Forbes Top 10 Fashion Designers

Ralph Lauren

1. Estimated Sales: $2.65 billion
Awards: 2000 Fashion Walk of Fame; numerous Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, including a 1996 menswear award and a 1992 Lifetime Achievement Award; many others
Press Mentions: 9962

“Polo” was a pretty aspirational moniker for the son of a Bronx house painter to give his first product line–a group of men’s ties. But 38 years later, Lauren’s idea of selling class and breeding (with a touch of WASP tradition) is still right on the money–literally. His latest venture, Rugby, named for the posh boarding school where the game was created, aims at 15- to 25-year-olds with edgy, preppy sportswear. With enough lines to dress his customers from cradle to grave (not to mention outfit their beds and rooms), Lauren has won every award the fashion industry has to offer. He certainly gets the prize for consistency and longevity.

Muccia Prada

2. Estimated Sales: $1.75 billion
Awards: 2004 Council of Fashion Designers of America international award (one of several CFDA awards); three VH-1 Music and Fashion Awards; many others
Press Mentions: 1276

Not all of the Spring 2006 Prada menswear collection was black–just most of it (with a few madcap beiges and grays thrown in). Didn’t know black was back? It is if Miuccia Prada, with her impeccable timing, says so. She’s made nylon handbags and backpacks into must-haves, and men’s plain white t-shirts (read: undershirts) irresistible. She is quirky and tough, with a penchant for mixing mass and class seamlessly. And she always knows what sells under the Prada and lower-priced Miu Miu labels. After 27 years with the company started by her grandfather, she remains one of the most influential designers in the world.

Karl Lagerfeld

3. Estimated Sales: $800 million*
Awards: 2003 World Fashion Award; 2002 Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award (one of several CFDA awards); many others
Press Mentions: 5061

Women want whatever Kaiser Karl makes–and they take the knockoffs, like faux-Chanel chenille jackets, the ubiquitous quilted bag or bicolored ballerina flats, too. The German-born Lagerfeld made his reputation by interpreting Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s original vision for a younger, more modern customer, while managing to keep the cachet. He also designs for Fendi and recently turned his attention to the masses with more democratically priced lines, like Lagerfeld Gallery for men and women, and a women’s range for retailer H&M. Also a photographer and author, he even has a role in an upcoming film, La Doublure, (The Lining). He plays himself–and he’s probably a stitch.

Stefano Gabbana & Domenico Dolce

4. Estimated Sales: $800 million
Awards: 2004 German Leadaward (for Fall/Winter 2003/04 advertising campaign); 2004 British Elle Style Award (best international designers); 2003 GQ Men of the Year Awards (best designer of the year); many others
Press Mentions: more than 950 total

Fashion’s “Sicilian Clan”–a family of two–celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. They’ve added men’s and women’s fragrances, both called Sicily, to a look they describe as “sneakers and crocodile shoes”–either something simple or something that is pure luxury. These days, the overt sexiness that made them hits with the likes of Jennifer Lopez is evolving into something more sensual and understated in the Dolce & Gabbana and D&G lines. A younger and less-expensive third brand, & (pronounced ‘and’), was launched in 2001. Expanding the retail empire, they vow never to sell despite overtures from just about everyone. Never say never.

Isaac Mizrahi

5. Estimated Sales: $500 million over three years
Awards: Four Council of Fashion Designers of America awards (including 1991 and 1989 womenswear designer of the year); nominated for a 1993 Emmy for costume design; many others
Press Mentions: 1639

In the Mizrahi camp, having multiple personalities is not a disorder. The designer’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed since he burst onto the scene in the ’90s, got financing from Chanel, then disappeared in 1998 when the fickle French backers changed their minds. These days, there’s no escaping the impish, irresistible Isaac, who does TV, wants to make movies and designs women’s clothing for Target as well as a custom line for posh retailer Bergdorf Goodman. The cheeky charmer has shown the two lines together–the $10 T-shirts with the $20,000 ball skirts–and expects his customers to be seduced. Well, why not?

Christopher Bailey

6. Estimated Sales: $301 million
Awards: 2005 British Fashion Award nomination (Designer of the Year, awards to take place in November), 2001 British Fashion Award (contemporary design collection of the year) to Burberry
Press Mentions: 421

These days, even the dogs in New York wear Burberry’s, and this is the bloke to thank. He took the fusty, 150-year-old British company’s iconic beige, black and persimmon-check trench coat lining and set it loose on hats, scarves, bags, coats and jackets, which define cutting-edge cool for customers of all ages. Bailey, 34, was discovered by Donna Karan while he was still a student in London, and spent five years designing women’s wear at the side of Tom Ford at Gucci. Not even Burberry model Kate Moss’ drug rap can take the bloom from this rose.

Rei Kawakubo

7. Estimated Sales: $145 million
Awards: 2000 Excellence in Design Award from Harvard University; 1993 Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; many others dating back to the 1980s
Press Mentions: 324

She’s been called “anti-fashion” for her deconstructed, distressed, destroyed and frayed creations, which look more like art or architecture than clothing. But with Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, she put futuristic Japanese design on the map and inspired a cult of designers that include Belgians Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, as well as Junya Watanabe, deemed the “designer to watch” by the fashion press. Kawakubo’s shops worldwide are all cement and rust, an outrageously gritty take on industrial landscapes. She’s been making waves lately with her wildly successful “guerrilla” stores, operations that open unannounced, operate for about a year and then close. Call it retail’s answer to

Manolo Blahnik

8. Estimated Sales: $75 million
Awards: 2002 Medalla de Oro en Merito en las Bellas Artes; 2001 La Aguja de Oro (“The Golden Needle”); several Council of Fashion Designers of America awards; 1990 and 1999 British Fashion Awards (accessory designer of the year); many others
Press Mentions: 1629

Who can forget the Sex and the City scene where urban uber-vixen Carrie Bradshaw is willing to give up anything to a mugger–except her strappy Manolo Blahniks? The show may have introduced the “Manolos” to the masses, but Blahnik has been making stilettos into objects of desire–and winning awards for it–since 1972. The Spanish-born designer personally hand finishes the vertiginously high beechwood heels. He shares a few customers with Jimmy Choo, but he’s the only couture cobbler in the world that’s a household name–in households with shoes that cost $40 as well as $400.

Stefano Pilati

9. Estimated Sales: $64 million
Awards: 2005 Graduate Fashion Week River Island Gold Award
Press Mentions: 468

Talk about tough acts to follow: first the legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, then Tom Ford. But Stefano Pilati is certainly up for the job of designing men’s and women’s clothing under the YSL logo. Having worked at Prada and Giorgio Armani, he beat out Alexander McQueen for the top slot at the 44-year-old French house. Pilati’s first shows were less than stellar, but he got hot with Hollywood by resurrecting all the glamour and zeitgeist of YSL at his peak: lady-like, waist-conscious slim silhouettes, tuxedos and safari jackets for women; tailored linen trousers and jackets, waistcoats, foulards and navy turtlenecks with cool white shorts for men.

John Varvatos

10. Estimated Sales: $20 million
Awards: 2005 and 2001 Council of Fashion Designers of America (menswear designer of the year), 2001 CFDA (Perry Ellis Award for menswear)
Press Mentions: 484

The hipster crowd finds him boor-ing, but what do they know? Varvatos puts a new twist on impeccably tailored menswear, like $1,500 suits and $500 sweaters, with some of the most interesting textiles out there: twills, tweeds, alpaca, camel hair and leather–not all of it black, alas–that he pairs with cool boots of his own design. An alum of the schools of Calvin and Ralph, Varvatos was named best new men’s designer in 2000 and has twice been named Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. John Varvatos’ fragrance hit the stores last year, followed by SKIN, a skincare line in 2005.






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