We know the designer labels. We know the logos. In fact, we’re on a first (or last) name basis with them. But fashion labels have become such brand entities that we can forget that at one point in history there was actually a person with that name who started the company. And in many cases, these designers sold merchandise quite different than what the brand is known for today. So let’s take a trip through fashion design history and meet some of these founders.
Louis Vuitton. Thanks to its LV monogram and logo, Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s most recognized designer labels. Born in 1811, Louis Vuitton was a layetier, or luggage packer, for prominent families in Paris. Luggage packing was considered an art because traveling could take months and months, requiring many changes of wardrobe. Eventually, he became the official layetier to Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenie. Armed with knowledge about what makes a good packing case, Vuitton began designing his own luggage in 1854. He invented the stackable flat trunk; previously, luggage was dome-shaped, so rain would run off more easily.
Ferragamo. The luxury shoe and clothing brand’s founder Salvatore Ferragamo, born in 1898, made his first pair of shoes at age 9. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1914, eventually moving to California, where he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop in 1923. He earned a reputation as “Shoemaker to the Stars,” selling shoes to Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson, as well as providing the footwear for Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”
Burberry. Known for its trademark check pattern, the company was founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856, specializing in outdoor wear. Looking for a water-resistant fabric for his clientele, he invented gabardine in 1880, which withstood the elements yet was still breathable. In 1914, he gave the fashion design world his most famous invention: the trenchcoat, patterned after an old officer’s coat.
Prada. Although a premium status brand today, Prada was founded by brothers Mario and Martino in 1913 as a little shop that sold leather goods and imported English steamer trunks and handbags. The brothers did not approve of women running their company, but it was Mario’s granddaughter Miuccia who introduced the classic Prada handbag in 1985, and a women’s ready to wear collection in 1989, putting Prada on the luxury map.
Boss. Founded by Hugo Ferdinand Boss in 1924, the German company did not originally specialize in fashion design, but instead manufactured uniforms. In fact, the company prospered during the Nazi regime as Hugo Boss, a member of the Nazi party, was an official supplier of the black SS uniforms. Shortly after World War II, Boss died but the company continued to produce uniforms for postal and police workers. It did not introduce its first men’s suits until the 1950s.
While many of today’s top fashion designers are household names and familiar faces, these five fashion founders are less known – but their namesake brands live on.