How Did Your Favorite High-End Fashion Brands Get Started?

Your favorite high-end fashion brands are known for quality and innovation, but how did they get that way? Here’s a quick look at the origins of some of the world’s premier fashion houses.


At age 23, Giorgio Armani worked as a window dresser for a Milan department store. He then became a salesman in the men’s department and went on to design menswear for the Nino Cerruti company. He worked freelance with top manufacturers and fashion houses for decades until founding the Armani label in 1975 with partner Sergio Galeotti, who died 10 years later. Giorgio continues to run the company today.


Coco Chanel learned to sew as a teenager in an orphanage. At age 18, she went to work for a tailor, where she met two millionaire businessmen who helped her establish a hat shop. Her hat designs became wildly popular, and she expanded into sportswear. After hints of scandal during World War II, she exiled herself to Switzerland, and the business was administered by her partner, Pierre Wertheimer. His grandsons currently run Chanel.

Dolce & Gabbana

Dominico Dolce’s father was a tailor, and his mother sold textiles and clothing. After studying design in Milan, Dominico connected with Stefano Gabbana, a graduate of a top Roman design institute. They founded Dolce & Gabbana in 1985 and soon released their first collection, held their first show, and opened their first store, meeting with great success. The partnership is known for iconic designs, with clients such as Beyoncé, Madonna, and Monica Bellucci. Dolce & Gabbana are still running the company as a family business today.


Salvatore Ferragamo made himself a pair of high-heeled shoes in 1907 when he was nine years old and living in Bonito, Italy. In 1914, after studying shoemaking, he moved to Hollywood, where he became successful in creating footwear for the emerging movie industry. In 1927, he returned to Italy where he patented many innovative designs and made shoes for Marilyn Monroe and Eva Peron. The Ferragamo company is still run by the family.


The son of a Tuscan leather craftsman, Guccio Gucci opened The House of Gucci in Florence in 1921, specializing in saddles and other needs of horsemen. His five sons joined the business, which grew within Italy until Gucci’s death in 1953, after which his sons expanded the company internationally. Disagreements took their toll, and after 1993 no family members were involved in the company’s running.

Louis Vuitton

At the age of 16, the orphaned Louis Vuitton apprenticed himself to a Paris trunkmaker. Well respected for his skills, he became packer to the French empress. For the rest of his life, elite clients sought him out to make and pack their trunks. After his death in 1892, his son Georges expanded the company into a worldwide presence. In 1987, Louis Vuitton became part of LVMH, a luxury goods conglomerate.


Mario and Martino Prada founded Fratelli Prada (Prada Brothers) in Milan in 1913, selling trunks, handbags, and other luxury leather items. The elegant business soon became an official supplier to Italian royalty. Mario’s daughter Luisa ran the company for almost 20 years after his death, and her daughter Miuccia has run the company since 1978.


Gianni Versace grew up in Reggio Calabria, Italy, where his mother had a dressmaking business. In 1978, he launched his first clothing line. His designs featuring bold colors and prints were favored by iconic performers such as Elton John and Madonna. After Versace’s death in 1998, his sister Donatella and brother Santo continued to run the company until 2018. Versace is now part of a global fashion luxury group.

Impeccable craftsmanship and design were the foundations for top high-end fashion brands. When those qualities continue through the decades, the results can be legendary.