#1. Eleanor Lambert
The public relations maven founded the first-ever New York Fashion Week and the International Best Dressed List in the 1940s, defining the first serious fashion networks in the United States. Prior to that, editors, buyers and the fashion industry considered Paris the capital of fashion. In 1962, she cemented her legacy by organizing Council of Fashion Designers in America ( the CFDA), the most important fashion authority for decades.
#2. Eileen Ford
In 1946, Eileen Ford co-founded Ford models with her husband. Ford is now known as one of the most internationally successful fashion modeling agencies in the world. She began her career as a secretary for models during the early ’40s and built her business from the ground up. By the 50s, Ford represented top models such as Carmen Dell’Orefice, Jean Patchett and Dovima. The success of her company continues today as Ford has represented everyone from Christy Turlington to Brooke Shields.
#3. Donatella Versace
As a strong-willed businesswoman, Donatella Versace has become as influential for the clothing she produces as for the parties and celebrity entourage she interacts with, which has kept her family’s name under a bright spotlight. In the ’80s, she launched Versus, a younger diffusion line of Versace, which has remained on the pulse of everything young. Shortly after her brother Gianni Versace’s tragic murder in 1997, Donatella took over the brand, keeping it strong for almost 20 years.
#4. Valerie Steele
Prior to Valerie Steele, fashion curation and history in museums were virtually nonexistent. The historian, curator, and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology brought fashion to the forefront of cultural and academic conversations through exhibitions and books. “When I began, nobody was studying fashion as a scholarly topic. There was fashion journalism and a kind of antiquarian costume history, but nobody was looking at the cultural history of fashion or what fashion means today,” she once told Harper’s BAZAAR.
#5. Fern Mallis
Fern Mallis has been credited with elevating the status of New York Fashion Week to be as big a player as the fashion weeks in London, Milan and Paris. As executive director of the CFDA from 1991-2001, she made NYFW a centralised, modern event. She stewarded NYFW’s original move to Bryant Park and helped IMG develop fashion weeks in other cities such as Los Angeles, Miami and Melbourne. Her Fashion Icons talks at the 92nd Street Y in NYC—with everyone from Donna Karan to Marc Jacobs— have also become legendary.
#6. Bethann Hardison
Activist Bethann Hardison has pushed the envelope on many fronts to make fashion more diverse. Struck by the lack of black models on the runway in the 2000s, she helped to launch the first all-black issue of Vogue Italia in 2008. She has also advocated for more black voices in fashion as well as led the Diversity Coalition to improve diversity in the industry.
#7. Natalie Massenet
The face of shopping for luxury fashion online changed when Natalie Massenet, a former journalist, launched Net-a-Porter in 2000. Prior to Net-a-Porter, luxury fashion had never before been sold online in such an extensive way. Massenet was inspired to bring the idea of a fashion magazine into the 21st century—by recreating editorial fashion and making it shoppable. Since 2013, Massenet has also been chairwoman of the British Fashion Council.
#8. Delphine Arnault
Since 2003, Delphine Arnault remains the first woman and youngest person in a position of membership on the Management Board of the group LVMH. In 2013, she became Louis Vuitton’s Director and Executive Vice President, and a year later she created the LVMH Prize, a competition that funds young designers. Very few women sit at the top of luxury fashion, so Arnault’s success stands out.
#9. Brooke Wall
Through founding her agency The Wall Group, Brooke Wall has brought behind-the-scenes people in the industry—such as makeup artists, stylists, and even production designers—to the forefront of editorial fashion. For over 15 years, the company has harnessed new talent, joining them with major brands like Chanel or Miu Miu to be used in everything from advertising to editorials.
#10. Jenna Lyons
Working her way up from assistant designer fresh out of Parsons, Jenna Lyons was named Vice President of womenswear at J.Crew in 2003. In the short time that followed, Lyons tripled profits and turned J.Crew into a cult brand. In 2008, she was named the Creative Director, and in 2010 she was named President of the influential company.
#11. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss
The duo met at Harvard business school and decided to launch Rent the Runway in 2009. Rent the Runway broke down boundaries of the traditional fashion world, offering women the ability to rent high-end fashion—whether for one-time events, or just to try out a new look. Rent the Runway now has brick-and-mortar locations around the U.S., and has over 300 designer partners (think: Giamba, Derek Lam, Carven, and Vionnet), offering over 3,500 different styles.
#12. Lauren Santo Domingo
Besides playing muse to designers and photographers ranging from Nina Ricci to Proenza Schouler and Annie Leibovitz, Lauren Santo Domingo has carved out a ground-breaking shopping experience by founding her company, Moda Operandi, in 2010. The trunk show format allows anyone to buy current designer looks right off the runway, six months before it would traditionally arrive to retail stores.
#13. Sophia Amoruso
After years of selling vintage from an eBay shop in San Francisco, Sophia Amoruso decided to build her own company. By 2008, she would launch the online retail shop Nasty Gal with her apartment as its headquarters. Amoruso’s site amassed a cult following, along with a newly-minted brick and mortar store and the inspiring #GIRLBOSS memoir—an empowering read for all.