How These 17 Badass Women Are Working to Change the Face of Fashion

Badass Women Fashion
Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times

There’s no denying an incredible moment of change is happening in fashion, as a new generation of designers, models, and photographers arrives with a mission to challenge the status quo.

But even as strides are being made regarding diversity and inclusion, one problem persists at the very top, where few women hold positions of power. The majority of luxury women’s brands are designed by men, and only 14 percent of major brands have a woman as CEO, according to a CFDA report in May.

So in keeping with this issue’s theme of Badass Women, we are celebrating those innovative and entrepreneurial spirits whose actions and words are inspiring nothing short of a revolution. One commonality among so many originals featured here is a sense of fearlessness when it comes to getting down to work and pursuing what they know is right. Whether it’s Rihanna’s stated aim to design products that cater to all skin tones and sizes or Tamara Mellon’s efforts to promote pay equality beyond her own company, each example represents one step in the march toward an industry that better reflects the broader world.

For more stories like this, pick up InStyle's June issue, on newsstands and available for digital download now.

01 of 17

Adwoa Aboah

Adwoa Aboah
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

With both her parents working in the industry, the British model grew up with an insider’s perspective on fashion photography (her mother is an agent, her father a location scout), but that doesn’t mean she’s had an easy road. Through her Gurls Talk platform, Aboah has shared the knowledge she has gained from her own struggles and created a judgment-free space for others to tell their stories.

02 of 17

Halima Aden

Halima Aden

As the first hijab-wearing model signed to IMG, Aden has been breaking barriers on runways and magazine covers at a breathtaking pace.

03 of 17

Delphine Arnault

Delphine Arnault
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Getty Images

Although she keeps a discreet profile, the daughter and eldest child of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault is well known for her influence over designer moves and internal politics at the luxury conglomerate. Her importance within the group has become more public with her leadership role at Louis Vuitton, where Virgil Abloh and Francesca Amfitheatrof are joining Nicolas Ghesquière to form a creative holy trinity. She was also instrumental in establishing the LVMH Prize, which has given exposure to countless global talents in its five years.

04 of 17

Tory Burch

Tory Burch
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

From any other designer, a campaign to “Embrace Ambition” would sound like a marketing ploy. But Burch always dreams big, whether she’s building a megabrand or building a foundation to support female entrepreneurs. Her latest win was a summit that drew politicians, actors, and activists to break some of the practices that hold women back.

05 of 17

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Getty Images

Forty years after her first star turn (in a Bob Marley video, at age 7), the supermodel finally got the title she deserved, courtesy of the CFDA Fashion Awards, which named her Fashion Icon this year. It’s not just for her style but also for her substance, as Campbell has become increasingly powerful by using her voice to promote causes for equality and humanitarianism through Fashion for Relief and her own social media.

06 of 17

Maria Grazia Chiuri

Christian Dior Couture S/S19 Cruise Collection : Runway
Victor VIRGILE/Getty Images

As the artistic director of Dior, feminism is her brand. In a savvy move that predated the global rally of #MeToo, she sensed a seismic media change. With collections that have referenced the 1968 youth riots of France, the desert style of Georgia O’Keeffe, and the writings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chiuri has sewn her politics onto her sleeves—a bold move at a powerhouse of French luxury.

07 of 17

Petra Collins

Petra Collins
Hunter Abrams/BFA/REX/Shuttersto/Shutterstock

With her provocative artwork and dreamlike photographs that embrace both darkness and girlishness, Collins creates images that seem perfectly right for the post-#MeToo world. She also makes music videos for pals like Selena Gomez and Lil Yachty and is equally comfortable in front of the camera, as a model for Ryan McGinley and in ad campaigns for Gucci.

08 of 17

Natalie Massenet

Moet Summer House VIP Launch
David M. Benett/Getty Images

The e-commerce visionary behind Net-a-Porter recently ended her five-year run as chair of the British Fashion Council, where she helped revive the image of London as a can’t-miss capital of style. What’s next? She’s back with an eye on paying it forward, now as a venture capitalist investing in direct-to-consumer startups. Her new firm with Nick Brown has already given funds to Everlane and Glossier.

09 of 17

Pat McGrath

Pat McGrath
Delphine Achard/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock

For over two decades, McGrath has been the leading makeup artist on catwalks everywhere as well as the creative force behind cosmetics launches for Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, and many more. Models love her—and the supers call her Mother. With the introduction of her Pat McGrath Labs collection last year, she’s putting her own name on the label at last.

10 of 17

Tamara Mellon

Tamara Mellon
Courtesy Tamara Mellon

Since rebooting her footwear business with a direct-to-consumer model two years ago, the designer has thrown the conventional rules of business out the window. Based on her own experience of being paid less than male colleagues when she was at Jimmy Choo, Mellon has made equal pay a priority of her new venture—on Equal Pay Day she offers shoppers a discount of 20 percent (representing the gap between what men and women earn). Mellon also initiated a campaign called Friends with Benefits that promotes other companies with mom-friendly policies like maternity leave and fertility treatments.

11 of 17

Phoebe Philo

Phoebe Philo
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Walking away from fashion while you’re still on top? Now that’s badass. Here’s to hoping the former Céline designer doesn’t make her early retirement a permanent one.

12 of 17


Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The début of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna last year was considered revolutionary because it offered a broad range of shades and colors for different skin tones. Rihanna’s foray into lingerie with Savage x Fenty was similarly remarkable for its size-inclusiveness and fierce campaign starring Slick Woods. “I want women to see themselves when they look at the campaign and respect their own individuality,” Rihanna said at the launch.

13 of 17

Cameron Russell

Rainforest Alliance 30th Anniversary Gala
Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images

After Russell began sharing reports of sexual harassment and abuse of models on Instagram last year, many women and men felt empowered to come forward with their stories, opening the industry’s eyes to a widespread crisis that was largely being ignored by influential editors and agents. Not anymore, as several photographers have lost their careers.

14 of 17

Donatella Versace

2018 CFDA Fashion Awards - Arrivals
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

She has delivered a master class in relevancy maintenance. Hardly a month has gone by without a major moment since the supermodel finale of Versace’s Gianni tribute show last September, including her co-hosting duties at the Met Gala and earning major awards from the British Fashion Council and the CFDA. She made her most profound impact this year when she changed company policy: Versace said she would no longer use fur, a tipping point in the movement given her reputation for indulgence.

15 of 17

Clare Waight Keller

Clare Waight Keller
Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times

Designers come and go from luxury houses with such frequency that it is the rare person who has enough time to make a real impression. Waight Keller’s move from Chloé to Givenchy a year ago, however, has produced some of the most fantastic fashion moments of recent memory, from Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore in Cannes to Meghan Markle in that ultra-sublime wedding gown, which proved to all ignorant snobs that a biracial American divorcée can look like British royalty.

16 of 17

Karla Welch

Karla Welch
Eric Charbonneau/REX/Shutterstoc/Shutterstock

The outspoken stylist to Justin Bieber, Sarah Paulson, and Tracee Ellis Ross delivers potent social commentary on Instagram while also serving up divine red-carpet looks. Her collaborations with Hanes and Levi’s have resulted in basics that are anything but.

17 of 17

Sara Ziff

Nicole Miller Fall 2018 Runway Show
Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Ziff formed the Model Alliance in 2012 in the wake of numerous examples of abuse in the industry, such as agencies’ encouraging unhealthy diets and designers’ demanding ever younger and thinner girls. Her efforts have expanded as accusations of predatory behavior against several photographers have surfaced, and this year she introduced the Respect Programme, which seeks to protect models from sexual harassment.

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