This story originally appeared on ELLE UK
Have you ever heard of the ‘Glass Runway‘? While the exact phrase may be foreign, its meaning reverberates down the halls of the fashion industry. The two words describe the phenomenon that while most of the people working in (and buying from) the industry are women, only 14% of major fashion houses are run by them.
This means that despite feeding and loving the fashion industry at both machinist and consumer level, women have limited say in what it ultimately creates.
And while we don’t have immediate solutions to remedy the gender imbalance in fashion (though this McKinsey & Company study points to some) this Women’s History Month we’ve decided to celebrate those who, against the odds, run their own fashion labels.
We spoke to some of the world’s most talented female designers to find out the women who inspired their careers.
Batsheva Hay On Sonia Rykiel
‘When I quit my job at a law firm, my friend Lola, Sonia Rykiel’s granddaughter, told me how her grandmother had started her business by making sweaters because she couldn’t find ones to fit her then-pregnant belly. Her career snowballed from there.
‘Rykiel’s story really inspired me to start making dresses – dramatic, Victorian-inspired styles at a reasonable price – the way I wanted them to be. That was almost five years ago.
‘Lola – who now has an activewear brand, Pompom – and I started making what we wanted to wear, just as Sonia taught us.’
Stella McCartney On Linda McCartney
‘Some of my biggest memories as a four or five-year-old were of sitting in my parents’ [Linda and Paul McCartney] wardrobe, and realizing that my mum and dad shared it. It was during the period of glam rock and Wings [Paula and Linda’s British–American rock band]. Half the clothes [in the wardrobed] I assumed were my mum’s but my dad was wearing them too. They would swap items.
‘I’ve since worn a flowery shirt out of the archive, and thought, “Oh, look at this blouse of my mum’s, it’s so cool” and then we’d find a photo of my dad wearing it too. There was this absolute androgyny. This was years ago, but today [gender neutral dressing is] a cutting edge conversation to have. My upbringing and being around clothes from a very young age was a huge influence on me and has heavily inspired how I work today.’
Shrimp’s Hannah Weiland On Elsa Schiaparelli
‘I think one of the most memorable and poignant designs for me has been Elsa Schiaparelli’s Lobster Dress in collaboration with Salvador Dali. My nickname has always been Shrimps, but when I saw that design it planted the seed of an idea to start my own fashion brand of that name.
‘I’ve always been inspired by the surrealist art movement, and loved the surrealist-inspired idea of launching my brand and using the concept of a hard shelled crustacean to represent the softest faux fur.
‘Schiaparelli’s design [not only] inspired the naming of my brand, but so too did the way she expressed and collaborated with artists and art through fashion. She’s had a lasting effect on me and will always be one of Shrimps’ main inspirations.’
GANNI’s Ditte Reffstrup On Miuccia Prada
‘The Prada AW02 runway really captured me. [It was the collection] where Miuccia Prada shared her idea of sexy and I kept going back to it when we first started GANNI [in 2000]. At the time there was a popular view of Scandinavian style that was either high-concept minimalism or very bohemian. But I couldn’t see that reflected in the way me or my friends were dressing.
‘Prada always gets that balance between sexy and playful just right. It makes me feel confident and empowered – there’s something for everyone. She has has inspired me to go with my gut and trust my instinct.’
Thea Bregazzi On Vivienne Westwood
‘I don’t know the exact moment I saw Vivienne Westwood’s work, but I remember the images: Sarah Stockbridge with her blonde ringlets, corset and mini-crini. I was hooked. I couldn’t afford to buy Westwood’s pieces at the time, so I tried to make them. It was incredibly hard, but I was determined.
‘When I moved to London, I went clubbing at Kinky Gerlinky and Love Ranch and I bought the mini-crini, a few corsets, the ‘prostitute shoes’ and all my dreams came true. Of course, I’ve kept the shoes for my daughters, aged eight and 12. They trot around in them from time to time.
‘I love Westwood, she’s incredible; a strong female who is outspoken, Northern, sexual and so much fun.’
Rejina Pyo On Her Mother
‘My earliest memory of fashion is sitting in my mother’s atelier as a young girl while she worked as a designer. I used to wrap the fabric around me, attempting to drape creations of my own. She’s the person who inspired me to learn how to sew, sketch and make my own designs. I knew from a young age [fashion design] was what I wanted to do.
‘When I saw my mother’s sketchbook, I was obsessed. She used to hide it because I would try to take it and read through over and over again. I felt so drawn to it.’
Marta Marques On Rei Kawakubo
‘Seeing Rei Kawakubo’s work for the first time was like finding something I understood and related to. It was a space where I felt a sense of belonging.
‘Kawakubo has inspired me to go against systems and never conform.’
Priya Ahluwalia On Donatella Versace
‘I was always such a huge fan of Donatella Versace. She is such a phenomenal woman and so true to herself and her vision. I remember feeling so excited to grow up and “become a woman” [so I could be part of the] Versace world.
‘While I don’t think Versace’s inspiration has come through in the Ahluwalia aesthetic, the mind set of fearlessness and the energy has.’
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