No one can deny that the fashion industry has a major impact on the lives of celebrities, business executives and everyday consumers. Society takes fashion seriously. Style trends dictate where and how consumers shop and even how they budget their income.
Trends wax and wane, and companies succeed and fail, but savvy fashion leaders who have managed to weather the storm and stay on top through the years inspire respect and awe from others in the industry. The following are five business leaders who have risen to meet the rigorous and sometimes brutal challenges of the fashion world.
1. Bernard Arnault
After attending engineering school, Bernard Arnault helped run his family’s construction business. In 1981, Arnault and his wife and children moved to America where he established a construction business in Florida. In 1983, he moved back to his native France and took over a struggling textile firm called Boussac, which owned the Christian Dior brand.
With the Dior label, Arnault was able to gain a foothold in the luxury market. He built his empire by selling divisions of Boussac that did not relate to his luxury business aspirations. Through the 1990s, he continued to acquire brands including Sephora, Givenchy, TAG Heuer, Dom Perignon and Louis Vuitton, eventually forming the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton Company. Despite economic challenges that led to less demand in the luxury market, Arnault has kept control of many of the world’s most familiar luxury brands.
2. Giorgio Armani
Often called Italy’s most successful fashion designer, Giorgio Armani owns and operates his own brand of clothing. He credits his experience as a window dresser in Milan with helping him focus on the clean lines and elegant styles that later became his trademark. Before forming his own company, Armani worked as a designer for the Nino Cerruti fashion house.
In 1974, he started his own label with his friend and partner Sergio Galeotti, who later died of AIDS. In 1975, he developed a women’s clothing line with his sister, Rosanna Armani. Since then, he has also launched underwear, children’s clothing and swimwear lines. Armani was the first designer to ban ultra-thin models from his fashion shows.
3. Calvin Klein
Known and respected worldwide for his fashion designs, fragrances, watches and jewelry, Calvin Klein started his career in the New York fashion scene of the 1960s. When Calvin Klein Inc. was launched in 1968, its main focus was on women’s coat designs. Increasing recognition led Klein to branch out and design other types of clothing. His creation of a new style of tight-fitting jeans, supported by a marketing campaign that featured actress Brooke Shields, made him a household name.
4. Ralph Lauren
Born Ralph R. Lifshitz, Ralph Lauren became interested in high fashion at a young age. Growing up in the Bronx, he worked hard to earn enough money to spend on higher quality clothing instead of affordable attire. Lauren studied business at Baruch College at the City University of New York, but he dropped out after two years to join the U.S. Army. In 1968, Lauren got married and began working as a salesman for a clothing company.
Later that same year, he secured a loan and founded his own company. At first, he focused on creating quality men’s ties, but he later expanded the company to produce business suits and casual attire. Eventually, the Ralph Lauren brand grew to include lines of linens, designer fragrances, paints and household goods.
From her humble beginnings on a farm in Oklahoma, Sharen Jester Turney climbed the corporate ladder to become the woman Bloomberg named 2013’s fourth highest compensated female in the United States. After graduating college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Education, Turney started her career as an assistant buyer at Foley’s department store. She later joined Neiman Marcus and eventually became president and CEO of NM Direct, the catalog and e-commerce division of the company.
The experience helped her to gain a position as the CEO of Victoria’s Secret Direct. In 2006, she was promoted to president and CEO of Victoria’s Secret. The $6.1 billion company is the largest retailer of women’s intimate apparel, fragrances and beauty products. In 2014, Turney was named as one of two women on Glassdoor’s list of America’s Favorite Bosses. She is also known for her charitable and humanitarian efforts.