industry for years to come.
Beyond these three are plenty more American designers: Tommy Hilfiger, Stacy Bendet of Alice + Olivia, Michael Kors, Vera Wang, the list goes on and on. So next time you’re in the market for a new dress, you can help your country and look stylish too by buying an American designer.
words_kendal peppito. photo illustration_yili wu.