Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fashion (Industry) Icons

Fairly often I'm asked to name my top fashion or style icons, and the expected response always seems to be something like "the Olsen twins" or, for the latter category, some safe, stock answer like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, or Cary Grant. The thing is, when I talk about 'fashion icons,' or 'style icons,' the latest vacuous Hollywood stick insect (wearing a dress chosen by a stylist and a free bag sent over by a fashion house), or some semi-mythical figure from cinematic history, is simply not what springs to mind. In my mind, very few of the names typically bandied around as fashion and style icons really deserve it.

I have come up with a list of fifteen fashion icons, using the term in a slightly different way: all of the people on my list work, or worked, in fashion, and I greatly admire all of them. They are all fashion or style icons in the general sense of being well dressed, but this is almost incidental; for me, it is their achievements and attitudes to life which primarily elevate them to 'iconic' status. Being a half-decent actor with a good stylist simply isn't enough.

I am limiting the list here to people in the fashion industry, to keep the length manageable.

1) Raf Simons (pictured above)

Why:Greatest menswear designer of all time. Read more in my huge Raf Simons blog post here.

Seals the deal: a party was once thrown for Simons in New York. Security didn't recognise him, so he couldn't get in. Instead of pulling the old "don't you know who I am" he calmly waited outside. I often find myself asking, what would Raf do?

2) Suzy Menkes

Why: Legendary fashion writer; what Suzy Menkes doesn't know about fashion isn't worth knowing. Refreshingly down-to-earth attitude which goes against all the pretension and silliness in fashion; between shows you will often catch Suzy Menkes sitting on a doorstep, or other convenient perch, tapping away on her trusty laptop, while other, lesser fashion folk are throwing tantrums about their seat allocations while desperately trying to attract the attention of street style photographers.

Seals the deal: dressed up in a kimono and performed a magic trick on The Telegraph's Hilary Alexander at a party for Jean Paul Gaultier in 2006.

3) Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

Why: Relatively low-profile, aristocratic French designer who has been creating bright, fantastical, pop art inspired fashion for ages, long before young pretenders like Jeremy Scott popped up and started taking all the credit for the aesthetic. JCDC, as he is known, can make even the most outlandish Coca-Cola bottle inspired get up look supremely elegant, and he is a real gentleman (who even took the time to respond to a cringe-making email I once sent him about my attempts to make his Lego accessories).

Seals the deal: covered baseball caps in Lego bricks and showed them on the runway.

4) Lynn Yaeger

Why: Brilliant fashion writer and critic, who has fantastic, unique personal style. I have been in awe of her ever since I read her piece about taking a fake Louis Vuitton bag to the Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami exhibition in New York, in wry protest at the crass commercialisation of it all. The fact that she is still a bit of a fashion 'outsider' despite her great skill as a writer adds to the appeal.

Seals the deal: Was just as lovely as she looks when I met her at London Fashion Week last year.

5) Michael Roberts

Why: Esteemed fashion editor of Vanity Fair, who is also an amazing collage artist (blog post here) and satirical poet (post here) who takes on the fashion industry with brilliantly wry humour.

Seals the deal: recently referred to BryanBoy and Tavi as "Billy Boy and that funny little girl who was 13 and looked 97" respectively.

6) Giorgio Armani

Why: Extremely talented designer and businessman who built up his vast empire from scratch, and was responsible (among many much greater achievements) for first getting me interested in fashion. Thanks to Armani's self-confessed 'control freak' tendencies, if you pick up something from even the lowest of his 'diffusion lines,' you can be sure that it will be brilliant quality.

Seals the deal: entertained us all with a unseemly spat with Dolce & Gabbana about who came up with a pair of quilted trousers first.

7) Natalie Massenet

Why: Founder of Net-a-Porter, which is arguably the most important fashion website of our times, and is one of the biggest e-commerce and online start-up success stories. Despite selling her stake in the company for around £350 million earlier this year, Massenet still comes across as being down-to-earth and hugely passionate about the business in interviews.

Seals the deal: pictured on the Net-a-Porter website energetically motivating staff, while wearing a slogan t-shirt.

8) Joseph Ettedgui

Why: He may have passed away earlier this year, but Joseph Ettedgui's influence lives on both in how we shop for luxury goods and how successful, professional women dress. He was a master retailer and a brilliant designer, who was never flashy or pretentious despite his success. You can read more about Ettedgui in the post I did here.

Seals the deal: helped to introduce labels like Azzedine Alaïa, Helmut Lang, and Prada to the previously fashion starved UK.

9) Catherine Baba

Why: Often to be seen cycling around Paris in furs, turbans, costume jewellery, and 6 inch Yves Saint Laurent stilettos, finished off with big sunglasses and lashings of red lipstick, Catherine Baba never fails to make an impression. The word 'fabulous' might as well have been invented to describe Baba, who is a talented stylist and all round fashion icon extraordinaire.

Seals the deal: wears fur in the south of France in summer because "darling, it's freeeeeezing, non?"

10) Mary Portas

Why: leading fashion retail and branding expert, founder and director of a top marketing and public relations firm, and popular TV presenter and media personality. Has an inspiring personal story too, and razor-sharp personal style to boot.

Seals the deal: married her girlfriend, fashion editor Melanie Rickey, earlier this year, wearing a custom made Antonio Berardi dress and killer heels. Has children from a previous about having it all!

11) Paul Smith

Why: brilliant fashion designer and master tailor, who entered the profession by chance after an accident ended his hopes of a professional cycling career. Paul Smith seems very much like one of the good guys in an industry full of dubious characters, and is in many ways the embodiment of the slightly eccentric, creative English gentleman...he also has more than a touch of the retired rock star about him too, in the best possible way.

Seals the deal: has a huge collection of rabbit memorabilia, which now has to be housed in a warehouse.

12) Anna Dello Russo

Why: I doubt there is anyone who's as passionate about fashion as Anna Dello Russo is. She owns over 4,000 pairs of shoes, wears haute-couture evening gowns at 9 in the morning, and hopes one day to open a museum showcasing the unbelievable collection of high fashion clothes that she has accumulated. Her work for Japanese Vogue, where she is fashion editor, is impressive too.

Seals the deal: the swimming pool at her country villa in Italy has her initials on its floor, done in gold mosaic tiles!

13) Erin O'Connor

Why: supremely elegant supermodel, with a refreshingly down-to-earth attitude, and impeccably good manners. As much as I love Naomi and Kate, you would never catch Erin O'Connor assaulting her assistant or snorting lines of coke... rather, she is practically the definition of classy.

Seals the deal: graciously laughs off the time when she was mistaken for a boy and chatted up by a man in a gay bar, when most people would probably be too mortified to mention it at all, let alone in a newspaper interview.

14) Yves Saint Laurent

Why: No explanation needed... the god of modern fashion.

Seals the deal: Rocked a kaftan in Marrakech like no other, where he also owned a house and the stunning Jardin Majorelle.

15) Isabella Blow

Why: Utterly fabulous, eccentric, aristocratic fashion editor, who famously discovered Alexander McQueen and was never seen without a totally outlandish Philip Treacy creation on her head and lashings of bright red lipstick. Considered fine Venetian glassware and a French chef called Loïc to be the barest essentials of life, and once told gun-toting rebels in the Middle East to get lost after they objected to her on-location photo shoot of scantily clad models. Tragically took her own life in 2007 after a long battle with depression.

Seals the deal: often wore mismatched pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes.

Is there anyone you think I should have included? Who do you really admire who works (or worked) in the fashion industry, and happens to have great personal style too?

I have nothing against traditonal style icons like Audrey Hepburn (many of them are very stylish), it's just if I'm going to use the term 'icon,' I prefer to apply a less superficial criteria.


  1. Great list :)
    I really admire Iris Apfel

  2. omg you totally missed tim blanks! well he's my idol.

  3. I'm going to be predictable and say Anna Wintour.

  4. Miuccia Prada, because having a doctorate in Political Science and producing jaw-dropping (mouth-watering) collections, while organizing exhibitions all over the world and keeping a very low profile (yet being honest about things) etc. is something I personally admire! Plus, if it wasn't for her, young, beautiful and smart would never come to live in the same sentence (or would it?)

  5. Great suggestions, all spot on. I love Iris Apfel especially! And Miuccia Prada's brilliant

  6. he never worked in fashion but thought i'd share my style icon anyway. The philosopher, dandy and poet Edward Carpenter

  7. Yves Saint Laurent and Isabella Blow are indeed one of the greatest !!!
    If I would have made a list, i would definitly included Hedi Slimane!!!!!
    He is also a visionare, i never saw NO ONE maneging the notion of BLACK so powerfull and ethernal along with the mistery and iluminating power of YOUTH!- including also his fotograhpys now.
    But no one... No one is greater then Lee Alexander McQueen was... I mean these four people mentioned here(and a few more) are trully ICONS and they will live FOREVER!
    A very good blog you have.
    Wish you all the best!

  8. i dont know but i have to say rei kawakubo(comme) and tom ford
    tom ford- hes a complete gentleman and saved gucci during their crisis. after he left, gucci is boring again. he also made a brilliant film!
    and rei kawakubo in my opinion really revolutionized avant garde fashion