One could say that model Naomi Campbell was destined to be a “super” from the start. While studying at the Italia Conti Academy stage school when she was a teenager, she appeared in music videos for Bob Marley and soon signed with Synchro modelling agency. At just age 18, Campbell became the first black woman to ever grace the cover of French Vogue, and the first black model to also ever be on the cover of Time. So by age 20? Campbell was already on her way to the top.
At age 21, John Galliano enrolled in Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. While in school, he worked as a dresser for Britain’s National Theatre and was in charge of making sure every thespian looked stage-ready. After presenting his graduating collection at age 24, which was said to be inspired by the French Revolution, an independent London fashion boutique purchased every single piece. Galliano soon established his own label and gained notoriety for designs that expertly combined drama with intricacy.
Hailing from the Bronx, Lauren attended Baruch College in Manhattan when he was in his 20s, where he studied business for two years. After a short-lived stint in the Army, he then decided to take a sales job at Brooks Brothers. At age 28, Lauren began designing men’s neckties, branding them under the name “Polo.” He sold them at large department stores like Bloomingdale’s, which gave him the recognition needed to expand his designs to a full menswear line. His all-American pieces soon gained fame and remain timeless to this day.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG
In 1966 at the age of 20, Diane von Furstenberg attended the University of Geneva, where she met Prince Eduard Egon von Furstenberg, an heir to the Fiat automobile fortune. The couple quickly fell in love and were soon married. Now with the title “Princess von Fürstenberg”, she was able to pursue her dreams and began apprenticing with Italian textile manufacturer Angelo Ferreti. When she was 23, the von Fürstenbergs moved to New York City and Diane attempted to gain interest from garment manufacturers in her sample designs. Working out of the dining room in her Park Avenue apartment, she had no idea what success would come to her.
Although model Cindy Crawford found fame through her athletic build and all-American beauty, she first distinguished herself with her intellect as her high school class valedictorian. She then enrolled in Chicago’s Northwestern University to take a degree in chemical engineering, but her academic career proved short when during her freshman year, she left college to pursue a modelling career. At age 20, she won the “Look of the Year” contest held by the Elite Modeling Agency and within months landed her first magazine cover. Just another supermodel in the making.
JACK MCCOLLOUGH AND LAZARO HERNANDEZ
The genius behind Proenza Schouler began simply as a senior project at Parsons School of Design It was there in their 20s that Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez first met while studying fashion design. For three years the two designed independently and quite successfully.
According to Fashioninformat.com, in his junior year, Jack took an internship with Marc Jacobs, eventually working directly with the designer himself. For his junior collection Jack was awarded the National CFDA First Prize, as well as a Silver Thimble awarded by a designer to the student of his or her choice.
Around the same time, Lazaro found himself on the same plane as Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and dropped her a note. As a result from his fateful meeting, he soon received a call from Michael Kors to schedule an interview. He began an internship there and for his junior collection, Lazaro was also a National CFDA finalist, and received the prestigious Silver Thimble.
Upon their graduation, Jack and Lazaro designed their first collection together and it exceeded all expectations. They both received the Golden Thimble award and the entire collection was bought by Barneys New York. At the age of 23, Jack and Lazaro launched their own independent label, dubbed Proenza Schouler after the maiden names of their mothers.
After graduating high school, Michael Kors moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. He took a liking to the city more than the school, and dropped out two semesters later. At age 20, Kors went to work at the French boutique Lothar’s, where he designed and merchandised his first collection. The collection garnered praise within the fashion industry and he was soon able to start his own fashion line. Kors’ simple, elegantly tailored clothing and charming sales techniques proved to be a winning combination.
Seeming to know his fashion calling from a young age, Karl Lagerfeld moved to Paris when he was 14 and submitted a series of sketches for a design competition just two years later. He took first place in the coat category and a few years later, began working full-time for French designer Pierre Balmain. It was a demanding position, and at the age of 28, the young designer took work as a creative director with another fashion house before finally designing collections for Chloé, Fendi and finding fame in his iconic collections for Chanel.
A small-town girl seemingly destined to be a supermodel, Kloss was only 13 when she was discovered at a charity fashion show in her hometown of St. Louis. She soon signed with Elite Model Management at age 15, and embarked on one of her first modelling stints for Abercrombie & Fitch. One year later, after resigning from NEXT Model Management, Kloss received publicity when her runway walk was mocked by Tyra Banks. However, it was this uncommon walk that ended up appealing to designers. She soon walked thirty-one runways at New York Fashion Week, closing for Marc Jacobs and opening for Carolina Herrera. After New York, she went on to walk twenty shows in Milan, and thirteen in Paris for a total of sixty-four shows in a single season. Now, at age 23, she is considered one of the freshest icons of American style.
Sarah Rutson, the fashion director of the highly influential Hong Kong-based luxury department store Lane Crawford (and now VP of Global Buying at Net-A-Porter) was not always in the position of alluring luxury consumers. Her first taste of retail came at age 16 when she received a job at Jean Genie, one of retail mogul Sir Philip Green’s first stores. On the cusp of her 20s, she joined retailer Marks & Spencer and stayed on for nine years, later becoming the company’s senior head buyer. It wasn’t until age 29 that she craved a new adventure and bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, where she stumbled upon Lane Crawford. With her talented eye and sharp business sense, Rutson went on to completely transform the retailer.
When Giorgio Armani was in his 20s, he entered medical school at the University of Piacenza. However, after just two years, he was forced to stop school and complete his required military service. It was during this time that he traveled to Milan and fatefully experienced his first taste of fashion. After his service ended, he got a job at a department store where he started assisting the photographer and designing the windows. Armani then joined the staff of Nino Cerruti as a designer and with the encouragement of his friends, started to do freelance design work. He would soon become one of the top designers in the world, gaining fame for his impeccably-tailored suiting.
Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet was buried deep in the books before she became a fashion mogul. When Massenet was in her 20s, she studied English Literature at the University of California and upon graduation, spent a year in Tokyo working as both a model and a stylist. Fashion journalism began to take precedence within her career after she took a job for Women’s Wear Daily. She then took a job as Isabella Blow’s assistant at Tatler magazine, and it wasn’t until the age of 33 that she came up with the idea for the luxury fashion site we know and love today.
Alber Elbaz, the former creative brain behind Lanvin, moved to Israel when he was a teen and was forced to complete a three-year service in the Israeli Defense Forces. It was after this that Elbaz began studying at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and at age 20, moved to New York and began his fashion career working at a small dressmaker’s shop in the Garment District. Through a connection made with Gucci’s Dawn Mello, Elbaz was introduced to designer Geoffrey Beene, and served as his faithful assistant until his late 20s, crediting Beene for providing him with an in-depth education in fashion design.
Another designer who found his fashion sense early on, Marc Jacobs attended the High School of Art and Design and after school, would spend his nights working at the upscale clothing boutique Charivari. The staff allowed him to design sweaters for the store in between his tasks of folding clothes and dressing mannequins, which helped Jacobs land a spot at the coveted Parsons School for Design. Jacobs stood out from his classmates in creativity and at graduation, he won both the Perry Ellis Gold Thimble Award and Design Student of the Year. At the age of 21, he designed his first collection for the label Sketchbook for Reuben Thomas. A few years later, he became the youngest designer ever to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent.
Another model to tap into the fashion world early, Kate moss was discovered at age 14 in the JFK airport. At age 20, Moss appeared in designer Calvin Klein’s advertising campaign for his scent “Obsession,” and from there, Moss’ fame went into full swing. Her waifish figure and grunge look soon became iconic within the ‘90’s fashion world.