Fashion is fickle, constantly bombarding us with emerging trends and fads. Keeping up with all the latest looks can be both a tiresome and an expensive exercise. Creating and owning your own personal style not only has more longevity, it will certainly simplify your life (and is much kinder to the credit card).

This month we salute five women, from legendary Coco Chanel to modern-day Iris Apfel, who cultivated their unique look and thereby shaped the world of fashion through the centuries:

1. Coco Chanel

‘The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.’ – Coco Chanel

Arguably the most influential fashion designer of all time, Coco Chanel revolutionised the way women wore clothes by capitalising on the changing times she was living in. She had a huge societal impact during the early 20th century, changing the way women thought about themselves, how they dressed, and how society viewed women. Chanel expressed her ideas of style, personal strength and empowerment in her designs and her opinions. Fiercely outspoken, she was an early contributor to modern day feminism.

Chanel pioneered now-classic pieces such as the iconic Chanel suit, trousers for women, the quilted purse, bold costume jewellery the likes of large fake pearls and glittering gemstones, branded perfume and the ‘little black dress’.

2. Jackie Kennedy Onassis

‘Sex is a bad thing because it rumples the clothes.’ – Jackie Kennedy

Jackie O inspired millions with her sophisticated wardrobe and signature style. From her privileged debutante days, through her brief golden years as First Lady, her more relaxed Onassis era and on to the end of her life, Jackie was always unforgettably stylish. She guided women out of the frumpy dresses and overly styled hairdos of the 50’s into sleeker, more fashionable designs such as her signatory two-piece skirt suits with matching pillbox hats.

Though she had endless grace and poise, she also endured several personal crises in the full glare of the public eye. She did so with strength and a quiet determination, winning her the admiration from the women of her time.

Jackie popularised A-line suits, oversized sunglasses, headscarves, elbow length gloves for formal evening events and the accentuation of tiny waists with strategically placed bows.

3. Princess Diana

‘I wear my heart on my sleeve.’ – Princess Diana

From doe-eyed ‘Shy Di’ to confident glamazon, Princess Diana literally stole the hearts of women across the globe. Initially captivated by the fairy-tale story of her whirlwind romance with Prince Charles and spectacular wedding ceremony, the world watched her every move and couldn’t get enough of ‘the people’s princess’. Her global fame and huge popularity made her one of the most-photographed women in the world, which ultimately contributed to her untimely death.

After separating from Prince Charles in 1996, Diana was determined to redefine her life. Her wardrobe soon started to reflect this. A more independent and confident Diana transformed herself into a sleek and regal woman, whose confident stride in tuxedo suits, embellished gowns, sharp designer skirt suits and glamorous dresses marked the new chapter in her life.

What really set Diana apart was her ability to communicate through the clothes that she wore at the various events she attended and the causes she championed. Bound by Royal protocol and unable to speak her mind, Diana often used visual clues as to what was happening in her private life. The most memorable of these was in 1994, when she stepped out in a figure-hugging black silk ‘revenge dress’ on the day that Charles confessed on television to an affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

4. Iris Apfel

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‘Colour can raise the dead.’ – Iris Apfel

Undoubtedly the most unconventional of all our style icons, Iris Apfel calls herself a ‘geriatric starlet’. At 96, Iris believes that great personal style is about knowing yourself, staying curious, and maintaining a great sense of humour. Her career as an interior designer and textile maker allowed her to travel to the ends of the earth, in search of the unusual textiles and artefacts This in turn stimulated her love for all things colourful, exotic and exuberant.

In a world obsessed with youth, Iris only became a household name in 2005, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presented a sell-out exhibition of her flamboyant personal collection of accessories, fabrics and garments.

Known for her huge owl glasses, layers of gigantic beads and armfuls of oversized bangles, Iris has over the past decade become the unlikely star of numerous ad campaigns, the catwalk and even Instagram. She has also created a lipstick line for M.A.C, as well as a handbag line and a jewellery line for the Home Shopping Network.

‘Style is not about wearing expensive clothes. You can have all kinds of money and have no style at all. You can be dressed in the latest couture, shod in ten-thousand-dollar shoes and be baubled to the nines, and look like a Christmas tree,’ says Iris, ‘It’s not what you wear but how you wear it.’

5. Anna Wintour

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‘If you can’t be better than your competition, just dress better.’ – Anna Wintour

Editor-in-chief of American Vogue and the artistic director of Condé Nast, London-born Anna Wintour is one of the most powerful figures in the world of fashion today. Her aloof public profile was boosted by the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada”, starring Meryl Streep as a formidable magazine editor, who was thought to be based on her. (True to form, Anna attended the New York premiere of the film dressed in Prada).

Wintour, known for her large sunglasses, pageboy haircut and demanding ways is revered and feared in equal measure. “She does not put a finger in the wind to judge trends: she is the wind.” says columnist David Carr.

Her willingness to change and experiment is seen in her keen eye for new talent and emerging trends, mentoring young designers, introducing the editorial practice of featuring celebrities on the cover and taking Vogue’s fashion pages out of the studio and onto the streets.

Do you have your own style icon? Tell us in the comment section below.


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