1980s Fashion Designers

1980s Fashion Designers

Jean Paul Gaultier

The Enfant Terrible of French Fashion. 

Gaultier was born in 1952 and never received formal training as a designer. He instead sent sketches to couture houses. From this, Pierre Cardin hired him in 1970. He also worked for Jacques Estelle and Jean Patou. He released his own collection in 1976. His designs were decadently unusual for the time but editors of both Elle and Marie Claire took note. 

In 1980, he designed women’s dresses out of plastic bags. 2 years later, he formally founded his eponymous label. His ‘Boy Toy’ collection relaunched the mariniére/ Breton sailor top for men- an example of a classic garment that had been ‘Gaultiered’. 

By 1984, his designs were stocked in Bergdorf Goodman in New York. That year, he also introduced the cone bra corset we now associate with Madonna. He became fascinated with corsetry after rummaging through his grandmothers wardrobe and finding mid century corsets and bullet bras. In Madonna’s 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan, she wore a skirt and suspenders she had bought from Gaultier. She also wore his dress corset to the movie’s premiere. 

In 1984, he released his line of kilts with the ‘And God Made Man’ collection. The striped Breton top and kilt became staples of the label. 

In 1987, he won the French designer of the year award. 

He introduced a lower priced line of products in 1988 called Junior Gaultier. A Junior Gaultier outfit featuring a black denim dress and mesh t-shirt won Dress of the Year in 1988. This label was replaced with JPG in 1994, a unisex line. 

He released a dance single in 1988 called How To Do That.

In 1990, he designed Madonna’s iconic Blonde Ambition tour wardrobe. 

Between 1993 and 1997 he hosted the Channel 4 show Eurotrash. 

He designed the costumes for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element in 1997.

He costumed a number of other films and music videos including The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Kika, The City of Lost Children and Bad Education.


Hermès bought 35% of the company in 1999 and Jean Paul became creative director of Hermès between 2003 and 2010. 

The first stand alone Gaultier store opened in 2002, which had expanded to 40 by 2008. 

In 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Maison Jean Paul Gaultier organized a retrospective exhibit, "The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk."

He was the first fashion designer to ever sit on the Cannes Film Festival jury in 2012.

He has often used older and alternative models at his shows. The 2010s ‘granny grey’ hair trend is attributed to him after his models appeared with grey beehives at his AW 2011 show and then again in 2015.

He closed his ready to wear labels in 2015 and showed his last couture collection in 2020 before retiring. 

His main design inspirations have been French popular culture, gender fluidity, sexual fetishism and futurism. 

Claude Montana

Claude Montana with his models at a fashion show

Claude Montana, née Claude Montamat, was born in Paris in 1947. His name change was the result of his friends being unable to pronounce it, so he went with Montana to make it easier. At 17, he moved to London and began making papier-mâché jewelry out of baked toilet paper and rhinestones. Olivier Echaudemaison, who styled the covers of British Vogue, saw his jewelry and featured it on the cover, and got him a distributor. Montana went back to Paris and met John Voigt, the designer of the leather house Mac Douglas. He was hired to work with him, and started creating opulent leather designs. 

Claude Montana large shoulder fur coat with hood

Montana also met and began living with Thierry Mugler at Mugler’s parent’s apartment. This was the mid 70s post Battle of Versailles, where Paris’ fashion houses took a hit from the American designers’ success. French Haute Couture was no longer as covetable as the chic and modern ready-to-wear presented by the American designers, and Montana, Mugler, Gaultier and other designers decided to launch the new French ready-to-wear. 

Claude Montana Leather Jackets Runway

claude montana leather jackets in red and black

With his experience in leather, Montana began using more complex techniques and bold designs. He had his first fashion show in 1976, and the following year his leather coats helped put him on the fashion map. By 1978, alongside Mugler, he was creating silhouettes with massive shoulders and sci-fi silhouettes. His use of colour incorporated bold hues of red and blue, alongside neutrals and metallics, and always luxurious material like cashmere, leather and silk. He launched his company, House of Montana, in 1979 and became one of the most notable designers of 1980s high fashion. He declared in 1985 “shoulders forever” continuing with his large shoulder designs throughout the first half of the 80s. By 1988 he was presenting more narrow shoulders, and focused on standaway waists, collars and jacket fronts instead. Bill Cunningham found the styles reminiscent of artist Jean Arp. By the end of the 80s, he was accentuating with dramatic collars, like Romeo Gigli, and more natural shoulders. Mugler and Montana became rivals in the 80s, with opposing entourages and eventually opposing styles. Mugler was notable for his Hollywood Pinup looks that were completely void of comfort, and Montana was all about comfort, creating mysterious, androgynous looks.  

Claude Montana sweaters and leather pants 1980s runway

claude montana for lanvin

claude montana for lanvin

claude montana for lanvin

Through the 1980s and early 90s Montana had boutiques in Paris, three fragrances, and in 1989, he was selected to design couture for Lanvin. He was first offered to design at Dior, which would have been ideal since he cited the New Look as one of his main inspirations, however the negotiations fell through and he ended up at Lanvin. He says this was the happiest time in his career because he had dreamed of creating couture. His designs went completely off base to what was expected, and his first collection featured beaded t-shirts, gold-embroidered leather jackets, cropped blouses, and open-back trench coats. He received very negative reviews from the American press which tortured him. He was able to redeem himself for the following collection, however he was on a downward spiral with his mental health. Montana was a heavy drug user, which made working with him erratic and disorganized, with fittings often starting in the evening and going all night long. He eventually lost his company in 1997. He became a recluse, disappearing from the fashion world. He published a coffee table book in 2011, called “Claude Montana: Fashion Radical”. 

Manfred Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler

Born in 1948 in Strasbourg, France, Mugler’s fascination with theatrics and design developed at the age of 9 when he began dancing ballet, and then joined the National Rhine Opera at 14. He studied interior design at the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts and at 20 he moved to Paris. He began designing his own clothing, working for one boutique, before heading off freelance and designing for RTW fashion houses in Paris, London, Milan and Barcelona. In 1973, he launched his first clothing line called ‘Café de Paris’. Azzedine Alaïa worked under Mugler, helping him launch his first collections up until the late seventies. 

1989 mugler 1979/1980

He launched his own label in 1974, and in 1976 was asked by fashion editor Melka Treanton to show his collection in Tokyo. He opened his first boutique in Paris in 1978, and launched a line of menswear. The 80s he really started to shine on the world stage, with supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, and celebrities like George Michael and RuPaul supporting his work.

Thierry Mugler 1992 shot by Ellen von UnwerthThierry Mugler's cowboy outfit lensed by Ellen von Unwerth

Thierry Mugler rhinestone red cowboy outfit 1992

France’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture requested he create an haute couture collection in 1992, which saw his designs become even more daring and sculptural, inspired by sci-fi. He emphasized the large shouldered silhouettes, and decorated each piece with heavy embellishments. His looks often incorporated latex, and were fetish-inspired and erotic. In 1998, he was the first designer to create a virtual fashion show on the computer and he released his second book ‘Fashion Fetish Fantasy’.   

thierry mugler ss 1982Flower dresses from SS 1982

Thierry Mugler

His designs were quite literal, taking inspiration from insects in 1997’s A/W collection which featured one look where the model looked completely animal, a combination of bug, bird and fish. The look was in collaboration with Mr. Pearl who created the corset. It took six weeks, with a team of 20 working 24 hours a day with a day shift and night shift. 

thierry mugler insect collection 1997

His inspirations were also derived from his love of comic book heroes like Spiderman and Batman. He wanted to emulate the femme fatales, and chose models who could embody the allure and seductive qualities they possessed, like his muse Jerry Hall. “It was powerful women that were able to kill people in these comic books,” he said. “Jerry Hall was a femme fatale, she always stayed in control.”

thierry mugler motorcycle bodysuit and sci fi bodysuits

“I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on Earth: the human being. I have used all of the tools at my disposal to sublimate this creature: fashion, shows, perfumes, photography, video..”

jerry hall in thierry mugler fitting
david bowie in a mugler dress for his music video for boys keep swinging

David Bowie was also a fan of Mugler throughout his career  - he wore a Mugler dress on national tv for his Boys Keep Swinging performance on SNL in 1979. Bowie handed his stylists $10,000 cash and they bought the Mugler outfits on sale at Henri Bendel for $100 each! He wore a Mugler tuxedo on his wedding day. 

Beyonce in Mugler for I Am Tour 2009

He left his label in 2003, and designed the costumes for Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, as well as the looks for Beyonce’s “I Am” tour. She fell in love with his superhero designs at the Met Gala the prior year, and he made 71 pieces for her concert, as well as art-directed portions of her performance and videos. She continued to wear his iconic designs throughout her career. 

Kim Kardashian wet look by Thierry Mugler for 2019 met gala, and cardi B in birth of venus by mugler for grammys 2019He also came out of retirement in 2019 to dress Kim Kardashian for the Met Gala in the wet look dress, which took 8 months to make. She was even in attendance at the opening of his retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. He also dressed Cardi B for the 2019 Grammys in three different archival looks, including his iconic Birth of Venus dress. 

Beyonce renaissance world tour bee outfit inspired by mugler

Since his passing, Beyonce has since paid homage to him on her Renaissance tour, wearing outfits by Mugler’s new creative director who pulled inspiration from Mugler’s past designs.

Christian Lacroix

Christian Lacroix

Chrsitian Lacroix was born in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, in the South of France. He began sketching historical costumes when he was young, and in 1969 he moved to Montpellier to study art history. His initial aspiration was to become a museum curator, and he did his dissertation on dress in French 18th-century painting. 

christian lacroix gowns runway collection

He ended up in fashion, first working as a fashion assistant at Hermes, and then in accessories at Guy Paulin. He became a designer at the house of Jean Patou from 1981-1986, designed for theatre, opera, film and stage in 1985. He launched his eponymous label in 1987.

Christian Lacroix for Jean Patou haute couture

He was awarded the Golden Thimble Award in 1986, 1988, and won Most Influential Foreign Designer Award by the CFDA in 1987 after the launch of his own line. He also won the Moliere Award for best costumes in 1996 for Phedre. 

Christian Lacroix for Patou 1980s

While at Patou, he was able to really hone his own style. His first collections were inspired by earlier Patou designs, but eventually developed his own unique style which helped him rise to popularity. His 1985 collection was inspired by his childhood and helped him break out as a designer to watch. By 1986, he had become a star for his collection for Patou, which included a short bubble dress, and pouf dress which set the trend. He was inspired by his love of costume history, and gave everything a playful feel. He told Time Magazine “I am very sure that haute couture should be fun, foolish and almost unwearable. We are like a beautiful Christmas window in a store. We have to make dreams.” His designs featured crinolines, taffeta eyelet skirts, and wide-based skirts and dresses with lots of volume. He wanted to leave Patou, and received an offer to open his own couture company by 1987. Upon his departure, Patou closed down Patou’s couture line. Lacroix signed a 99 year contract to design his own fashion house with the French company Financiere Agache. 

christian lacroix ready to wear 2000s

Lacroix launched a ready-to-wear collection in 1988, inspired by his couture designs but simplified for everyday. In 1994 he introduced Bazaar, a collection of more casual clothes. In the early 2000s, he relaunched his career creating wedding dresses, and couture collections. He designed Catherine Zeta-Jones’ wedding dress when she married Michael Douglas. He also designed Christina Aguilara’s wedding dress, and notably Lady Gaga wore his fall 2008 couture bridal centrepiece for her video for the 2011 single Judas. She wore another dress from his 2007 f/w couture collection for her 4th interlude during the Chromatica Ball, and also wore the final bridal look, from Lacroix’s last show in 2009. Mary-Kate Olsen wore Christian Lacroix to the Met Gala in 2009. 

Lady Gaga in Christian Lacroix 2007 for Judas Music Video

Lady Gaga Chromatica Ball in Christian Lacroix Bridal Look

Catherine Zeta Jones and Christina Aguilera Wedding Dresses by Christian Lacroix

By 2001 he designed costumes for more than 20 shows all over the world, including the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Gaiete Parisienne, and his first film Les Enfants du Siece. He became the head designer of Pucci in 2002-2005. In 2004 he designed the uniforms for the Air France staff and crew. He has also designed the interiors for luxury hotels.


Kenzo runway show 1980s

"Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick with the same menu”
Born in 1939 in Himeji, Hyōgo Japan, Kenzo Takada wanted to study fashion from a young age. He wanted to attend the same fashion school as his sister, but his parents would not let him. Despite this, he finished one semester of English literature and then left for Tokyo. He became the first man accepted at the oldest Japanese school of fashion design, Bunka Fashion College, which had only ever allowed girls to attend.

KENZO runway show

He graduated and won the prestigious Soen prize from Soen fashion magazine. He began designing girls’ clothing for a department store in 1960, making up to 40 styles every month. In 1964, Tokyo was preparing for the Olympics and his apartment block was torn down. He was given 10 months rent in compensation and took the money to move to Paris. He started sketching his first series of 30 designs, inspired by Courrèges. Louis Feraud bought 5 of the designs, and for the next few years he worked for various department stores and textile groups. He made enough money to open his first boutique in 1970, which was called Jungle Jap. The name was inspired by the painting of The Dream, by Henri Rousseau, of a woman laying in a lush jungle. He painted a mural of it in his shop. Takada told the New York Times two years later: “I knew it had a pejorative meaning, but I thought if I did something good I would change the meaning.”
He eventually changed the name of his label to simply Kenzo.

Kenzo mural
He originally planned to be in Paris for 6 months but ended up staying for 56 years. His designs were unique compared to what was happening in Parisian fashion at the time. For the opening of his boutique in 1970, he created a square sweater which set the tempo for his distinctive style. He also combined kimono fabric with flea market fabrics, creating one of a kind mix and match looks. He said “When I opened my shop, I thought there was no point in me doing what French designers were doing, because I couldn’t do that.” His clothing was meant to free the body rather than restrict it, creating movement and volume, not having zippers and fasteners.

In 1972 in an interview with the New York Times he said “Fashion is not for the few - it is for all the people.” One of his pieces ended up on the front of Elle magazine and by 1972 he opened several more stores. He traveled extensively and drew inspiration from other countries dress, from Eastern European folk dress, to Northern Africa, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, and Spain.

His runway shows were playful and theatrical. He was the first to send multiple models down the runway at a time, and the first designer to put celebrities on the catwalk. In 1972, 800 people were expected to view his collection and more than 3000 showed up. He added an annual couture show in 1976, and in 1979 held his show in a circus tent, where models rode in on horses and he rode in on an elephant.
In the 1980s Kenzo introduced a menswear line, perfumes, household fabrics and scarves.
The 90s saw a lot of tragedy for Takada. Between 1990 and 91 he lost his partner of 25 years, his mother, and his longtime pattern maker. In 1993 he sold Kenzo to LVMH for $80m. He stayed on as creative director until 1999, and eventually left to pursue his art practice as a painter. He also developed a homewares line. In 2019, he designed the costumes for a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in Tokyo. He also launched a brand of furniture, fabric and ceramics in 2019. He died in October 2020.



Mariuccia Mandelli entered the world of fashion in the beginning of the 1950s. She named her line Krizia, after Plato’s male character Crizia from an unfinished dialogue about women’s vanity that centres around a man who spends his riches on jewellery and clothing for beautiful women. She opted for the letter K rather than C, to sound more exotic.


She had her first show in 1957, at the SAMIA in Turin where the editor of Grazia, Elsa Haerter, and Henri Bendel were both in attendance and took notice of the budding designer.

During the 60s when women’s fashion was all about twin-sets, she introduced knitted pullovers with mixed yarn, and created a new look for the modern woman.

In 1964 she showed at Palazzo Pitti with a collection of black and white plissé dresses and mini cardigans. She won the Critica della moda award, which had only ever been awarded to Emilio Pucci.

krizia animal sweaters
She continued to design knitwear becoming known for her signature use of unique yarn combinations. She also became known for her “lucky charm” animals, which were knit into her runway sweaters. You’ll find sweaters that feature sheep, cats, leopards, pandas, tigers, and her symbol, a panther. As she grew to use a factory outside Milan, she experimented with new materials like anaconda skin, metallized silver, bronze and gold. Her harmonica pleats and shiny clothing gave her style a distinctive look. She was dubbed “Crazy Krizia” in the fashion world for her exuberant and embellished designs.

jerry hall in krizia
She would always skew against the trend of the day, and in 1971 she presented the first hot pants while maxi dresses graced the other runways. Her introduction of hot pants won her the Tiberio d’oro award in Capri. Her lines eventually expanded to children’s wear, menswear, housewares, and perfume. She was one the leaders in Italian fashion design throughout the 70s and 80s, and won the title of Commendatore della Repubblica Italiana in 1986, the Donna Ideale Leader in 1988 and the Premio Maschere D’Oro for her prolific, 40 year career in 1996.

Karl Lagerfeld, Alber Elbaz and Giambattista Valli spent early days of their career working under her.
Her design ethos was aimed at the “free woman” - she said “A free woman can wear anything she feels comfortable in.”

Her clothing was worn onscreen by Daryl Hannah in Wall Street, Morgan Fairchild in Falcon Crest, Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, and Bret Easton Ellis referenced it in American Psycho.

krizia plaid dress runway show

She ended up designing an exclusive hotel, called the K Club, in the island of Barbuda in the Antilles, where she designed everything from the silverware to the maids uniforms.

Alberta Ferretti 

Alberta Ferretti is an Italian fashion designer who opened her first boutique, called Jolly, in 1968 and designed her first collection in 1973. She co-founded a clothing manufacturing company, Aeffe S.p.A. in 1976. She began designing seasonal collections in 1981, showing at the Milan runways. She also launched a jean line, Ferretti Jeans Philosophy (later renamed Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti).

She was among a group of Italian designers who were invited to a reception for 200 designers and retailers held by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street London in October 1988.

She started Aeffe U.S.A. which produced and distributed European designer clothing in the States from such labels as Moschino and Emanuel Ungaro.

In-store boutiques opened at Bergdorf Goodman in 1998 and her first American free standing store opened in Soho, New York shortly after.

Her designs are well known for their ethereal quality with abundant use of twisting, tucking and draping techniques. Her style of clothing is often layered, feminine and sensual. Her whimsical chiffon dresses are of particular note. 

She has been awarded many prestigious awards in her native Italy for the significant role she has played in promoting Italian fashion and business. In September 2021, on the occasion of the 78th Edition of the Venice Film Festival, Ferretti accepted the WiCa Award - Women in Cinema Award - that recognised her impact in the world of fashion.

Recently, Ferretti designed a number of exquisite gowns for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour which Taylor wears during the Folklore section of her show. These dramatic dresses mix bohemian and goddess elements to produce the perfect accompaniment for Taylor’s enchanted-forest-vibe songs. The four Ferretti dresses we have seen Taylor wear on alternating nights are lilac, green, pale pink, blue and white.

Ferretti said of the custom dresses: “I think what we have created reflects this journey where the key elements of my style stand out: lightness, femininity, romance, attention to detail and a delicate, gentle seduction."


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