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Trailblazing women in retail

Honoring a legacy of innovation

As we near International Women’s Day, it’s fitting to honor the women who made their mark in a landscape often dominated by men. While the fashion and beauty industry often targets female consumers by using their bodies to sell products, behind the scenes, it has mainly been driven by men.

As the fashion industry expanded its influence, many pioneering women broke barriers and shattered glass ceilings, paving the way for future generations. Their impact goes beyond aesthetics; they sparked movements, encouraged self-expression, and promoted the accessibility of style.

Let’s take a look at four trailblazers who transformed the narrative of beauty, style, and the very fabric of the fashion industry.

Jeanne Paquin: Fashion’s first influencer

Jeanne Paquin was a pioneer of the haute couture movement and the first female couturière to found a leading fashion house in 1891 Paris. Jeanne had a bold vision for design that matched the vibrant colors she loved, back in a time when dull tones ruled women’s fashion. She didn’t just follow trends; she led the charge in turning black from a symbol of mourning to a high-fashion must-have. It was a game-changer that still echoes in today’s society.

However, her impact wasn’t just about colors. Jeanne was as bold in her approach as she was with her palette. She showcased models in public, teamed up with artists and architects, and linked her brand with theaters which was unheard of at the time for a fashion house. This set a standard that heightened the art and drama of fashion. Paquin continued to push the envelope and expanded her House globally, steeringthe brand to international acclaim and catering to esteemed clients, including royalty and courtesans. During World War I, Jeanne took on the role of president at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, becoming the first woman to lead an employers’ syndicate in France.

From her trend-setting color and design choices to the way she showcased her fashion, Jeanne Paquin can really be thought of as the fashion industry’s first influencer, who set the stage for future fashion icons to follow in her footsteps.

Mary Quant: Pioneering empowerment and retail innovation

British designer Mary Quant’s groundbreaking designs defined the Swinging Sixties, where the miniskirt became a symbol of female empowerment. The miniskirt was once viewed as provocative and rebellious, but as women began to reject traditional gender norms, it came to symbolize their growing self-reliance and independence. While the longer skirts of the past constricted movement and self expression, the super-high hemlines of the miniskirt allowed for greater freedom of movement, making it possible for women to run for a bus without being hindered by their clothing. Mary Quant possessed a deep understanding of modern femininity, crafting fashion that spoke volumes about self-expression. Her influence transcended mere clothing; it embodied a spirit of joy and liberation.

Mary Quant’s impact stemmed not only from her innovative designs but also from the unique atmosphere she fostered in her boutique – a space adorned with music, drinks, and extended hours that resonated with young adults. This setting stood out in an industry dominated by dull department stores and exclusive high-end boutiques, but resonates with the immersive experiences that stores aim for today.

Quant also came up with innovative mass production methods to make chic and sophisticated styles affordable to a larger audience of working women, reshaping British retail at the time and structuring retail production models we see today. Mary Quant’s legacy lives on as women continue to assert their independence and personality with their style.

Rihanna: Championing inclusivity and representation

Rihanna stormed the fashion and beauty industries with creative ventures that championed inclusivity and revolutionized the ideals of beauty and representation.  Through Fenty Beauty, Rihanna revolutionized the cosmetics sector by introducing a diverse range of 40 foundation shades, addressing the industry’s lack of inclusivity for people of color. This groundbreaking move set a new standard, inspiring other brands to follow suit.

But her efforts were not singularly focused; she continued her quest for change with Savage x Fenty, a lingerie line that celebrated diversity and body positivity. Her brand represented models of different sizes, shapes, genders, and ethnicities,  challenging traditional beauty standards. With her fashion shows, including models who were typically marginalized, Rihanna’s message was loud and clear— beauty, in its wonderfully diverse forms, deserves to be celebrated.

Rihanna has paved the way for inclusivity in fashion and beauty, using her platform to promote diversity and representation. Her influence is not only seen in her successful business ventures but also in how she has inspired a new generation of designers, models, and consumers to embrace their uniqueness and celebrate individuality.

Iris Apfel: Redefining age and style

Iris Apfel revolutionized the fashion and design industry, demonstrating that beauty transcends age. As an exceptional influencer, she mesmerized the world with her distinctive style and commanding presence, showcasing that innovation and creativity are boundless, even in one’s 90s. Her iconic fashion selections and unwavering confidence distinguished her, motivating generations to embrace their uniqueness and creativity.

Apfel gained fame in her later years through social media, accruing nearly 3 million followers on Instagram. On TikTok, she attracted 215,000 followers while sharing insights on fashion and style, and endorsing recent collaborations. Her later-life prominence included featuring in advertisements for renowned brands like M.A.C. cosmetics and Kate Spade. Furthermore, she crafted a line of accessories and jewelry for the Home Shopping Network, collaborated with H&M on a vibrant collection that sold out within minutes, introduced a makeup line with Ciaté London, launched an eyeglass collection with Zenni, and partnered with Ruggable on innovative floor coverings.

With her iconic style and confidence, she inspired generations to embrace their uniqueness, saying “Everybody should find her own way. I’m a great one for individuality. I don’t like trends. If you get to learn who you are and what you look like and what you can handle, you’ll know what to do.”

The “matriarch of maximalism” died March 1, 2024 at her Palm Beach home at 102 years old.

Bringing it all together

These narratives spotlight a compelling truth: women are not merely participants in the fashion and beauty industries; they are pioneering innovators who have boldly redefined the standards of these fields. They have continuously forged a path forward, not only with groundbreaking designs but with a vision that transcends the mere products they create.

In an arena historically dominated by male perspectives, women like Jeanna, Mary, Rihanna and Iris leveraged their innovation and insight to craft brands that not only challenge the status quo but also cause major industry shifts in the way they market their products, design their stores, and even manufacture their goods.

On International Women’s Day, we stand in awe of their contributions that continue to inspire generations of women— within and beyond fashion and beauty.

Learn more

Contact us today to learn more about Tulip’s best-in-class Clienteling and POS capabilities that are loved by the world’s most iconic retailers like David Yurman, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Mulberry, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ferragamo, COACH, and Michael Kors.

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