Who Were the Iconic Fashion Designers of the 80s?

The 1980s were a decade of bold colors, styles, silhouettes, and heaping amounts of permed hair. Fashion in the 80s were considered both innovative and raunchy by some. While the youth of today may insist on following the current fashion trends, custom tailoring and fashion influences of the 80s continue to thrive in global markets.

The 80s gave birth to ripped tights, shoulder pads, biker jackets, poof skirts, and polished oversized blazers – making it one of the most eclectic decades in fashion. This era also gave a spotlight to a different breed of fashion designers like Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein have endured the changing landscape of custom tailoring and fashion in general.

Here are some of the most iconic fashion designers of the 80s:

Calvin Klein

Fashion designer Calvin Klein is known for his range of clothing lines that include denim, ladies’ and men’s apparel, and underwear. He launched his designer jeans in the 70s, and by the early 80s, he was leading the industry in offering more affordable designer jeans to the market. Calvin Klein became a major player in the denim market dominated by the likes of Jordache, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Sasson.

During the 80s, his name-brand underwear and luxurious perfumes became popular due to his use of provocative billboards and print ads that feature models and celebrities almost naked in exotic poses.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren is known for his sportswear line Polo Ralph Lauren, the centerpiece of his fashion empire. He was considered to design the power suit of the 80s, and his looks were popular with the preppy community. His classic polo shirts became a wardrobe essential, and his casual yet aristocratic style created a look that was popular within a wide range of age groups and social classes. His polo shirt is enduring, as it is still popular today.

Lauren capitalized on an aspirational style and key insignia that evokes the British gentry while also giving the nod to the aesthetics of the American upper class. Some criticized his fashion ideas for not being innovative, but it was embraced by consumers who prefer more approachable looks.

Giorgio Armani

Giorgio Armani is an iconic clothing designer best known for his men’s power suits. He launched a company with a business partner in 1975, Giorgio Armani, featuring a mean and women’s ready-to-wear collection. At that time, his clothes were revolutionary because of their more natural fit and subtle color palette.

Though he was famous in Italy and Europe in the 70s, his fame in the fashion world skyrocketed in America during the 80s, when actor Richard Gere wore his suits in the 1980 film American Gigolo, and by various actors on the television series Miami Vice starring Don Johnson. Soon, most top Hollywood stars wore Armani on the red carpet, making Armani a pioneer in red carpet fashion. For business professionals in the 80s, wearing Armani suits became a symbol of success.

Gianni Versace

A world-famous Italian fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was the founder of the luxury fashion house Versace. He was not only influential in the 80s, but he became one of the most important designers in the world. In 1982, Versace produced a collection showing metallic garments that became his trademark – super light chainmail called Oroton. His experience inspired his suits in female tailoring, and it accentuated the male form.

In the late 80s, Versace expanded into haute couture with the launch of Atelier Versace, making the brand known for employing celebrities in marketing campaigns. Seating celebrities in front rows of fashion shows might be commonplace now, but Versace was the first to do so. He was also credited for inventing the supermodel vogue of the 90s, as he discovered major supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood was one of the most iconic designers of the 70s because she made dresses for the punks, and she was one of the biggest designers to influence the New Romantics style. In 1981, with her first catwalk show, “Pirate,” she spearheaded the new romantic fashion of flamboyant historical clothing.

When the punk movement faded in the 80s, West wood was constantly ahead of the curve – not just influencing fashion but often dictating it. Her collection of frilly shirts and her mini-crini dresses made her relevant in the decade.

Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld is a creative director that took Chanel and Fendi to new heights. The German fashion designer is best known as the creative power behind the modern revival of Chanel, which was considered a near-dead brand before Lagerfeld took over in the 80s. After Coco Chanel died, the brand somehow declined, but Lagerfeld brought back life to Chanel and made it a huge success by revamping its ready-to-wear fashion line. He was also responsible for the interlocked “CC” logo of Chanel.

In the 80s, Lagerfeld was also behind the success of Fendi, as the company launched their jeans and sunglasses collection and their female fragrance, sportswear, and accessory collection.

Issey Miyake

Issey Miyake is a Japanese fashion designer who is known for combining Eastern and Western elements in his work. He worked with big names in the Western fashion world, such as Hubert de Givenchy, Geoffrey Beene, and Guy Laroche. Kimonos and Western clothing had mixed when he returned to Japan in the 70s, so he saw an opportunity to forge a new direction. He displayed his own collection in a Paris fashion show and developed the layered and wrapped look that he was famous for. Launching in 1982, Miyake sold the “East Meets West” look that consisted mostly of T-shirts dyed with Japanese tattoo designs and coats featuring a Japanese embroidery technique that strengthens the fabric.

In the 80s, Miyake became an internationally-recognized name, and other Japanese designers, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who presented their avant-garde collections and his boldly-colored work during the Paris ready-to-wear collections. He became known for his line of fragrances in the 90s.

Jean-Paul Gaultier

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s irreverent style dating from the 80s made him be known as the enfant terrible of French fashion. He’s a designer who challenged popular gender notions and drew from punk and edgy street influences. He mixes cultural topics with French elegance, as his designs featured cross-breeding, androgynous styling, corsets, culture shocks, and tin can jewels.

In 1983, Gaultier’s collection relaunched the maniere for men. The year after, he introduced a line of skirts (actually kilts) for men, which was a breakthrough in men’s fashion but stirred a bit of controversy. He also introduced the iconic women’s corset with cone bra and actually designed Madonna’s famous cone bra costume for her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. Gaultier defied expectations during his runway shows and was known to have over-the-top spectacles.

Donna Karan

Known for her DKNY collection, Dona Karan targeted younger consumers and a lower price range. As a fashion designer, Karan insisted that she would create dresses that she’d love to wear herself, such as jersey dresses and opaque Lycra tights. She launched DKNY, a cheaper version of her clothing collection, in 1988. DKNY became very successful, and after two years, she launched DKNY jeans and became a hit in the market.

Karan was known for her “Essentials” line, which offered easy pieces centered around the bodysuit which could be mixed and matched. In 1985, she launched a fully integrated wardrobe with her First Collection.

Franco Moschino

Franco Moschino was a fashion designer who made a mark in fashion in the 80s until the early 90s. He was best known for Moschino casual wear and jeans. When he started out in his career, he worked as an illustrator for Gianni Versace. He launched his own label in 1983 and named it Moonshadow. That same year, he also launched Moschino Couture!

Moschino’s designs were innovative and unusual, such as a quilted jacket decorated with bottle tops, quilted black denim mini skirt with plastic fried eggs decorating the hemline, bodices made of safety pins, and plug-socket drop earrings. He was sometimes dubbed as the Jean-Paul Gaultier of Italian fashion – but while Gaultier experiments with shapes and fabrics, Moschino used basic forms and traditional methods. He also spoofed high fashion lines through his clothes by adding an applique play on words on the clothing. For instance, he embroidered “Expensive Jacket” in gold across the back of a cashmere jacket and “Bull Chic” on a matador-styled outfit. Many sought to wear his designs, making him successful in the industry he satirized.

Thierry Mugler

During the 80s and 90s, Thierry Mugler became an internationally-recognized designer known for his shapely suits. His fashion shows, fetishistic fashions, and spectacular runway shows. Mugler – whose designs are known for being glamorous, sexy, and fetish-inspired – excelled in the 80s by exaggeration.

His fashion shows were always extravagant and held in arena-like environments. The collections associated always had themes. Mugler came to his fashion design career via dance (he was previously a ballet dancer) and photography.

Gianfranco Ferre

Gianfranco Ferre was known to be the architect of fashion, as he was originally trained as an architect who offered a unique background and original attitude towards fashion design. Known for his voluminous organza shirts, Ferre became the artistic director at Christian Dior in 1989. His first collection followed in that same year, and it only took nine weeks to finish.

His first fashion show for Dior earned him the Golden Thimble, which was the highest fashion honor in Paris.

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto became successful as a professional designer in the 80s in Paris. The Japanese fashion designer was known for using voluminous garments to wrap and drape around the body in unstructured ways. He offers an avant-garde spirit in his clothing and frequently creates designs that are far from the current trends. Yamamoto’s signature silhouettes often feature drapery in different textures and are predominantly made in black.

Yamamoto wanted to design men’s coats for women, so their bodies stayed guarded and hidden from the cold winds of men’s sight. He constantly explores the connection between masculine and feminine and makes clothes for women with an artistic or intellectual bent.