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Fashion’s inspiring women

Drapers asked key figures across the fashion industry to nominate the women they feel have inspired their careers in honour of International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8.

Among the numerous names put forward, some of those heralded as being fashion’s most inspirational ladies are designers Diane Von Furstenberg and Vivienne Westwood, and former Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts, alongside retail guru Mary Portas, Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon and founder of fuller cup lingerie brand Bravissimo, Sarah Tremellen.

Read below for the full list of who these leading industry figures nominated.

Leave your comments at the bottom of the article to tell us who you would nominate.

Daniel Morris, managing director of Paul’s Boutique

Daniel Morris

Vivienne Westwood represents everything I love and respect in this industry. She is iconic, is and lives her brand and has been globally consistent since the seventies. Although I have never met her, I feel as though she is understood by retailers, distributors, press and consumers the world over. I have seen Vivienne Westwood showrooms around the world and her DNA has been consistent and unmistakeable. To me Vivienne Westwood is that British wild child from the punk rock days of the seventies and punk rock lives on through her and through her designs and inspiration. I also love the fact that to many Japanese and Korean consumers Vivienne Westwood represents a broad spectrum of British culture – and how wrong they are!

Sarah Curran, managing director of

Sarah Curran

As the woman who created one of the world’s most iconic dresses, the wrap dress, which sits in almost every woman’s wardrobe, Diane Von Furstenberg is a true inspiration as a creative and a businesswoman.  Through her work with Council of Fashion Designers of America, her foundation and a number of other charities, she is a trailblazer for empowering women and championing the world’s up and coming fashion design talent.  All of this, while spearheading the continued growth of her global lifestyle brand, DVF. 

Valeria Juarez, apparel director at Amazon

Valeria Juarez

Anya Hindmarch is a great British designer and entrepreneur. She has created many iconic accessories like her ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ which made it fashionable not to use plastic bags. I admire her creativity and wit, and the way she captures people’s imagination through her shows at London Fashion Week.

Leila Yavari, fashion director of etailer 

Leila Yavari

If her students are to be believed, Louise Wilson was a force of nature. Fiercely opinionated, blessed with razor-sharp wit and never pulling any punches, she nurtured an incredible generation of British talents from Alexander McQueen to Christopher Kane, all the way to Roksanda Ilincic and Simone Rocha. Her eye for talent was awe-inspiring, but so was her work ethic and ability to coax the best in others. That is truly magical and endlessly inspiring for me.

Claire Miles, head of The Shop at Bluebird

Claire Miles

My inspirational woman is Angela Ahrendts, who transformed Burberry, making the brand current again and phenomenally successful. She is fundamentally a hardworking, driven businesswoman who does not follow others and appreciates world class design, hence her move to Apple. She was ranked Forbes 49th most powerful business woman in 2014 and Fortunes’ 29th in the same year.

I admire women who can transform, women who can hold their own and show the world they are strong, powerful and triumphant. I’m really excited to see what Angela does with Apple.

Beth Butterwick, chief executive of Bonmarché

Beth Butterwick

Trying to name a particular inspiring woman in retail is a dilemma. In truth, ourindustry is filled with amazing women that inspire. However, it is my first boss at Marks & Spencer, Kim Winser, who I believe has helped shape the way I am. In Kim, I observed how to navigate an often male-oriented corporate culture, the drive to be the best you can be and most importantly believing in yourself.

Brent Hoberman, co-founder of and Founders Forum

Brent Hoberman

I’d absolutely nominate Kate Unsworth of Kovert Designs [jewellery designer and retailer]. Kate is leading the way in fashion(able) wearables for those that want fashion to have technology but still be able to switch off.

Emma Woodward, owner of five-store Midlands womenswear indie Aspire Style

Emma Woodward

Sarah Tremellen, Bravissimo founder, is a real inspiration. Without any prior retail experience she spotted a niche in the market and set up her own business which has grown impressively over the last 20 years.  It was driven by a passion for something and she managed to create a fantastic business whilst successfully raising a family at the same time, something that is incredibly important to us as well. Sarah has also created a business that has a great deal of respect for staff and consistently appears in the Sunday Times top companies to work for, especially impressive now they have more than 700 staff. Sarah’s success and her approach to business has been a real inspirationfor us.

Peter Ruis, chief executive of Jigsaw

Peter Ruis

I would highlight Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, as her knowledge about and passion for the industry is immense and it’s not without good reason she is credited with making London the must-attend of the international fashion weeks. She is a tireless crusader who has kept the British Fashion Council professional, polished and relevant in an ever-changing and highly competitive climate.

Colin Temple, chief executive of Schuh

Colin Temple

Mary Portas is doing quite a unique job in getting the UK consumer to view retail in a positive manner. She seems to be able to get an insight into the trade that resonates with the consumer. There is no doubt that many small retailers struggle and deserve the loyalty of the local consumer, Mary champions this well. After all, every major retailer in the UK started with a single little shop.

Jenny Holloway, director of manufacturing social enterprise Fashion Enter

Jenny Holloway

I nominate Caren Downie, brand director and founder of Finery London, because she has soul and talent. She has an amazing ability to combine a loyal team to follow her leadership because of her keen commercial sense of direction with trends, her honesty and integrity and she actually understands how the different elements of the buying cycle work - including manufacturing. She is a taskmaster but fair. Caren also has a keen sense of humour and always sees the “bright side of life”. I find her “can-do” work ethic an inspiration. You only have to look at Finery to see what Caren, and her amazing team, can achieve.

Luisa De Paula, fashion and brand director at accessories etailer 

Luisa De Paula

Susanne Tide-Frater [fashion director at Victoria Beckham and brand and strategy director at Farfetch] is a very inspirational contributor to the fashion industry. I had the pleasure of working with her at Selfridges where she was creative director, spearheading the repositioning of the brand portfolio into a designer emporium, as well as working on the refurbishments and innovative retail concepts that really moved the dial.  She is a passionate creative with a nose for design talent and the Next big thing, evident in the part she has played in the success of Farfetch and Victoria Beckham. Whether it’s retail, digital or as a designer, she understands the fundamentals in how to establish and grow a brand into something special.

Jane Wilson, managing director of Chiltern Street Studios

Jane Wilson

Anna Park, [founder of six-store independent Anna] is tireless in her pursuit of excellence, her stores are constantly evolving and she buys with her heart. She is always brave and is not afraid to tread her own path. We have worked with her since she started and it has always been a joy.

Caroline Burstein, creative director at Browns

Caroline Burnstein

I think immediately of Roksanda Illincic. She has worked so hard to build her brand, right from her very first collection [in 2005] that I was introduced to by [brand consultant] Mandi Lennard. Her brand has such a strong and bold handwriting and she is always evolving, experimenting and is completely fearless. Despite her stunning natural beauty she remains down to earth and so very human. Fame and fortune have not changed her.

Rachel Riley, managing director of her eponymous kidswear brand

Rachel Riley

I would choose [designer] Elsa Schiaparelli who was so creative and brought new ideas to clothing design, as she rubbed shoulders with influential artists of the thirties such as Dali, Cocteau and Man Ray. This approach to clothing design was quite radical and new at the time.

Also Coco Chanel who encouraged women to wear clothing that was both comfortable and stylish. She introduced a style that was both classic and timeless and still relevant today. Some of the things that she created have endured and are still bestsellers today, such as Chanel No. 5 perfume.

I would also highlight Agnes B who has built an international fashion house, popular across the world, and that I have enjoyed wearing since I modelled at her catwalk shows in Paris in the eighties. I like her air of quiet luxury and practicality, and admire her resilience and drive whenever I see her shops in New York, Hong Kong, at the airports, or across the road from our shop in Marylebone High Street.

Cecile Reinaud, founder and managing director of maternity brand Seraphine   

Cecile Reinaud

Women that have inspired me are Tamara Mellon for building her shoe empire thanks to her clever PR and celebrity endorsement strategy and Diane von Furstenberg for inventing the wrap dress and rejuvenating it over decades. From when I was a teenager, Anita Rodick for creating the first ethical retail business and for campaigning on human and environmental rights, and Coco Chanel for being the first globally-known female fashion designer.

Chris Pitts, director of womenswear merchandising at House of Fraser

Chris Pitts

I would nominate Teresa Tideman at Jacques Vert Group as my inspirational female. She’s been the driving force in repositioning their brands, giving each a strong and unique identity, whilst working tirelessly with my team to build a strategy that is both exciting and inspiring.

Jo Davies, owner of womenswear indie Black White Denim

Jo Davies

My vote goes to [designer] Bella Freud. I totally buy into her credibility not just as a designer of iconic pieces of knitwear but her creativity in other fields, such as film, too. The simplicity of her designs really appeal to me as there is an under-stated power in her graphics that have become her signature. Ageless, timeless and classic, her knits are a must-have in any stylish woman wardrobe and needless to say I have a few in mine.

Janie Theaker, owner of mainstream womenswear indie Bridge in Solihull

Janie Theaker

Mary Portas is very much a ‘marmite’ lady. Love her or loathe her, she is the most high-profile woman celebrating and promoting independent shops and stores, in a bid to maintain and expand variety on the British high street.

Holly Hastie, design director of kidswear brand Holly Hastie

Holly Hastie

I would like to nominate Barbara Horspool for her style, energy and enthusiasm – she is truly inspiring.  I spent several years working closely with her when she was international design director at [French retailer] Etam and having learnt so much from her I then took over from her as head of design when she went to M&S [in 2001]. I have followed her career ever since and she has always improved each brand she directs. She did a wonderful job at Jigsaw another company I know well having worked closely with [Jigsaw co-founder] John Robinson myself as Kew’s head of design. I am very excited to see her first ranges at The White Company [which she joined at the end of last year].

John Miln, chief executive of UK Fashion and Textile Association

John Miln

I would nominate Alison Lloyd [founder of accessories designer] Ally Capellino. Lloyd has reinvented herself as a well-respected international accessories designer and businesswoman, selling high quality European bags and accessories to major department stores including Liberty.

Also Gemma Shiel [founder of young fashion label] Lazy Oaf. Shiel has turned Lazy Oaf from a small streetwear start up into a major brand, respected around the world. Vibrant graphics are the hallmark of the collection and she has a small company philosophy but a large company turnover.

The other is Orsola di Castro, founder of the ethical fashion brand From Somewhere but also, more importantly, a co-founder of Fashion Revolution, an organisation committed to bring ethics back into fashion, which recently organised an event at the House of Commons with MP Mary Creagh.

Juls Dawson, founder of agency Just Consultanies

Juls Dawson

I have to say my mum, Raquel Dawson who gave me my passion for fashion and our industry.  From the early eighties for 20 years, in her children’s clothes shop Young Edition in Blackpool she sold brands such as Burberry, Lacoste and Armani to name but a few.  In the holidays and after school I would watch and study her every move as she meticulously created fairytale window displays, diligently studied previous seasons sales logs, skilfully bought forthcoming ranges from the constant flow of reps, selling and diplomatically dealing with the customers in-store (and believe me the Blackpool holidaymaker was a challenging breed), and planning and putting on our famous catwalk shows in the Tower Ballroom. So International Women’s Day should be about celebrating the best thing a woman can give, providing their children with their inspiration for life, and I was lucky enough to have mine teach me of the ways of our industry.

Hilary Cookson, owner of occasionwear specialist Maureen Cookson in Whalley, Lancashire

Hilary Cookson

I would nominate Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company. I heard Chrissie speak last week and found her very focused and product-centric. She’s a great team builder. Also Victoria Beckham, because she’s triumphed over a reluctant audience. She’s having success with her collections and not because of who she is, was or who she is married to. Okay, all that no doubt helped, but the collections I think are fabulous.  

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great to see Women celebrated internationally - and what incredibly talented women!

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