Over the years, women have gained more fiscal independence, allowing a number of female designers to step out and launch their own brands. Here are some of the top female-founded fashion houses.


It’s easy to believe that fashion is a female world. The standard runway season predominately caters to women’s fashion, as do most department stores and clothing boutiques.

However, looking back at the biggest fashion houses in history, most of them were founded by men.

As fashion was, and is, a business, women were often limited in their financial decision making. Over the years, women have gained more fiscal independence, allowing a number of female designers to step out and launch their own brands.

Here are 5 fashion houses established by some of the most powerful female designers in history:


COCO CHANEL

In 1909, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel started her name brand as a single Parisian boutique frequented by the mistresses of some of the city’s most powerful men.

As her list of wealthy clients grew, so did her business. By 1915, Chanel was one of Europe’s most coveted design Houses.

She is the only fashion designer listed on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

A prolific fashion creator, Chanel extended her influence beyond couture clothing, realizing her design aesthetic in jewellery, handbags, and fragrance.

Her signature scent, Chanel No. 5, has become an iconic product, and Chanel herself designed her famed interlocked-CC monogram, which has been in use since the 1920s.

Over 100 years later, the brand has continued to grow under the dutiful leadership of the late Karl Lagerfeld and, now, his successor Virginie Viard.

coco chanel top 5 female founded fashion houses
Coco Chanel

JIL SANDER

German designer Jil Sanders desinged her own fashion house in Rotherbaum (Germany) in 1968 with her mother’s sewing machine. Her first collection was for Hoechst, a chemical company, using their trevira fabric.

In 1973, she launched a collection under her own brand name.

Jil Sander gained a prominent following during the late ’80s and ’90s, which led the Prada Group to purchase the brand in 1999.

Over the years, she has left and returned as head designer for interim periods.


VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

Vivienne Isabel Westwood is an English fashion designer and businesswoman, largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream.

She found her roots in the British punk movement in the ’60s and ’70s. She came to public notice by designing clothes for The Sex Pistols‘ manager Malcolm McLaren and his boutique in the King’s Road, which became known as SEX.

Westwood opened four shops in London and eventually expanded throughout the United Kingdom and the world, selling an increasingly varied range of merchandise, some of which promoted her many political causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, climate change and civil rights groups.

Her eclectic and provocative sense of style was a defining part of punk fashion.

More than 50 years later, Westwood continues to find ways to shock audiences.

vivienne westwood top 5 female founded fashion houses
Vivienne Westwood

DONNA KARAN

Donna Karan launched her brand in 1988 with her husband and co-CEO Stephan Weiss. She quickly became known as “the Queen of Seventh Avenue“.

She extended her women’s ‘Donna Karan New York‘ line by creating a less expensive clothing line for younger women, called DKNY.

Two years later, she created DKNY Jeans, a denim-inspired collection.

DKNY for men was launched in 1992, one year after the ‘Signature’ line for men had been presented. In 1992, Karan also released her “cold shoulder” dress, a jersey long-sleeved dress which featured deep cutouts at the shoulders to reveal the skin underneath.

In 2015, Donna Karan announced that she would be stepping down as head of her eponymous company to focus on her lifestyle brand, Urban Zen, established by Karan in 2007.

donna karan top 5 female founded fashion houses 1
Donna Karan

STELLA McCARTNEY

Stella McCartney became interested in designing clothes as a youth. At the age of 13, she designed her first jacket.

She started her career in 1997 as the creative director of Chloe, a position she held until 2001.

Stella launched her name brand in 2001 which upholds her own vegetarian beliefs by not using any real fur or leather. The house also promotes sustainability by producing eco-friendly garments.

She now operates 51 freestanding stores in Manhattan’s Soho, London’s Mayfair, LA’s West Hollywood, Paris’s Palais Royal, Barcelona’s Passeig de Gracia, Milan, Rome, Miami and Houston, among other locations.

stella mccartney top 5 female founded fashion houses
Stella McCartney

Did you enjoy the reading? Then check out our article about Claudia Gisèle Ntsama, fashion and textile designer!