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Before they were glamorous: first jobs of fashion icons

By Aileen Yu

11 Oct 2018

If you’ve always dreamed of being a fashion icon, yet you're just breaking into the industry with an entry level position, don’t fret. Some of the household designer names and creative directors we all know today worked a few not so glamorous jobs before making it big.

Hedi Slimane - marketing assistant

Recently appointed creative and image director of Celine and one of the most influential designers of the 21st century, Hedi Slimane is also credited with inventing the skinny jeans. Majoring in art history and with a penchant to be a journalist, Slimane earned his chops at Dior Homme then moved his way up from marketing assistant to creative director at Yves Saint Laurent. Meanwhile, Slimane revolutionized menswear with skinny tailoring inspired by androgynous rock musicians such as David Bowie.

Coco Chanel - seamstress, cabaret singer

Now a synonymous name with fashion, Coco Chanel’s upbringing was anything but luxurious. Losing her mother at a young age, Chanel was then sent to an orphanage ran by a convent. Gabrielle’s first job was a seamstress and then she took on the name of Coco Chanel as a cabaret singer. Inspired by early 20th century modernism and artists such as Picasso and Cocteau, Chanel went onto become a sought after hat designer before starting the brand that is now on the Forbes list as one of the world’s most valuable brands.

Rick Owens - college dropout, pattern cutter

In 2002, Rick Owens became internationally known when Kate Moss was featured in Vogue Paris wearing one of his leather jackets. He studied art and design at Los Angeles’s Otis College, but dropped out due to the costly tuition fee. A real rags to riches story, Owens found a job as a pattern cutter for a company that produced fake designer goods. Today, Rick Owens is renowned for his label’s “goth-grunge” style and one of the top designers shaping the world of fashion.

Vivienne Westwood - primary school teacher

One of the most recognizable British fashion designers and the original pioneer of punk rock fashion, Vivienne Westwood’s first job was as a primary school teacher working in Cheshire, England. Always interested in fashion, Westwood also designed jewelry and clothes. It was when she met the manager of The Sex Pistols that she combined her love for fashion with music. In the 1970s, together with Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood ran the boutique “SEX” on Kings Road, a meeting point for the origin of the punk rock aesthetic.

Vera Wang - figure skater, fashion editor

For most people, when imagining the perfect wedding gown, Vera Wang inevitably comes to mind. Always a high achiever, she almost had a career as a teenage figure skater and even tried out for the Olympic team. Before Wang was the fashion icon she is today, she was the fashion chief editor at Vogue for 17 years. It seems Vera Wang was always destined for success as her mother worked for the United Nations and her father was a graduate of MIT.

Photos: Celine SS19, Catwalkpictures.com