Leading designers often have a back story to match their designs. NIKI CHARALAMBOUS takes a look behind the scenes

The fashion industry has always been dominated by major brands and personalities whose challenges and stories have captivated fans. From Hubert de Givenchy to more contemporary fashion pioneers such as Miuccia Prada and Vera Wang, these leading names have served as an endless source of inspiration for aspiring designers.

Many prominent figures in the fashion industry have had an interesting life before becoming a name in fashion.

British actress Audrey Hepburn, who was ranked by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest female screen legend from Classical Hollywood cinema, was regarded as both a film and a fashion icon and was inducted into the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame list. But few are aware that this acting legend was synonymous with the name Hubert de Givenchy, the actress’ favourite designer.

Givenchy is known worldwide for its feminine aesthetic, clean-cut designs, and elegant dresses through classic films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like many ambitious fashion designers at the time, Givenchy drew inspiration for his iconic dress from Coco Chanel.

Givenchy based his design on Chanel’s classic little black dress and created a sheath dress with minimal cuts on the back for his muse. In fact, Hepburn became the most prominent advocate of Givenchy’s fashion, and when he launched his first perfume collection, the actress became its face – the first time a celebrity was used in this way.

fashion audrey hepburn in givenchy 'breakfast at tiffany's'

Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’

Italian designer Valentino’s intriguing success story is attributable to another Hollywood celebrity. Elizabeth Taylor first noticed the designer’s creations while filming Cleopatra in Rome in the early 1960s. Valentino’s famed white gown, which Taylor wore to the Spartacus premiere, became an instant sensation, catapulting the designer to global fashion fame.

Although Valentino is most widely recognised for his use of red, his No Colour collection of white, ivory and beige garments became even more popular, inspiring Jackie Kennedy Onassis to wear a knee-length ivory lace dress made by Valentino for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis.

Miuccia Prada is regarded by many as one of the most important and enigmatic fashion designers of the modern era, who transformed a small business into one of the most outstanding multibillion-dollar fashion houses through the invention of the nylon bag. Miuccia was fascinated by everything military and industrial, and she wished to transform the existing design of luggage and bags by utilising a more durable, water-resistant and lightweight fabric. Drawing inspiration from the nylon material used in the making of Italian military tents during WWII, Prada created their first nylon-based bag collection, which was unheard of in the world of haute couture at the time.

Under her direction, the Prada brand has managed to fuse the old and the modern, the ugly and the sublime, the vulgar and the simple, to showcase a variety of innovative and often unexpected concepts, placing function over fashion.

Arguably one of the most prominent British designers in history, Vivienne Westwood was a revolutionary in her own right, popularising modern punk and new wave clothing, drawing inspiration from bikers, fetishists, and prostitutes. The ‘punk style’ included safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or toilet chains on garments, spiked dog collars for jewellery, and outrageous make-up and hair.

Westwood also used her creative abilities to advocate for higher causes such as art, history, and social justice, ultimately redefining what designers might symbolise. She has become an inspiration for many contemporary fashion designers who use fashion to drive cultural change.

fashion a vera wang design

A Vera Wang design

Finally, one simply needs to look at the nature of Vera Wang’s work to understand why she has been dubbed The Queen of Bridal. For decades, Wang’s collections have produced some of the most iconic, magnificent, and meticulously designed dresses, revolutionising the world of weddings and bridal wear, particularly using colours not commonly seen in brides, such as black and red. What was formerly thought to be unfit for the altar is now being made so.

Wang was inspired to create wedding dresses when she struggled to find a dress she liked for her own wedding. Her father saw her challenge as a business opportunity and gave her the seed money to open her flagship salon in New York in 1990. Her eponymous brand is now a global enterprise embracing fashion, beauty, jewellery and homewares. But arguably the most important life lesson from Wang’s incredible story is that she started her company at the age of 40, illustrating that it is never too late for a fresh start in life.

The list of fashion industry pioneers is limitless, as are the sources of inspiration, which is everywhere, from culture, history, art and film to travel experiences, current events and trends.