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Fashion Designers

From Betsey Johnson to Donna Karan, the list of influential American fashion designers is long.

Many top fashion designers have taught at design schools. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Many top fashion designers have taught at design schools.

Fashion Designers

From Betsey Johnson to Donna Karan, the list of influential American fashion designers is long. Some pioneered the production of a single item, whereas others became famous for their wide range of expertise. From the early days of American designers to the present haute couture (meaning, high fashion; made from expensive materials), a number of fashion designers remain important components to what composes American fashion.

Norman Norell

Norman Norell (1900-1972) was at the height of his career during the tumultuous years of World War II. His work was top notch; the perfect balance of grace and simplicity. Known for his naval influences and high neck lines, Norell created award-winning pieces, as mentioned in his obituary, to rival Paris. He spent many years (1943-1944; 1954-1972) teaching at Parsons School of Design in New York City, inspiring young designers in several different decades, influencing the fashion world long after he had quit the runway and the cutting room. Norell was American haute couture.

Claire McCardell

Claire McCardell (1905-1958) remains synonymous with the invention of American off-the-rack clothing, meaning that it needed no preparation and was ready to wear. She was considered among the leading influences of the 20th century because her mass-produced elegance was clean and casual enough for everyday wear by the average woman. McCardell was considered to have invented and captured the Americaness behind American womens' fashion. Her look was casual with a hint of the athletic, appealing and wearable by a large range of women. There was no particular piece of clothing that interested McCardell. She produced every kind of clothing from bathing suits to wedding dresses.

Mildred Orrick

Mildred Orrick (1906-1994) worked in the fashion industry from the 1920s until the 1970s and is best known for working in anonymity. Orrick's influence is wide ranging as she has contributed to the work of many designers. She is known for taking the leotard out of the dance studio and onto the ready-to-wear rack. Like Norell, Orrick taught at Parsons School of Design, influencing the next generation of designers. Orrick was the one who kept McCardell's line alive after her death in 1958.

Anne Fogarty

According to the Metropolitan Museum, Anne Fogarty (1919-1980) created clothes with unprecedented discipline. Her clean lines and form-fitting clothes were the hit of the 1950s. Her book, Wife Dressing: The Art of being a Well-Dressed Wife, came out in 1959 and put on paper the ideas she exhibited with needle and thread. Crinoline skirts for teenage girls to create full shapes were one of Fogarty's clothing themes. Concentrated in the teen market, Fogarty became the pioneer of the poodle skirt, the mini-skirt and the hot pant, showing young girls how to layer to create the best look. She worked for a number of fashion houses including Saks Fifth Avenue and eventually went into business for herself. Fogarty designs still make a big splash on the vintage market and her structured and well-sewn designs have lasted through the decades.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren (1939- ) is an internationally renowned American designer best known for his ability to brand an American lifestyle through clothes sold around the world. He began his career designing ties and opened his business in 1967. Lauren's waspish look found fashion favor under his Polo brand name. Lauren's claim to fashion history is his mesh style polo shirt; he managed to take sporty and refined and bring it down into an everyday wearable style. Creating fashion for movies in the 1970s solidified Lauren's place in American fashion. In the 1980s, Lauren added household goods to his growing empire. A decade later, he added children's wear. Today, the Ralph Lauren stores are still open and still growing.

Betsey Johnson

Perfect fit mixed with eclectic and vivacious design is the signature style of Betsey Johnson (1942- ). Her career started in the 1960s and still continues today. She is known for being unlike any other designer and using her individuality to stay afloat in a sea of ever-changing fashion. Just a year after entering the fashion industry, Johnson was head of a major design studio and soon took her life-long passion for costume and turned it into her signature look. Her influence on the fashion industry found its bedrock in the rock and roll look she created under the Alley Cat brand name. The bohemian and eclectic style of musicians still retains the essence of Johnson's years at Alley Cat. As of 2009, Johnson is still working and has been awarded a lifetime achievement award created in her honor. The Betsey Johnson label has been around since 1978 and is still opening up new stores around the world.

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein (1942- ) changed American fashion by pushing the boundaries in his marketing campaigns. His jeans' campaigns of the late '80s and early '90s were thought to be provocative and even unacceptable in conservative circles. His use of neutral colors and clean lines made his range of separates easy to wear. Klein was the first to make men's briefs into a line of underwear for women, continuing his desire to shake up what was acceptable in American fashion. With several fashion awards awarded for his work, Calvin Klein and his sometimes envelope-pushing label continue to influence modern fashion.

Vera Wang

Vera Wang (1942- ) is one of the most well-known American designers working today. Known throughout the world for her form-fitting and beautiful custom wedding dresses, Wang is seamstress to the stars. Senior fashion editor at Vogue by the tender age of 23, Wang has had several opportunities to stake her claim in American fashion history. It was 1990 when Wang decided to branch off on her own and start her bridal business in New York. A figure skater in her youth, Wang found notoriety after designing skating costumes for Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. The custom haute couture look of her designs keeps a Vera Wang original something to boast about.

Donna Karan

Donna Karan (1948- ) is another well-known female designer still producing popular designs as of 2009. Her most influential contribution to the world of fashion has been the DKNY label known for its simple bodysuit designs and wearable fashions. She believes that it only takes seven pieces of carefully chosen items to create looks for day, night, workday, weekend and different seasons. A born New Yorker, Karan's work is made for the street as well as the red carpet.

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