INFLUENTIAL AMERICAN DESIGNERS
Betsey Johnson (b. 1942) > Birthplace: Wethersfield, Connecticut Betsey Johnson was drawn to the arts already in her childhood, favoring drawing and dance. Her love for sketching flashy, elaborate costumes that she wore during dance recitals spearheaded her career as a fashion designer. Johnson is known for her quirky, out-of-the box aesthetic and is dubbed as a pioneer of New York City street fashion during the late ’70s. Johnson is also famous for doing a cartwheel at the end of every New York Fashion Week. Calvin Klein (b. 1942) > Birthplace: New York City, New York The American designer was known as much for his brand’s controversial ads as for the apparel line. Klein’s clothes were simple, comfortable, and relatively expensive, and American consumers responded favorably to his collections. Ads featuring a teenaged Brooke Shields wearing Calvin Klein jeans (“Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”) was pilloried in some circles as objectifying young girls. Donna Karan (b. 1948) > Birthplace: Forest Hills, New York The native New Yorker gained recognition for her apparel line’s simplicity and comfort as well as for the soft fabrics of her mix-and-match collections. Karan is credited with mainstreaming uptown New York chic to middle America and influencing how women dressed for work. Eventually, she diversified into menswear, children’s clothes, jeans, and perfume. 18. Michael Kors (b. 1959) > Birthplace: Long Island, New York Prominent fashion designer Michael Kors moved in the 1970s from Long Island to New York City, where he attended the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology for two semesters. At the age of 19, he landed a job at Lothar’s, a French boutique in Manhattan, first as a salesman then a designer. Little did he know this would be the start of a lucrative career. He designed and sold his first collection at the popular boutique, regularly visited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Diana Ross, and Vera Wang. By 1981, he launched his own line, called Michael Kors Women’s Collection, which was sold in two upscale department stores: Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Kors was also one of the premier judges on reality fashion show Project Runway from its inception in 2004 until 2012. Ralph Lauren (b. 1939) Birthplace: New York City, New York Born as Ralph Lipschitz, Ralph and his brother changed their last name to Lauren in high school after years of bullying. Unlike a majority of the acclaimed fashion designers on this list, Lauren was born into a relatively poor family. After high school, he took up a day job as a salesman and took business classes at night. To say his hard work and perseverance paid off is an understatement. Today, Ralph Lauren has a net worth of $7.3 billion. Lauren designed clothing for actors in the 1974 film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” and for the movie “Annie Hall” in 1977. Tommy Hilfiger (b. 1951) Birthplace: Elmira, New York Tommy Hilfiger, the second of nine children in an Irish-American family, is known for his cool, preppy American style and his signature tri-colored flag on his apparel. He launched his eponymous brand in 1985, drawing on pop culture and Americana. Shortly after the launch, he rankled some people in the fashion industry when he proclaimed himself as the next great American designer. Time has proven him to be somewhat right. Global sales of Tommy Hilfiger reached $7.4 billion in 2017. Vera Wang (b. 1949) Birthplace: New York City, New York Vera Wang is probably the most famous designer of bridal wear in the world, and her evening wear and couture creations are favored by the Hollywood elite. Wang might have been a champion figure skater, but instead decided to become a fashion journalist for Vogue magazine. She then shifted to the other side of the fashion business and became a design director for the accessories department at Ralph Lauren. She made her own wedding dress and then opened a bridal boutique. Wang gained attention for a hand-beaded dress she designed for figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.