Fashion may have been born in Paris but the USA was pretty quick to get on-board with its European cousin, with stylish Americans hotfooting it across the Atlantic to stock up on the latest collections, and Chicago-born couturier Main Bocher dazzling the French with his elegant Mainbocher label in the Thirties.
Post World War II, designer Claire McCardell helped the American fashion industry establish its own aesthetic, using the meagre fabric rations to make sporty, uncomplicated but chic designs that would form the basis of the preppy, athletic style the country would come to favour.
Since then, New York has come to rival even Paris itself in terms of the iconic designers that call it home. We’ve rounded up our favourites, old and young, to look at how they fit into the complicated patchwork quilt that is American style…
The Old Guard
Granted, this lot haven’t been around quite since the start, but with several decades at the top, they are certainly American style stalwarts. Ralph Lauren
and Calvin Klein
were Bronx-dwelling contemporaries, both young men from the wrong side of the tracks who rose from their modest New York beginnings to helm their own super-brands – their name stamped over catwalk collections, diffusion lines, fragrances, jeans and homeware.
Ralph Lauren and one of his 2009 campaigns
But whilst Lauren opted to champion an all-American, preppy look straight out of Harvard and the country club (little wonder he was chosen to design the costumes for the 1974 film of The Great Gatsby
), Klein pioneered a new kind of minimalism, all clean lines and neutral colours.
Calvin Klein and his iconic 1980 Jeans campaign starring Brooke Shields
And then there is Donna Karan
, probably America’s most famous female designer, who first made the fashion world sit up and take notice in the Eighties, when a new breed of glamorous feminists went wild for her sleek version of power dressing – a strong classic look (worthy of a female president according to her ad campaigns of the time) that she’s carried through to her current collections.
Donna Karan and her famous female president adverts from 1992
The Fashion Pin-ups
Catwalk domination just isn’t enough for some designers who have gone on to become celebrities in their own right, and they don’t come much more celebrity-friendly than Marc Jacobs
. The New Yorker was very publicly dumped by classic brand Perry Ellis, his first big design job, when he delivered a grunge-influenced collection in 1992. The Nirvana-obsessed public may have been impressed but the suits weren’t, and it was only in the min-Nineties, when he was given the financial backing of Louis Vuitton that he would go on and design hugely successful, eccentric, edgy and imaginative collections for both the famous French brand and his own eponymous labels. In the process, he went from a shy and bespectacled young man to the buffed-up, glossy star of his own campaign, and tabloid fodder, thanks to his celebrity friends and turbulent personal life.
Marc Jacobs with one of his Steven Sprouse hangbags for Louis Vuitton and Marc by Marc Jacobs A/W 12
Texas-born Tom Ford
is another big designer with an equally big ego, not to be mention a big talent that catapulted him to instant fashion darling status in 1993 when he revived a then-flagging Gucci with a glamorous, sex-infused aesthetic. After leaving the Gucci group he dabbled in lipsticks and sunglasses and photo shoots before directing the Oscar nominated film A Single Man
, and finally, launched an eponymous line (of which the shows were top secret and super exclusive) much to the relief of his adoring fans.
Tom Ford and Tom Ford A/W 12
We’re also including design duo Proenza Schouler
in this category, not because Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough are attention-seeking (focus within the pair always seems to be very much on their label’s quirky mix of modern shapes and colours with retro detailing and silhouettes), but because the pair, who named the brand after their respective mothers, are so pretty they ought to be on the catwalk themselves.
Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough of Proenza Schouler and Proenza Schouler S/S 12
California based sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy might not be all about the hearts and flowers, but their label Rodarte perennially delivers some of the most romantic creations of Fashion Week. Taking their inspiration from history, and a back catalogue of their favourite films, the Rodarte collections are never anything less than a dreamy whirl through the imagination, with dramatic dresses and separates worthy of the love story climax in a particularly imaginative Baz Luhrmann movie.
Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte and Rodarte S/S 12
Across on the East Coast, Zac Posen takes a similar leading-lady style approach to his creations – or at least it seems that way, what with so many pretty young starlets opting for the New York-born designer’s playfully romantic gowns when strolling up the red carpet. Posen famously had a disastrous spell showing in Paris, before returning to his hometown with a well-received collection of whipped-up party dresses and mermaid-like gowns that exuded feminine beauty to the point where style.com
declared at the time, ‘If corsets aren’t your friends ladies, this designers is not the man for you.’
Zac Posen and Zac Posen S/S 12
Of all the fashion cities, New York has always been the most concerned with pushing forward a modern, clean aesthetic, with designers like the aforementioned McCardell and Bill Blass championing the look from the word go. Continuing with their legacy, but in a way fit for the 21st century, is Phillip Lim, whose smart, tailored aesthetic is injected with a good dose of fun, meaning that the sophisticated pieces he turns out for his 3.1 Phillip Lim
collections are wardrobe staples for the sleek, Cosmopolitan woman.
Phillip Lim and 3.1 Phillip Lim S/S 12
Former child stars (all singing, all dancing, all acting no less) Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen strike a similar note with their runway line, The Row
– taking simple, versatile pieces and adding their own twist. In the case of the twins this is their own personal brand of ultra-glossy grunge, with the pair using gloomy palettes and the most luxurious of materials for a contemporary take on sartorial classics.
Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen and The Row A/W 12
And rounding things out is California born Alexander Wang
, whose sleek but urban style perhaps best sums up modern American dressing. Drawing on athletic silhouettes and employing lots of monochrome and versatile fabrics, Wang uses unusual cuts and directional detailing to bring a progressive but wearable edge to his pieces.