When you think of fashion you probably think of the beautiful young models who are splashed across magazine covers. Their captivating images portray fashion as the pursuit of the unattainable. But recently there has been a movement towards more diversity in imagery, a more inclusive and realistic view. We view this as a healthy shift from a focus on fashion to focus on style. While fashion is externally focused on the clothes, style is focused on the person. Style emphasizes individuality: utilizing the best of what you have, and reflecting your identity through what you wear and how you carry yourself.
The attainment of style requires something more than just physical beauty; it requires experience, self-awareness and a cultivated view. The designers, fashionistas and editors of the industry possess these attributes; they are true role models who embody style and do the hard work to create fashion. The mature women highlighted below: Patricia Field, Vera Wang and Vivienne Westwood, are among these icons of fashion and style.
Patricia Field Redefined Style in the City
“My style tends to be exaggerated, but not too much because the audience has to believe in it. But, in the end, I like to make people happy. I like to see smiling faces. My style and costuming choices are about that.” – Patricia Field, Refinery29, March 2015
As the Emmy Award winning costume designer of “Sex and the City”, Patricia Field most certainly put smiles on our faces and put her stamp on almost everything modern New York women wear today. Remember Carrie’s pink tank top and tutu in the opening of “Sex and the City”? Patricia Field knew that outfit would stand the test of time and it has. You can still shop online for Carrie’s nameplate necklace, one of Field’s numerous signature styles. Carrie and ‘the girls’ outfits were an assemblage of ideas and clothing that reflected the cultural cross-sections of NYC and the points of view of each character. Women identified with these characters and it impacted the way they felt and dressed; it empowered them to explore fashion as fantasy and express themselves.
Ms. Field maintained that,”when you dress someone you have to know who they are”, and she honed her skill for zeroing in on people’s personalities on her own shop floor. She opened her namesake boutique in Greenwich Village in 1966 and it became an internationally known fashion landmark for nearly fifty years. This cultural firmament and defining factor in urban style’s nightlife is closing its doors this spring but as one door closes, many remain open for Ms. Field.
At age 75, Patricia is is currently channeling her passion for fashion and self expression solely into costume design for a new television series, “Younger“. Her spirit and verve can still be felt in the streets of New York, inspiring us to put our authentic high heeled foot forward and reminding us that “…. fashion is an opportunity to be creative. How you dress yourself must express who you are.”
Vera Wang Dresses the Modern Woman with Grace
“There’s an old skater’s saying: Don’t be afraid of falling. It’s 90 percent falling – otherwise, you don’t master anything.”
– As Told to Jennifer Vineyard, The Cut, June 2015
Looking back at Vera Wang’s childhood, we can trace the characteristics that enabled her meteoric rise in the fashion world. Born to affluent Chinese parents and the recipient of an outstanding elite education, Vera’s first love was skating. She quickly became hooked on the sport and from age 7 was rising at dawn to practice before going off to school. As a young competitive skater, Ms. Wang developed discipline, drive and self motivation as well as an eye for graceful lines and shape. Fearless, and seemingly unstoppable, Ms. Wang became one of the top 20 skaters in the US. but never quite managed to crack into the very top ranks. When she realized that the Olympics were out of reach, Vera, disappointed but characteristically unbowed and un-complaining, moved on. She set her sights on fashion and began working at Vogue magazine.
Within a year, at age 23, she was promoted to senior fashion editor and held that title for 15 years. Restless and seeking a new challenge she once again moved on, this time becoming the design director of accessories at Ralph Lauren.
Perhaps the most storied chapter of Ms. Wang’s career began with her marriage in 1989. Dissapointed with available wedding gowns, she designed her own bridal gown and launched her own bridal collection in a luxury boutique on Madison Avenue. Her chic and romantic bridal designs have clean lines and silhouettes, balancing modern design with traditional elegance. She is the most prominent bridal wear designer in America; her gowns are now sold at over 55 bridal retailers making them available to brides of all income levels and sizes.
In 2000 Vera branched out into ready-to-wear that reflects more her personal edge style. It was “… a major goal for me – to be able to reach and encourage more women, to encourage them to express themselves and be what they want to be.” Since 2006, her lifestyle line at Kohl’s, known as Simply Vera, offers a piece of her good taste in shoes, home goods, perfume, jewelry etc…
Along the way Vera Wang has won many awards including the Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2005 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She has become a high-profile figure in the fashion world and at age 66, she is one of the Forbes top 50 most successful, self-made women in the US. She is still competitive, driven and uncompromising but those who know her speak of another Vera: an outgoing, spontaneous, charmingly eccentric woman who tempers her intensity with humor and an ability to laugh at herself.
Vivienne Westwood is Fashion’s Rebel with a Cause
“My clothes have a story. They have an identity . They have a character and a purpose. That’s why they become classic. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.” – Vivienne Westwood, Fashion One, November 2014
At age 75, Dame Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer, business woman and political activist, is one of Britain’s most recognizable living icons.
Born to working class parents, Westwood grew up with little exposure to art or theater. She became interested in fashion at an early age but her interest never came to fruition until a fateful meeting with an art student, Malcom McLaren in 1965 changed her life. McLaren went on to become the manager of the Sex Pistols and Vivienne dressed the band. These fashions helped shape the punk rock phenomenon. Throughout their relationship, the two maintained a close linkage between music, fashion and political activism and Westwood came to think of the fashion runway as a platform for the expression of political ideas.
Her fashion statements were often as bold as her political views. “All the clothes I wore people would regard as shocking. I wore them because I just thought that I looked like a princess from another planet.” Together with her new romantic and creative partner, Andreas Kronthaler, Westwood went on to create many eclectic designs that combine unconformity with a sense of tradition. She reflects her opposition to the status quo by taking romanticized stereotypes, historic garments and classic British fabrics and presents them in unexpected ways.
She continues to seamlessly blend fashion with political activism and is currently promoting a Greenpeace documentary and her global warming initiative, “Climate Revolution“. Dame Westwood is a rebel and a trendsetter who aspires to stir our minds. She asserts that, “The sexiest people are thinkers. Nobody’s interested in somebody who’s just vain with a hole in their head, talking about the latest thing – there is no latest thing. It’s all rubbish.”
There will always be new upcoming talent in the fashion world and they will continue to learn from their predecessors. The three mature women we profiled continue to instruct us, surprise us and delight us. They are among the visionary pioneers who epitomize what Edna Woolman Chase, iconic editor in chief of Vogue magazine from 1914-1952 once said, “Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess”.
Of the three designers we featured, who inspires you most?