Photo:Courtesy of Proenza Schouler; Courtesy of Rick Owens; Courtesy of Sergio Hudson; Courtesy of Rodarte
When you think of famous fashion designers, who comes to mind? French powerhouses such as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Thierry Mugler? Or how about iconic Italian designers such as Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada? An endless list of prolific designers can easily fit the bill. But even I'll admit that it's easy to fall into the trope that influential designers "only" exist inside the borders of Europe. Don't get me wrong here. There's nothing I love more than French style, and I have a profound respect for La Dolce Vita. But talented designers can be found everywhere, including in the United States. American fashion designers have played a prominent role in changing the world (and fashion) as we know it. That's why there have been two whole Met Galas dedicated to exploring the lexicon of American style, why New York continues to be one of the world's fashion capitals, and why red carpet fashion dominates our newsfeeds.
American fashion has woven itself into the zeitgeist and history itself. But if you find yourself wondering which American fashion designers have been able to take up such an enormous task, you'll want to keep reading. Ahead, I've done some research and identified the fashion designers who were mavericks in their own right as well as the next generation of designers who are redefining what American fashion is today. From cementing the Americana look into the cannon to popularizing gothic grudge and streetwear, these 28 American designers are worth knowing about and shopping year-round.
Photo:Courtesy of Ralph Lauren; Courtesy of Christian Siriano; Courtesy of Rick Owens; Courtesy of Prabal Gurung; Courtesy of Rodarte; Courtesy of Proenza Schouler; Courtesy of Tory Burch
So which designers paved the way for what we know as American fashion today? We wouldn't even be where we're at without the contributions of designers like Halston and Michael Kors, of course. But there are a few standout brands that played a role in defining the industry from the '60s to the early aughts.
1. Tom Ford
Do you know the saying that everything is bigger in Texas? Well, that's a philosophy that American designer Tom Ford has taken literally throughout his career. Ford first broke into the fashion industry working for Gucci in 1990, where he served as the creative director until 2004. He launched his namesake label in 2005 and has become a force in the fashion industry because of his dramatic yet downright dreamy ready-to-wear pieces.
2. Ralph Lauren
You can't reference the Americana aesthetic without putting respect on Ralph Lauren's name. The designer founded his namesake label in 1967, and it's been a defining part of the zeitgeist ever since because of its iconic staples (think: polos, rowing blazers, and chunky cable-knit sweaters). But beyond the popular pieces, what's made Ralph Lauren a legacy brand is that the designer can tap into whatever is happening at that moment in time. From doing campaigns with R&B stars like Aaliyah in the '90s to designing that purple suit worn by Hillary Clinton, Lauren has been a part of all. It's not just another fashion brand; it's a part of history.
3. Tory Burch
Things have always been run by the "boy's club" when it comes to business (even in the fashion industry), but Tory Burch aims to change that. Burch made her way to the top by building a $1.5 billion brand that continues to influence the biggest trends since its founding in 2004. But what makes Burch's work truly special is her dedication to helping other women through the nonprofit organization Tory Burch Foundation. Founding the organization in 2009, Burch had the foresight to advocate for gender equality and invest in fellow female entrepreneurs—cementing her as a maverick doing the work to pave the way for the future.
4. Anna Sui
No shade, but the things that often pop off on TikTok or the rising fashion aesthetics aren't groundbreaking—they're simply an homage to the past that's been forgotten. For example, baby-doll dresses are part of the cottagecore aesthetic, and that dress style came back into style when Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington walked down Anna Sui's 1994 spring ready-to-wear runway. At one point or another, some of our favorite trends probably came from the collections of the Chinese American designer. Because Sui has always had a special talent for tapping into underground cultural phenomena and pairing them with historical research to stitch together pieces that encapsulate the moment we're in, her work transcends time itself.
5. Mara Hoffman
As fun as fashion is, the industry itself happens to be one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the world, and that's not something that the New York–born designer Mara Hoffman takes lightly. The creative founded her namesake label in 2000 and became known for her colorful ready-to-wear pieces worn by A-listers like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian. But it wasn't until 2015 that the brand became a force for change, as Hoffman committed to pivoting the brand and adopting ethical production practices (e.g., sourcing sustainable fabrics). Hoffman's work has not only become a beacon of light, showing that the shift to more ethical production practices is possible, but it's also stylish.
6. Rick Owens
Long before Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly were donning the gothic-grunge look, Rick Owens made it a thing. You see, you can't talk about American fashion or even the counter-culture style movement without mentioning the "prince of darkness"—aka Owens. The Southern California–born designer has not only been a part of the culture, but he's also challenged it through his ability to distort our perception, one piece of clothing at a time. Owens's ability to challenge preconceived notions through genderless pieces like shrunken leather jackets, dramatically draped gowns, and distressed knitwear asks us to see the world in a new light, making him a visionary in his own right.
7. Thom Browne
European luxury houses aren't the only brands with a taste for theatrics. Enter: Thom Browne. You may know this brand because of its over-the-top runway shows or even for his innovative take on slim-fit suiting, but what you may not know is that the designer initially wanted to act. Browne was born in Philadelphia and moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting, only to inadvertently fall in love with vintage menswear in the process. His passion for tailoring led him to leave Hollywood in 1997 and move to New York City. After working under fellow designers (like Ralph Lauren) and seeing the rise of athleisure, he decided to launch his menswear label in 2001. Since then, the designer's unique take on tailoring and expansion into womenswear has changed the way we dress and has brought the drama back into clothing (in the best way possible).
8. Marc Jacobs
Some of the most iconic designers are able to use their work to shift the culture—that's very much the case with Marc Jacobs. The New York–born designer first made waves in the industry when his post-graduate collection made him the youngest designer to win the CDFA's Perry Ellis Award and subsequently led to the launch of his namesake label in 1984. But it's not just the accolades that make Jacob an icon; it's his innovative perspective. While others may be afraid of change, Jacobs has always led the train, even if passengers weren't ready to go there. Take, for example, his '92 grunge collection. It caused such a stir but ended up being the look of the time. As Louis Vuitton's creative director, he launched the luxury house's first-ever ready-to-wear collection. Basically, Jacobs continues to drive us into the future, and we're all just coming along for the ride.
9. The Row
At times, the work of luxury designers can be a little too loud. There can be too much of an emphasis on "artistry" or design elements that get in the way of everyday functionality. But The Row isn't about that life. Founded in 2006 by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, this contemporary ready-to-wear label single-handedly ushered in one of the most significant shifts in the luxury space: the embrace of low-key luxury. The Olsen twins have managed to build a following because of their focus on sumptuous staples that don't scream "designer" (e.g., camel cashmere turtlenecks and precisely tailored trousers). The result? A brand that's managed to put the magic back in minimalism.
10. Proenza Schouler
If the American dream is all about making it, then no other brand has been able to fulfill that dream quite like Proenza Schouler. Some might initially think that the brand's rise happened by chance. After all, the label began when co-founders Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez partnered on their final project at Parsons back in 2002. But on closer inspection, you can see that the duo's rise to cult status wasn't just attributed to being bought by Barney's straight out of college or even winning five CDFA awards—it all goes back to the dream team behind it. McCollough and Hernandez have been able to build a successful brand together and blend their creative visions in a way that produces the stuff fashion people dream of.
11. Prabal Gurung
Who gets to be American? This is the question that was posed by Nepalese American fashion designer Prabal Gurung in his S/S 22 collection. And it's something that even I found myself asking as I was researching American fashion designers. What exactly makes them American? Is it where they're born or where they choose to create their work? No matter the answers to all these questions, what's undeniable is the influence that Gurung has had. Since its inception in 2009, Gurung's namesake label has cemented itself as a fixture in the American fashion industry—not just because he's won numerous awards or even because Sarah Jessica Parker and Kamala Harris are fans. It goes back to his work: romantic pieces with an edge and often a political message that reminds us that the best American designers don't check off a box. They design outside of it.
Building a fashion business on your terms is no easy feat, yet that's what Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte have been able to do. Despite having no formal background in fashion, the sisters founded their label in 2005 and have since become household names in the industry. The fanfare isn't, however, based on the rise of the regencycore aesthetic or even trends themselves. It all goes back to their approach to design. Unlike other luxury houses, they're not on the traditionally fast production cycle that other brands are on, so it allows them to only create the pieces that inspire them. And that freedom can be felt in their whimsical pieces—it's present in every feather, bead, and lace bodice found on a Rodarte design.
13. Christian Siriano
It's no secret that fashion has long struggled with inclusivity, especially when creating size-inclusive clothing. But luckily for us, Christian Siriano exists. This American designer first broke into the fashion industry when he starred in season four of Project Runway. He became the youngest designer to ever win in the series and launched his namesake label in 2008. Since his time on-screen, he's held the steady attention of the fashion industry for his flamboyant and fun ready-to-wear pieces as well as his continued dedication to designing for all body types. Whether it's sending a plus-size model down the runway or dressing the celeb set, Siriano is a designer who has been able to open up the possibilities of fashion for women everywhere and, in the process, pave the way for the future of fashion.
Unless you've been living off the grid, you're probably familiar with the brand Telfar. Its accessible designer bags have become a part of the culture and are donned by everyone, including Beyoncé. But what you may not know about this brand is that Telfar Clemens founded it in 2005. While the brand and its iconic Shopping Bag may have blown up in the past few years, this Liberian American designer has been doing the work for years and was designing an entire androgynous ready-to-wear line long before he created accessories. So it just shows that it takes time to cement yourself into legacy status. And while time will only tell what the entire legacy of Clemens will look like, it's safe to say that he's earned his place in fashion history.
Photo:Courtesy of Puppets and Puppets; Courtesy of Sergio Hudson; Courtesy of Brandon Maxwell; Courtesy of Eckhaus Latta; Courtesy of Christopher John Rogers
If you've made it this far, you've probably realized there are so many incredible American fashion designers out there that have contributed to building the lexicon of American fashion. But that's not the whole story of style in the United States. There's always a budding array of new talent worth watching. So in that vein, ahead, you'll find fashion designers who founded their brands from the mid-2000s up until a few years ago. In a short period, these designers have managed to build successful brands and change the way we view American fashion. And with time, they'll likely find their place in the fashion history books too.
15. Christopher John Rogers
The future of American fashion looks bright, especially when you're talking about talent like Christopher John Rodgers. While the Baton Rouge–born, Brooklyn-based designer has only been running his label since 2016, he's already taken the industry by storm. He's not only managed to build a fan base that includes celebs such as Lizzo and Tracee Ellis Ross, but he also won the 2019 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. And really, you get why this American designer has found such success when you see his pieces—voluminous silhouettes with dollops of color are his signature. Christopher John Rodgers may be designing with colored lenses, but his work is visionary in its own right.
16. Puppets and Puppets
The first time I spotted a Puppets and Puppets piece, I audibly gasped. It was a little '90s handbag with a resin chocolate cookie on the side, and it had me famished on sight. Since then, I've been a major fan of the brand, and I'm not the only one who's found themselves craving more from these rising American designers. Founded by Ayla Argentina and Carly Mark in 2018, the ready-to-wear label has become known for its tongue-in-cheek pieces that push and meld the boundaries between fashion and art. And considering how Mark and Argentina continue to innovate collection after collection, this brand is bound to become a foundational part of America's fashion pyramid.
Not to be too biased, but when it comes to establishing what's cool, no one does it like New Yorkers, and no other brand can hold a candle to Khaite. Founded by Catherine Holstein in 2016, the luxury label has been calling the shots on some of the biggest trends of the past few years—just look at how everyone adopted knitted sets after spotting Katie Homes in a Khaite set as proof. But it's not just her sultry knitted sets that have caught the attention of the fashion set; it's her dualistic approach to design. Holstein's ability to balance femininity and masculinity in one look (e.g., a sweetheart-neckline tube top in black leather) gives her work that edge that makes it worth buying and raving about every time.
18. LaQuan Smith
Long before everyone on social media was ready to embrace the Hot Girl Summer aesthetic, LaQuan Smith created the pattern for it. Smith's work may be the blueprint for what's hot now (think vinyl micro miniskirts in crimson and full-length black gowns with cutouts), but his career has been far from traditional. Unlike other designers who formally studied fashion design, Smith is a self-taught designer who launched his label in 2013. His fresh perspective on design has led his brand to new heights—literally in a sense, as he was one of the first designers to stage a fashion show at the Empire State Building, but also figuratively because he's been able to build a brand that has no limits in sight.
19. Brandon Maxwell
Something must be in the water in Texas because this is the second iconic American designer in this roundup to be born in the Lone Star State. Jokes aside, whatever gives designers that something special, Brandon Maxwell has it. The multi-hyphenate creative began his fashion career as an assistant stylist and worked under numerous stylists until he was hired as Lady Gaga's fashion director. Suppose that's not enough to sell you. In that case, you'll have to look to his ready-to-wear label as proof of the magic. It's not only garnered the designer numerous awards, but it has also attracted celebrity fans such as Issa Rae and Bella Hadid. Each piece takes a traditional staple or eveningwear silhouette and turns it into something else—maybe it's poetry, maybe it's magic, or maybe it's just Maxwell's touch.
20. Sandy Liang
The internet loves a grandmother-inspired trend—you can scroll through TikTok or even our site and see we're fans of the granny aesthetic. But before we were all clamoring to wear crochet, Sandy Liang drew inspiration for her first collection from the grandmothers spotted in Chinatown back in 2014. Liang's homage to New York and her heritage put her on the industry's radar, but her unique designs are what's kept her as an influential force. With a focus on funky fleece jackets, Peter Pan–collar blouses, and pleated miniskirts, Liang has managed to create pieces that invoke joy for women of all ages worldwide.
21. Sergio Hudson
Close your eyes and picture the perfect suit—what does it look like? That's a question that South Carolina native Sergio Hudson has been aiming to answer with his work. The Black creative founded his label in 2014 after winning a design competition on the television show Styled to Rock. Since then, Hudson has been able to keep the spotlight on his work because of his ability to take androgynous basics and give them a sultry twist. Call it a signature sauce if you want, but Hudson's ability to elevate American sportswear is groundbreaking. It's what led him to draw the attention of major fashion buyers; it's a part of why style icons like Michelle Obama, Blake Lively, and Priyanka Chopra love his work; and it's what makes him an American designer worth watching and wearing.
You'd never guess that a CFDA Award–winning designer would be self-taught, but Edvin Thompson isn't your typical fashion designer. Most creatives will draw inspiration from anywhere, but you can see with Theophilio that Thompson is wearing his life on his sleeves. He immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica, to Atlanta, Georgia, as an adolescent. Despite being well into his career as a designer (he founded the label in 2016), he derives his inspiration from his dual heritage. You can see the inspirations present in his work: He used the colors of the Jamaican flag on a cutout tank top and used a netted fabric to create a jumpsuit that gives off that nonchalant Caribbean air. And while there are plenty of designers who pay homage to their heritage, none do it like Thompson. He's able to reflect the diaspora through every design he creates.
23. Eckhaus Latta
When it comes to designers defining the next era of American fashion, you don't have to look any further than Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta. The duo met at the Rhode Island School of Design, and both went on to work for other major labels like Marc Jacobs and Opening Ceremony before launching their namesake label in 2013. But what makes this brand genuinely revolutionary is how it has always pushed the boundaries. From casting unique models for runway shows to using unconventional fabrics to producing gender-neutral clothing meant to challenge heteronormative gender roles, Eckhaus Latta has always been at the forefront of innovation. The way I see it, they're the future of American fashion.
24. Maisie Wilen
Imagine you've got a big night out on the town planned. What are you going to wear? For the fashion set, the answer to that question often comes back to rising designer Maisie Schloss. Despite being founded in 2019, Maisie Wilen has managed to blow up overnight. In part, it's due to Schloss's experience in the industry—she studied at Parsons before becoming Kanye West's protégée at Yeezy for three years until he invested in her label. But really, the Chicago-born designer's claim to fame lies with her signature melding of sportswear with eveningwear, which is visible in tank dresses with heart-shaped cutouts and perforated legging in punchy hues. No other emerging designer has made us more excited to get dressed up and reemerge into the world, and that is special in and of itself.
25. Pyer Moss
Style is so much more than what you choose to wear each day, and this is something that the African American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond understands deeply. The New York–born creative founded Pyer Moss in 2013, and over the years, he has established himself as a visionary for his ability to use clothing to tell a story. But to say that that story was always heard would discount Jean-Raymond's journey along the way. Long before the fashion industry aimed to grapple with systemic racism, Jean-Raymond used his collections to speak out. He explored everything from police brutality to mental health, and it wasn't always well received by investors or the industry at large. Despite those initial struggles, he continued to create and has managed to make history, becoming the first Black American designer to show on the couture schedule and winning numerous awards such as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Jean-Raymond is proof that, with a bit of tenacity, a knack for storytelling, and great tailoring, you can do anything.
While some designers hone their craft through formal education, others have an innate ability for design that's part genetic and part grit. Raul Lopez falls into the latter. The Williamsburg-born Latinx and LGBQT+ designer first learned about sewing from his grandmother, who spent years working in the city's garment district. That richness of experience proliferates all of Lopez's work—from working with co-founder Shayne Oliver in his Hood by Air days to launching his own namesake label, Luar, in 2017. And while Lopez has become a veteran in the industry, his ability to continue to create outside the pattern makes him a designer to watch. From his genderless '80s-inspired suiting with modern touches to his accessible luxury handbags, there's never a dull moment when you're dealing with Luar.
27. Kim Shui
The first time I spotted a Kim Shui garment, I specifically remember saying, "That's hot." And now, I can't think of a better way to describe the Chinese American designer's work. Shui was born in the United States and was raised in Rome until attending Duke University and later Parsons. For a designer who has managed to build a label (founded in 2016) that's constantly the talk of TikTok, it's shocking to think that, at one point, Shui wasn't even considering becoming a designer. In fact, she thought she'd work in finance. Shui's journey to becoming a designer is much like her approach to her work itself: an untraditional but welcomed change of pace. She draws inspiration from traditional Chinese prints and classic fabrics like tweed and subverts them by creating ultra-sultry pieces. And that knack has built her a cult following with celebrities, but it's also continuously given her the ability to determine the next best thing season after season.
You've made it to the end of this story, and hopefully, you've come to the realization that there are so many incredible American designers and that they've had a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, culture, and how we dress every day. Personally, I can't think of a designer who shows American fashion's influence more than the late Virgil Abloh. The Ghanaian American grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, yet his reach touched every corner of the globe. In his lifetime, he was Kanye West's creative director, the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, and the founder of Off-White. Through his work, he was able to shift how the world relates to streetwear and paved the way for future generations of designers. Abloh's work embodies the American dream for designers—a reminder that no matter where you come from or what you look like, the possibilities are endless.