From the commercial to the sensual, the cutting edge to the classic, American fashion has something to offer everyone. Of course, this is all thanks to the individuality of American fashion designers. We’re talking about names such as Tom Ford, Rick Owens, Ralph Lauren and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen – stateside trailblazers who each have their own perspective on Americana style.
Here, we highlight 12 brands by American fashion designers who successfully execute their vision.
When it comes to American fashion designers, Texas-born innovator Tom Ford is commonly considered the leader of the pantheon. After reinventing Gucci during his tenure at the Italian brand, and a less talked about controversial stint at Yves Saint Laurent, Ford established a brand that encapsulated his envied sexy, sophisticated attitude.
The Tom Ford brand – one of the biggest fashion brands in the world – is known for its sleek evening wear, suave accessories and elevated take on everyday essentials. How has the American designer retained the attention of high fashion fiends? He concurrently moves with the times and stays true to his brand ethos.
The Row – Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s highly acclaimed label – is aspirational: it’s in the business of crafting timeless investment pieces for the discerning dressers of the world. There are neutral-hued cashmere cardigans for transeasonal daytime fits; perfectly cut blazers for mid-week work ensembles; elegant leather bags for days spent running errands; black satin dresses for festive season occasions. Essentially, it offers the building blocks of a dream wardrobe.
It's pretty remarkable how far The Row has come since its humble beginnings: from Ashley Olsen’s personal challenge to create the perfect T-shirt to a multi-award winning brand exclusively worn by CEOs, celebs, the sartorially-minded and – thanks to a new line of kidswear – their descendants. It’s only natural to wonder how far they can take it. The Row homeware, anyone?
Seminal American fashion designer Rick Owens is the undisputed king of avant-garde fashion and, according to the internet, the Lord of Darkness. Since launching his eponymous line on Hollywood Boulevard in 1994, the designer has never looked back – in fact, many of his designs look as though they’ve pulled from the future.
Since 2003, Rick Owens has lived in Paris with his wife, Michéle Lamy; naturally, the designer debuts his seasonal collections at Paris Fashion Week. Year after year, Owens pushes the boundaries of fashion further, and critics and consumers alike yearn to possess one of his experimental creations – whether that be a slashed mini skirt, skin-tight asymmetric dress or supple leather high top.
In the Bronx, New York, in 1942, Calvin Klein was born into a Jewish family. His father, Leo Klein, was a Hungarian immigrant, and his mother, Flore Klein, was born of Eastern European immigrants in the United States. Neither Leo nor Flor would have imagined that their son Calvin would grow up to be a mentee of Baron de Gunzburg and, subsequently, the founder of one of America’s most impressive fashion houses.
Over the years, Calvin Klein has allowed his brand to evolve organically, but two elements have always remained key to its success: sex and Americana. Thus, no matter your age, you’re likely to associate the American fashion designer’s brand with underwear (and, in turn, risqué ad campaigns) and good ol’ fashion blue denim.
Phillip Lim is a Thailand-born American fashion designer of Chinese descent. He founded his brand 3.1 Phillip Lim with his friend Wen Zhou in 2004, which aims to provide men and women with treasurable en vogue pieces they can depend on – from leather boots to earthy track pants to utilitarian puffers.
Above all, Phillip Lim is concerned with balance. The silhouettes of a 3.1 Phillip Lim collection are never too conceptual nor conventional; colors are neither too loud nor too subtle; accessories are always arresting yet never distracting. As a result, Lim’s collections revolve around enhanced contemporary classics.
Next on our list of best American fashion designers is none other than Tommy Hilfiger who’s red, white and blue logo is as synonymous with America as the Star-Spangled Banner.
Born in 1951, Thomas Jacob Hilfiger started creating clothing as a teenager before opening his own shop,‘People’s Place’, that specialized in selling hippie gear (e.g. bell-bottom jeans). And by 1985, Hilfiger moved on to producing preppy clothes under an eponymous label.
Still today, the brand retains its youth-centric focal point, predominantly through collaborating with up-to-the-minute brands and talent. Additionally, Tommy Hilfiger has been working towards making his brand more sustainable: his brand became the first to use 100% recycled cotton fabric at an industrial scale to create denim jeans.
Virgil Abloh interned at Fendi, cut his teeth at DONDA (Kanye West’s creative content company), helped establish fashion label and collective Been Trill, and founded Pyrex Vision. Later, he combined all of his knowledge to establish Off-White, one of the most innovative fashion brands in history, Off-White.
Although fashion is its primary medium, Off-White exists in the space between streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel — or, as Abloh liked to put it, occupies ‘the gray area between black and white”. Essentially, the Milan-based brand transforms pop culture into high fashion. And according to the late American fashion designer, this translation looks like industrial belts, ironic tees, deconstructed Nike sneakers and cut-out leather accessories.
No one would have predicted that Ralph Reuben Lifshitz (AKA Ralph Lauren) – a man who started out by selling neckwear out of a single drawer in a showroom in the Empire State Building – would become one of the most iconic fashion designers in the world. How has he succeeded? By triumphantly capturing the aesthetic of the aspirational lifestyle of America’s elite; you could say he sells a sartorial version of the American Dream.
Alongside creating some of the finest tailoring stateside and establishing the world-renowned Polo line, Ralph Lauren is famed for embracing classic American themes into his collections. Most recently, his namesake label teamed up with MLB to create sophisticated takes on baseball merchandise. Source A: Ralph Lauren x Dodgers varsity jacket.
In 2004, experienced fashion PR and advertising professional Tory Burch set up her own fashion brand, TRB by Tory Burch.
After designing the pieces on her kitchen table, Burch launched her brand in a dedicated retail space in New York City’s Nolita district. Her brand aimed to bring her unique vision of preppy bohemian sportswear to the masses; from day one, the brand was a huge success.
Throughout the 00s-10s, Tory Burch’s eponymous label was pushed further into the stratosphere when the glitterati began to adopt the brand and pieces made appearances on popular television shows such as Gossip Girl. These days, Tory Burch is a household name, and her collections are still highly admired by style-savvy people across the globe.
Khaite (pronounced ‘Kate’) is a relative newcomer to the world of fashion. The NYC-based brand was established in 2016, but it has quickly become a favorite with industry insiders and members of the jet-set, including Katie Holmes, Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence.
Although Khaite is ever-evolving, Holstein continues to create sophisticated wardrobe staples. Each piece is comfortable, well crafted and intricately detailed, and collections are defined by the way they reimagine classic American silhouettes in subtle yet striking ways.
What African-American designer Telfar Clemens has achieved with his eponymous label is proof that good things come to those who wait. If you’re not familiar with the American designer, know that it’s taken over a decade for the Queens native to gain recognition in the fashion industry.
So, what happened? Well, in 2020, the very affordable vegan leather Telfar bag (a bag often dubbed the ‘Bushwick Birkin’) suddenly became the IT bag of the year. Finally, Clemens was onto something, and he made sure that the bag remained accessible and relevant. Now, the designer and the brand are on a mission to democratize fashion.
Before he established his namesake brand, Mike Amiri – a Hollywood-born fashion designer of Iranian descent – was handcrafting pieces for rock legends like Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Some say that becoming one of the most admired American fashion designers of the 21st Century was his fate, and it’s certainly hard to prove them wrong.
In 2014, Amiri was founded. And in the eight years since, the luxury label has taken the fashion world by storm with its achingly cool collections centred around rock ‘n’ roll style – think distressed denim, leather biker jackets and grungy flannel shirts. Now, the American fashion designer counts himself as a member of the CDFA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and presents collections twice a year at Paris Fashion Week.