1. Style
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Designer beginnings

Ralph sold ties, Marc stocked shelves


Don't worry if your fashion career hasn't taken off yet, because some of the biggest names in fashion design got off to a modest start early in their careers.

Most of fashion's biggest names weren't born to design royalty: they weren't raised in fashion capitals like New York or Paris (Todd Oldham and Tom Ford hail from Texas) and some didn't even start out in fashion (Christian Dior was an art dealer) or go to school for it (Miuccia Prada has a PhD in Political Science).

Don't miss these tidbits about some of the world's top fashion designers:

Point of origin

  • Kate Spade - Kansas City, MO
  • Yves Saint Laurent - Oran, Algeria
  • John Bartlett - Cincinnati, OH
  • Anna Sui - Detroit, MI
  • Texas - Todd Oldham, Tom Ford
  • Bronx - Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein

Getting started

  • Marc Jacobs -- stock boy for Charivari, a New York clothing store
  • Ralph Lauren -- road salesman for a neckwear manufacturer
  • Halston -- window dresser at Carson-Pirie-Scott
  • Coco Chanel -- clerk in a hosiery shop
  • Tommy Hilfiger -- freelance designer for Jordache jeans
  • Tom Ford -- actor/model in TV commercials
  • Michael Kors -- sales assistant at a boutique
  • Giorgio Armani -- buyer's assistant for a department store
  • Alexander McQueen -- tailor's apprentice
  • Jil Sander -- fashion journalist
  • Laura Ashley -- secretary
  • Manolo Blahnik -- jeans buyer
  • Salvatore Ferragamo -- factory worker making cowboy boots


Fashion Institute of Technology

  • Calvin Klein
  • Norma Kamali
  • Jhane Barnes

Parsons School of Design

  • Donna Karan
  • Mark Badgley & James Mischka
  • Tom FordAnna Sui
  • Alexander McQueen - St. Martins School of Art
  • Issey Miyake - Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne
  • Gianni Versace - No formal training, learned tailoring from dressmaker mother

Started on a different path

  • Vivienne Westwood -- teacher
  • Thierry Mugler -- dancer
  • Christian Dior -- art dealer
  • Miuccia Prada -- PhD, political science
  • Joan Vass -- museum curator
  1. About.com
  2. Style
  3. Women's Fashion
  4. Fashion Designers
  5. Designer profiles
  6. How Fashion Designers Got Started in the Industry

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.