View all newsletters
Latest in Luxury - Sign up to our weekly newsletter
  1. Style
  2. Fashion
September 20, 2013updated Dec 20, 2023

Most Iconic Fashion Designs of All Time

By Chris Boyle

“Fashions fade, style is eternal,” Yves Saint Laurent once remarked. No truer words have ever been spoken, as any fashionista worth their Manolos will tell you.

For while some clothing fads breeze in and out of our lives like a fickle, fair-weather friend (day glo leggings anyone?), visionary fashion house heads such as Saint Laurent, Chanel and Dior created a number of concepts so timelessly elegant they have simply never fallen out of style.

Iconic pieces such as the Chanel three-piece, the Burberry trench and the YSL safari jacket – to name but a few – have remained steadfast in any stylish woman’s repertoire, whatever her age and general approach to fashion.

Not only that, but these fashion staples continue to be reinterpreted by their respective houses every season, without the threat of brand desertion from a style conscious audience. Rather, the opposite: We continue to buy into these classic pieces and their 2.0 updates – no matter how many times they are reimagined or copied by mass high street manufacturers.

But just what are the keys to creating a design classic that can genuinely stand the test of time?

The role of practicality and ‘wearability’ is one that cannot be underestimated. Do you plan to walk through LAX airport in Alexander McQueen’s 10-inch Armadillo shoes or Vivienne Westwood’s iconic stack heels to hop on your next flight? We didn’t think so – unless you’re Lady Gaga, perhaps.

While sleeveless capes might look pretty and the recent trend for leather cut-out sundresses may have a certain luxe appeal, trends emerge every season that are simply not practical or flattering on most figures and these are the ones that inevitably lose their currency – fast.

Minimalism and a pared-down quality also play an important role in creating enduring fashion. As the great Mademoiselle Chanel once said: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

No coincidence then, that iconic pieces such as Chanel’s ‘Little Black Dress’ and YSL’s safari jacket created a ripple effect across the world which has lasted up until the present day. Elegantly simple, infinitely wearable, these seminal concepts have reappeared in the signature fashions of every decade since.

Content from our partners
Clase Azul México Unveils New Mezcal
Elevate Your Wealth Experience with Whittier Trust
A Tailored Guide to Spain's Fashion History

Of course ‘high fashion’ itself is a far more complicated scenario than it was when Dior introduced his ‘New Look’ silhouette back in the late forties. As the late Alexander McQueen once explained: “It’s a new era in fashion – there are no rules. It’s all about the individual and personal style, wearing high-end, low-end, classic labels, and up-and-coming designers all together.”

Which is why in the current fashion climate – where almost anything goes – it’s comforting to know there are some classic items that can always be relied upon in terms of quality and endurance. But just what are some of the most influential and iconic designs of all time? Join us as Milan Fashion Week comes to a close to take a peek.

Chanel Suit

From the classic 2.55 flap bag to the LBD, Coco Chanel is responsible for a lengthy list of trends and styles that continue to be embraced by both high fashion and on the high street.

The Chanel suit – whether in its original form or a more recent Lagerfield incarnation – is one such iconic house signature.

One of the brand’s ‘les éléments éternels’, the enduring piece has been worn by fashion icons such as Jackie O, Grace Kelly and today’s screen starlets for almost a century now.

As Coco Chanel herself once said: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” And there is surely no better example of this than Chanel’s world famous suit.

Burberry Trench

“Fetch me my Burberry,” King Edward VII is said to have instructed his staff before heading out to brave the English weather.

The coveted British brand is steeped in history as an outerwear company founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856 – an innovative young chap responsible for patenting the weather-proof material ‘gabardine’.

With its designer line Prorsum launched to overwhelming success in 1998, Burberry has now been in vogue for well over a decade, with designer extraordinaire Christopher Bailey constantly refreshing the brand’s approach since 2001.

The Burberry trench coat, famously worn by British officers in WWI and later modified for the masses, still remains the brand’s most recognizable piece.

Matching practicality with refinement and sophistication, it’s unlikely this gift from the fashion Gods will ever properly go out of fashion.

Dior Ballet Skirt

When Christian Dior lowered hemlines after WWII, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a step backwards for women’s fashion.

But Dior knew what all modern women, almost a century later, know: there is always a time to embrace your femininity.

After the sacrifices of the war period, fashion yearned for something more frivolous, and with his cinched-in waist and voluminous skirts – christened fashion’s ‘New Look’ – the French designer presented just that.

Today, a sumptuous Dior ballet skirt is more likely to be paired with an edgy leather jacket or casual t-shirt than a fifties Bar jacket, but nonetheless the effect is the same: floaty and fabulous femininity.

ferragamo ‘Vara’ PumpsFerragamo Pumps Camilla Belle

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Ferragamo’s patent ‘Vara’ pump is a certified design classic.

Created by company heiress Fiamma Ferragamo in the sixties, the round-toe, low-heeled pumps are the brand’s most instantly recognizable shoe, featuring the signature grosgrain ribbon and gold buckle stamped with the family signature.

The legendary design received an inspired update in 2007, with the launch of the ‘Varina’ – a casual ballet flat version.

A recent campaign, featuring stars like actress Camilla Belle and Olivia Palermo, offers Ferragamo fans the chance to design their very own bespoke pair. Go to:

YSL Smoking Jacket

It is often argued that Yves Saint Laurent empowered women through fashion more than almost any other designer throughout his lifetime.

The Paris based visionary’s 1966 ‘Le Smoking Tuxedo’ was a momentous turning point, allowing women to be feminine and macho all at once and heralding a brand era in terms of what females could acceptably wear to dinner, drinks and – of course – in the boardroom.

His timeless black wool and velvet jacket has been re-imagined on countless occasions since, and continues to be sported by models, celebrities and glamorous socialites on a daily basis.

Whether accompanied by a classic frilly tuxedo shirt, t-shirt or with absolutely nothing underneath, this is a fashion staple that’s here to stay.

Hermès Kelly Bag 

Using her boxy Hermès to shield her pregnant stomach from the flash of paparazzi bulbs, Grace Kelly enabled the Hermès handbag to achieve legendary status.

Soon after the appearance of the image in Life magazine in 1956, the Hermès ‘Sac à dépêches’ – later officially renamed the ‘Kelly bag’ – began flying off the shelves and sales of this classic piece haven’t stalled since.

The bag’s prototype was created as a saddle-holder by Hermès in the nineteenth century for Europe’s affluent, later redesigned in the ’30s into the bag we know and love today.

Manolo blahnik Stiletto

Officially the favorite shoe designer of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw (you’ll recall she once begged a mugger not to steal her Manolos), Manolo Blahnik’s iconic stilettos have been going strong for over four decades.

Debuting on Ossie Clark’s runway back in 1971, Blahnik’s super feminine shoes stood out at a time when chunky platform boots and heels were all the rage with fashion’s followers.

Festooned with cherries, ribbons, sequins, lace – and anything else girly you can possibly think of – the shoe classic saw a resurgence in the early 2000s, when it created popularity for the ‘toe cleavage’ look.

The designer confirmed their timeless appeal when he told Vogue in 2010: “I don’t know why my shoes are so popular – I am always surprised and mystified by it. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have a set time period or aging look to them.”

Calvin Klein Slip Dress

We all know that Chanel invented the ‘Little Black Dress’, but Calvin Klein was responsible for giving it a serious makeover in the 1990s, essentially turning it into a casual-looking nightie.

He sparked a brand new trend for underwear as outerwear – simultaneously fuelled by Madonna and her racy onstage get-ups – that hasn’t let up since, with bralets the latest lingerie-to-everyday trend.

Simple, more often than not, eventually graduates to ‘classic’ and this strappy above-the-knee number, a bestseller for Klein in 1989, is edgy once more in nineties-embracing 2013.

Case in point: Rihanna wore this classic red Calvin Klein slip dress reissue to a GQ party as recently as November of last year.

Persol 714s glasses

Famously favored by ‘The King of Cool’ Steve McQueen and Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, Persol 714s are one of the most iconic pairs of sunglasses ever made.

Originally designed to protect pilots and tram drivers from dust and glare, Persol’s aviators reached a new audience when McQueen sported a blue-lensed pair in the 1968 movie ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’.

In more recent times, the Italian brand – famous for creating the first ever folding frames – launched the Steve McQueen collection, allowing film fans to get their very own slice of the movie star action.

DvF Wrap Dress

Described by Vogue as a “sartorial symbol of women’s sexual liberation”, Diane von Furstenberg’s classic jersey wrap dress changed the wardrobes of women forever when it launched in 1972.

The influential design replaced the typical feminist pant suit look of the era, simultaneously making a name in fashion for its NY based creator – already world famous as the photogenic wife of a German Prince.

The most glamorous designer on the block pre Victoria Beckham, von Furstenberg explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1976: “Clothes have to reflect women’s liberation. Women today want versatile, simple, classic, comfortable, slimming clothes. This is the story of my success.”

Select and enter your email address Be the first to know about the latest in luxury lifestyle. Get the latest news on hotel openings and in-depth travel guides. Get insider access to exclusive promotions and special offers from our luxury partners.
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thank you for subscribing to Elite Traveler.

Websites in our network