seven types of fashion designers

thinking — Danielle on October 30, 2011 at 4:27 pm

or, eight types of fashion designers.

People often ask designers about their inspirations, and how they begin their collections. The question “why do you design” isn’t so often asked but is also one I find interesting. As there are different movements in art, different genres of films and endless categorizations within music, so it is with fashion.

As a bit of a mental game, I have been thinking about how I would categorize modern designers. What I’ve come up with is 7 categories. [Amendment: added one more on the suggestion of Sarah Nicole Prickett.] Most designers overlap several categories, so of course this is somewhat simplified. The categories are based on what I think the most dominant contemporary design philosophies are.


Alexander McQueen. John Galliano. Jean Paul Gaultier. Vivienne Westwood. Yves Saint Laurent.

These designers treat fashion as theatre – drama or comedy. Their collections tell stories, each with a thrilling climax. Beyond that, their entire careers also read like narrative arcs. They are adventurers, besides being outstanding characters in their own right.


Donna Karan. Thierry Mugler. Gareth Pugh. Christian Lacroix. Valentino. Gianni Versace. Oscar de la Renta. Yohji Yamomoto. Olivier Theyskens. Alexander Wang. Rodarte.

These designers create for a muse, either real or imagined – dressing a distinctive protagonist. Their clothes appeal to people who cast themselves in their own lives – whether Mugler’s pop androids, Wang’s downtown slummers, or Valentino’s romantic heroines.


Tom Ford. Coco Chanel. Marc Jacobs. Halston. Victoria Beckham. Karl Lagerfeld. Betsey Johnson. Gwen Stefani.

These designers use themselves as their own muse. In addition to being talented in design, they are also always articulate communicators in multiple media. Because they also saturate visual, written and audio, their work has a way of seeping through the skin of fashion’s bubble to the larger population. They create vivid brands – though not always brands that outlive their creator.

This group is also adept at something else – personal transformation. Without exception, these are exceptional, rare human beings. They have to work hard to keep up with themselves, and they do.


Michael Kors. Ralph Lauren. Calvin Klein. Giorgio Armani. Phoebe Philo.

These are the zeitgeist sensors. They tap into what people want to, as Calvin Klein puts its, “be”. They design with a lifestyle in mind, not necessarily a realistic lifestyle, but the ones that most people want to live. They outfit humanity for its dearest dreams, whether we admit it or not.

Because they flatter universal human desire to be admired, they are brilliant at establishing international brands with longevity.


Margiela. Hussein Chalayan. Viktor & Rolf.

These designers are modern artists. Their work belongs in museums, their shows are statements. They approach disturbing subjects and push the boundaries of what a human body can physically adorn itself with. Their audience are all aficianados – most of them also creators in some capacity. You have to be somewhat literate in history and construction to appreciate a lot of their work, but the barriers to entry are part of what makes these designers so exceptional.


Schiaparelli. Jeremy Scott. Ann-Sofie Back. Walter van Bierendonck. Rudy Gernreich. Henry Holland. Rei Kawukubo.

These designers could also be included with the conceptualists, I think the distinction here is that the work tends to be fashion-referential and often cleverly so. They are the op-ed page of The Fashion Times – as such their work also tends to be of-the-moment and not always enduring. They also demand a bit of pop culture and design intelligence to adequately absorb them.


Christopher Kane. Vionnet. Mark Fast. Issey Miyake. Jeremy Laing.

I’ve already discussed technicians here – their starting point is the possibilities of materials. They are innovators, experimenters, the scientists of fashion. They influence the next generation of designers.


Mr. Pearl. Angela Missoni. Paul Smith. Christian Louboutin.

These designers focus on developing a narrow specialization. They maintain tradition and continuity in design and construction. Tailors are the purest form of artisans. Many menswear designers favour a design process based on tradition. Certain brands like Burberry and Hermes demand a designer who can treat the past with respect.

Of course this is just one way you could think of it. Does a particular type of designer resonate with you?

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    1. Danielle, I’m a fan of your work! I love this article in particular, though. Very insightful and an interesting exercise which I haven’t seen done by anyone else. Did you go to fashion school?

      Take care and good luck with all your endeavors!

      Comment by Yvonne — October 31 2011 @ 10:48 am
    2. Thank you Yvonne. I did go to fashion school – for design – Ryerson University in Toronto. A very technical/commercially focused program.

      Comment by Danielle — October 31 2011 @ 10:52 am
    3. What about Balenciaga in the Technicians category?

      Comment by Elle — November 6 2011 @ 6:55 am
    4. Bookmarked with a capital B!

      I love the Narrators.
      Also the artisans.

      I respect the Technicians, but usually look more to what hey have inspired than to what they themselves have created.

      Something along those lines applies to the Conceptualists, too.

      This all applies in the broadest of senses – there are probably designers who appeal to me within all the types.

      Comment by Ana — November 6 2011 @ 3:22 pm
    5. Elle – totally agree Christobel Balenciaga fits in the Technician category.

      Glad you enjoyed Ana!

      Comment by Danielle — November 7 2011 @ 2:58 pm
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