Icons of the Past

Find passion, perseverance and pizzazz from our round up of the VIPs of the fashion and beauty industry who reigned not with a whimper, but a bang. 

Karl Lagerfeld

The story of this ambitious icon began at the tender age of 14, when Lagerfeld moved from Germany to Paris, alone, to build a future in fashion. By 25, he was working for his second fashion house and showcasing his first collection. Despite his running start, his show was reportedly “booed by reporters”, and his second show at age 27 was seen as too revealing and described as “not couture”. In the face of criticism and a brick wall, Lagerfeld took a short hiatus from the industry; evidently that was the start of his rise to power. When designing for Tiziani and gaining recognition from stars including Elizabeth Taylor, saying he was back with a bang would be a great understatement. He began designing for Chloe and Fendi and by the 1980’s, had secured a place at the top of the business. He had revitalized Chanel, becoming the fashion house’s head designer; had launched his own label of “intellectual sexiness” and had become a socialite superstar in the press.

With a career spanning over 6 decades, Karl Lagerfeld has had his collections mocked, has had Vogue’s editor walk out of his show and has left controversy in his wake. Yet he is unstoppable. And he is sitting at the top of the fashion universe, a legend, ignoring anyone who ever told him he couldn’t make it. That’s how you become an icon.



Coco Chanel

From the iconic little black dress to the invention of the classic lady-suit, French fashion designer Ccoco-chaneloco Chanel has truly left her stamp on the fashion industry. Gabrielle Chanel began a career dipping in and out of the music scene – receiving her name ‘Coco’- before beginning her fashion career in 1910; creating hats in a Paris boutique. It wasn’t long until her simplistic yet elegant style had taken over the nation. Only a few years later, Chanel was renowned for accessories, sportswear and of course her world famous fragrances. No.5 was her first success in 1922, the floral blend still being a worldwide success today.

Her style incorporated both sophisticated simplicity and utmost comfort, all while still representing her classy self. The suit being one of her most iconic pieces, involved a collar-less jacket and pencil skirt, which was a game changer in the industry at the time. Gone were the days when women needed to wear corsets to look and feel beautiful. A highly determined soul, Chanel remained unaffected and stronger than ever especially during the Second World War, enticing customers back with her timeless and original masterpieces. Today the brand name is a world-wide phenomenon and why wouldn’t it be? With a strong appeal to shoppers old and young, brand loyal and newbies, there’s no doubt Coco Chanel will continue to reign and be irreplaceable.


Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn. Actress. Humanitarian. Fashion icon. Born in Brussels, Belgium, Audrey Haudrey-hepburn-04epburn began her legendary career when she played the lead role in Roman Holiday (1953) and is also renowned for her flawless act in My Fair Lady (1964). Other than in her successful acting career, Hepburn also became iconic in the eyes of fashion and beauty. Although introduced by Coco Chanel, some would argue that it was Audrey Hepburn who made the ‘little black dress’ a timeless classic. The actress also brought a new look to the 1950’s: a black turtleneck, black capri pants and black ballerina flats. It was a simple and elegant look that women today have continued to emulate. The combination offered an effortless alternative to the heavy clothing and layered dresses that were popular at the time.

In a role Truman Capote (author, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) had envisioned for Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn accomplished possibly the most exquisite performance of her lifetime. Her role as New York call girl, Holly Golightly, was, perhaps, one of the most iconic of all time, especially in terms of fashion. Claiming to have the “jazziest role” of her career, Hepburn was the essence of high fashion style, sophistication and elegance. This was reflected through an iconic, instantly recognizable wardrobe: black sleeveless 1960’s style dresses, long, black satin gloves, tortoiseshell sunglasses and Tiffany pearls… Because of course, darling, “it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty.”



Vivienne Westwood

Look up Vivienne Westwood in the fashion bible to find this icon synonymous with avant-garde and risqué. Once a primary school teacher, Westwood’s rise to fame during the 70’s in England is a story of unparalled5f6405a8ae08b566eabdee99aee374eled fortitude with unwavering faith. Rebranding the Sex Pistols in her iconic designs was simply her groundwork, before moving onto establishing punk as a permanent and normative part of modern society. Westwood blessed the punk rock movement with her early cutting edge concepts, making her desire to dictate overpower that to influence.  From having male models sport fake breasts on her runway to infuriating Margaret Thatcher by imitating her on the front cover of a magazine; it’s no surprise why Westwood and her creations are considered the epitome of controversy in the industry. Plus if her pool of accolades includes Best British Fashion Designer, questioning her Witch and Pirate inspired collections is certainly no call for us to make.

Be it stationery, home ware or jewellery, Vivienne’s signature prints have come a long way from her initial launch of her boutique store Let it Rock, retitled as Worlds End now. Today the success of the brand image is all due to Westwood’s willpower of never paying heed to the opinions of insignificant others, even if that does happen to be a prime minister. Vivienne Westwood truly started from the bottom and now she’s here, a rebel to look up to and her vision a legend.



Gianni Versace

The Greeks should be crediting the celebrity status of resident monster ‘Medusa’ to Gianni Versace’downloads idea of turning a myth into an iconic symbol, recognized worldwide as anything but a witch in disguise. At age 9, when a young Gianni made his first dress with assistance from dressmaker mother, his fate in fashion was sealed. One to ignore archetypes, Versace found joy in fusing normally uncomplimentary textures to create a ‘neo-couture’ such as using laser technology to meld leather and rubber. A game changer in Italian fashion, Versace made headlines with his silver-mesh togas, refined bondage gear and polyvinyl baby-doll dresses, disregarding critics who classified them as ‘vulgar’. Milan soon became the headquarters to put on his one of a kind rock concerts AKA grand seasonal fashion shows where the model and celebrity appearances undoubtedly drew in media.

Socially seen with the likes of Elton John, Naomi Campbell and Madonna, staging costumes for such popstars allowed Versace as a brand to emerge and cement its status as an empire that exudes sexuality and sensuality. After the untimely and tragic murder of the designer at age 50, the Versace Empire turned into a family dynasty. While sister and muse, Donatella Versace, stepped up as vice president of the brand, brother Santo Versace filled in the shoes for CEO. Nonetheless the trademark lives on, paying homage to a man of vigour and extraordinary Italian grandezza.



Calvin Klein

Only an icon like Calvin Klein would be invigorated to be called out for the ‘Worst Marketing Campaign of 95’ by Forbes magazine and if you’ve scooped up the COTY award for 3 years running, there is no reaimg-calvin-klein_161442809070son not to. The typical carefree childhood was of no appeal to Klein, using every spare moment to practice sketching designs and sewing, it was a given he would be the youngest graduate in fashion school history at 20 years. A New Yorker at heart, much of Calvin’s inspiration came from the fresh and unpretentious style of the city’s youth, leading to a brand that personified sophisticated yet understated all-American glamour.

The luxury brand spared no market from its magic. When 15 year old model Brooke Shields was hired to promote the original designer jeans as sexy and practical, a denim frenzy was born and advertising revolutionized. Even boxers and briefs were marked by his classic logo. In favour of breaking the mould, Klein blurred the lines between sexes and designed masculine jockey shorts for women as well as brought out his unisex fragrance ‘CK One’. Conquering home décor and cosmetics sold exclusively in fine department store, Klein multiplied like the plague. From Europe to Asia to America, Calvin Klein is a global phenomenon and after meeting people unaware of his existence, who rather only know the brand, the man is content with his brand being everything.



By Gemma Thorne, Gemma Gibson, Megan Sylvester, Jamila Gandhi