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Jewish Biographies: Fashion Icons

Kenneth Cole

Born on March 23, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. In December 1982, Cole launched his company, Kenneth Cole Productions, with the debut of his ladies’ footwear. In the Fall of 2000, he added the Kenneth Cole Women’s Collection. He was one of the first in the fashion industry, in 1985, to take a public stand in the fight against HIV. Besides becoming a renowned fashion icon, Cole has also made himself a well-recognized international humanitarian. The company’s logo maintains says, “What you stand for is more important than what you stand in” and “To be aware is more important than what you wear.” In June 1994, Kenneth Cole Productions went public on the stock exchange.

Rudi Gernreich

Born on August 8, 1922, in Vienna, Austria. At the age of 16, Gernreich fled Europe due to Nazism. He immigrated to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, California. During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, he was considered one of America’s most innovative yet controversial designers. He pushed the public’s limits of fashion through his “futuristic look” in clothing. Throughout his career, he worked closely with model Peggy Moffitt and photographer William Claxton. Gernreich is most recognized for inventing the monokini (the first topless swimsuit) and the thong swimsuit. He was also the first fashion designer to use vinyl and plastic in his collections. Throughout his career, Gernreich was an influential leader in the gay liberation movement. Rudi Gernreich died on April 21, 1985.

Marc Jacobs

Born on April 9, 1963, in New York City. He graduated from the High School of Art and Design in 1981. He then enrolled in the Parsons School of Design. In 1984, Jacobs was awarded the Design Student of the Year Award. In 1984, Jacobs partnered up with Robert Duffy, to found Jacobs Duffy Designs Inc. Then in 1986, Jacobs released his first collection bearing the logo Marc Jacobs. In 1989, Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy joined Perry Ellis; Jacobs became the Vice President of women’s design. In 1992, Jacobs was awarded by The Council of Fashion Designers of America the honor: The Women’s Designer of the Year Award. In 1997, he became the artistic director for Louis Vuitton. He also continues to design collections for his own lines, Marc Jacobs and Marc By Marc Jacobs.

Donna Karan

Born on October 2, 1948, in Forest Hills, New York. At a very young age, Karan began working for Liz Claiborne. Although she attended Parsons School of Design, she dropped out in 1968. In 1971, she became an associate designer with Anne Klein. After Anne Klein died in 1974, Karan became the company’s chief designer. In 1984, Karan left Anne Klein and, with her husband Stephan Weiss, she founded her own clothing company, Donna Karan Co. Her first women’s collection premiered in 1985. She also created a bridge line, DKNY, in 1988. She became highly successful with her Essentials line and elastic bodysuits. Today, the Donna Karan collection designs everything from women’s formal attire, to beauty products, to furniture. In 1996, Donna Karan went public and became Donna Karan Inc.

Calvin Klein

Born Richard Klein on November 19, 1942, in the Bronx, New York. In 1962, he graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He became a protégé of Baron de Gunzburg, a noted fashion icon. He opened Calvin Klein Co. in 1968. Klein became well-recognized for his talent following his first major showing at New York Fashion Week. The Calvin Klein line is known for its clean-cut jeans and coats as well as its several perfume fragrances. In 1973, Klein was awarded the Coty Award for his fashion line. The company continued to have stunning growth throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Although the company nearly faced bankruptcy in 1992, Calvin Klein managed to regain its prosperous status by the late 1990s.

Michael Kors

Born Karl Anderson, Jr. on August 9, 1959, in Long Island, New York. He is the son of former model Joan Kyrstosek Kors, who is Jewish, and had his bar mitzvah. Kors studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. In 1981, he launched the Michael Kors womenswear line at Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Building on his success, Kors was named the first-ever women’s ready-to-wear designer and creative director for the French fashion house Celine in 1997. In his tenure at Celine, Kors turned the fashion house around with blockbuster accessories and a critically acclaimed ready-to-wear line. Kors left Celine in October 2003 to concentrate on his own brand. Kors launched his menswear line in 2002. In addition to the Michael Kors runway collection, the MICHAEL Michael Kors and KORS Michael Kors lines were launched in 2004. Kors currently is a judge on the Bravo TV show Project Runway.

Ralph Lauren

Born Ralph Lifschitz on October 14, 1939, in the Bronx, New York. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, in the Bronx. At the age of 16, Ralph changed his last name to Lauren, a step he considered necessary for success. After only two years of attending City College of New York, Lauren dropped out. From 1962 to 1964, he served in the United States Army. Following his service, Lauren began working for Brooks Brothers, where he created the label Polo. He later purchased this name and began his own billion-dollar fashion empire. In 1984, he recreated the Rhinelander Mansion, into the main store for Polo Ralph Lauren. In the mid-1990s, Polo Ralph Lauren became a public company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol RL.

Isaac Mizrahi

Born on October 14, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York. He went to New York City’s High School of Performing Arts and the Parsons School of Design. In 1987, Mizrahi created his own design company, Isaac Mizrahi Co. Many of his collections can be found exclusively at Target stores. His clothing lines are well-known for its clean-cut, yet fashionable business atire for men and women. In the Fall of 2005, the Style Network debuted the Isaac show.

Zac Posen

Born in 1981 in Manhattan, New York. He attended design school at Central St. Martin’s in London, England. In 1999, he became a design assistant at Tocca New York City. Since the early 2000s, high-profile actresses such as Natalie Portman, Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Claire Danes have all worn designs by Posen. In 2001, he was named one of the most promising fashion designers. By 2005, many major clothing stores were carrying his collections. He likes to infuse his women’s collections with a 1940s Hollywood design.

Diane Von Fürstenberg

Born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin on December 31, 1945, in Brussels, Belgium. She was raised in a highly assimilated Jewish household, to a Russian-born father, Leon, and a Greek-born mother, Lilian, who was also a Holocaust survivor. She studied at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where she graduated with a degree in economics. She moved to New York City in 1969, with her husband Austro-Italian Prince Egon of Fürstenberg. Following her divorce to Egon, she began her own clothing company. In 1973, Fürstenberg became well-known for introducing the “wrap dress.” She continues to create women’s high-end apparel to be sold in exclusive clothing stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue. In 2001, she married American Barry Diller, and in 2002 became a U.S. citizen.

See Also: Estee Lauder | Ida Rosenthal | Helena Rubinstein | Levi Strauss

Sources: Infomat.
Marc Jacobs Official Website.
American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999), pg. 225-6.
New York Magazine.
Fashion Encyclopedia.
FashionVue Magazine.
Philadelphia City Paper Net
Wikipedia (Marc Jacobs; Donna Karan;Calvin Klein;Michael Kors;Ralph Lauren;Isaac Mizrahi;Diane von Fürstenberg).