In Memoriam: Notable Fashion Luminaries Who Have Transitioned


Some very significant fashion industry professionals passed away in 2020. Some from COVID-19 infections, others from natural causes or other disease states; still, the industry mourns their loss. And this year Fashion Reverie had a personal loss with the death of Editor-at-Large Karyn Collins.

 Out of deep respect and reverence, Fashion Reverie looks back on some distinguished fashion industry professionals that said goodbye in 2020.

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Pierre Cardin

There were several fashion designers that passed away in 2020; however, the fashion designer most known to consumers was Pierre Cardin. In fact, I remember purchasing a pair of Pierre Cardin shoes when I was in college which made be believed I had arrived as a fashionisto before the word became a part of the fashion lexicon.

Throughout his very long career, Cardin is perhaps best known for introducing licensing to the fashion industry, which was his way of democratizing the fashion industry. Pierre Cardin established his own fashion house in 1950 in Paris. In 1954, Cardin introduced his “bubble dress,” which is a short-skirted, bubble-shaped dress made by bias-cutting over a stiffened base.

“Because of his vast knowledge of construction, tailoring, and sculptural-architectural proportions, Cardin is the only Paris couturier, outside of Balenciaga, who is not only a designer, but an excellent fitter and cutter,” noted a fashion journalist in 1958, as reported in The New York Times.  In his own word, Cardin wanted his work to “an adventure in ideas.”

Pierre Cardin’s designs were distinguished by their sculptural, architectural construction. And for its time it pushed the fashion envelope with a projection toward the future. Cardin has been credited with creating a revolution in menswear with Vogue describing his 1966 menswear collection seen in New York’s Bonwit Teller, “as in the style that Cardin describes as ‘sexy … plus elegant que kicky … very young … the shape picks a man up and gives him height and youth ….”

As the haute couture started to decline in the late1960s, Pierre Cardin’s ready-to-wear collections gained more market traction. And with Cardin’s combination of maxi and mini dress aesthetic with a new hemline, Cardin was on his way to dominate the ready-to-wear market in the early 70s.

In the 1960s Cardin was one of the first designers to adapt licensing to expand his business into licensing everything from accessories to cosmetics and fragrances, and even at one-time toilet paper. Though this expansive licensing venture diminished the credibility of the Pierre Cardin brand, by the 1980s licensing had made Cardin one of the richest fashion designers.

In 2011, Cardin’s business was valued at a billion dollars, though the Wall Street Journal contested that value. Cardin died on December 29. He was 98 years old. There is a retrospective of Cardin’s work currently at the Brooklyn Museum.

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Kenzo Takada

Though not a household name like Pierre Cardin, Kenzo Takada was one of the first designers to employ the East meets West design aesthetic. And was one of the first Asian designers to acquire a global fashion audience.

Kenzo arrived in Paris from Japan in 1965 and established his first fashion brand in 1970. Kenzo opened his first flagship store in Paris in 1976. Launching his first menswear collection in 1983. Since 1993, Kenzo’ fashion brand was owned by LVMH.

Kenzo’s fashion designs were a combination of big jungle-inspired prints, East meets West design aesthetics, and dynamic graphics. Considered by many fashion insiders as a designer that was ahead of his time, Kenzo never wanted to duplicate what was already going on in Paris fashion.

His native Japan remained [the] source of inspiration for every collection he did. He kept the use of vibrant colors and volumes present at all times,” said Circe Henestrosa, head of the school of fashion at Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts.

“I think he was ahead of his time and was one of the first designers to experiment with the idea of genderless fashion. He would never conform to the stereotypical idea of masculine and feminine fashion,” said Ms Henestrosa.

Kenzo left his eponymous brand in 1999 but continued to design home goods. In January 2020, Kenzo announced that he was starting a new lifestyle brand K3. Kenzo Takada died of complications due to COVID-19 infection on October 4, 2020. He was 81 years old.

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Kansai Yamamoto

Though not as well known as Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto has had his moment in the sun. Known for design aesthetic of “wild maximalism” and making stage costumes for David Bowie in the 1970s for his “Ziggy Stardust” stage persona, Yamamoto debuted his ready-to-wear collection in Paris in 1975. And opened Kansai Boutique in Paris in 1977.

Always drawing inspiration from his Japanese heritage, Yamamoto in the early 1990s took a hiatus from showing and producing his maximalist collections and centered his creative energies on live shows that combined fashion, music, dance and acrobatics. These Super Shows could draw as many as 12,000 attendees with the first of such events held in Red Square in Moscow in 1993.

In 1999, Yamamoto returned to fashion with his collaboration with Junko Koshino, creating a modern version of the classic kimono. The Philadelphia Museum of Art produced a retrospective of his work in 2009. And in 2018 Yamamoto and Louis Vuitton worked together to create classic Japanese art and Kabuki-inspired patterns and prints for LV’s Resort 2018 collection.

Kansai Yamamoto died on July 21 after battling acute myeloid leukemia since of March 2020. Kansai Yamamoto was 76 years of age.

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Stella Tennant

Supermodel Stella Tennant will no longer grace runways, editorials, magazine covers, and campaigns with her steely British aristocratic presence. Tennant passed away suddenly on December 23 at her home in Duns, Scotland.

Stella Tennant burst unto the fashion scene in the early 90s with iconic fashion photographer Steven Meisel shooting Tennant for the cover of Italian Vogue. Later Tennant acquired an exclusive contract from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Additionally, Tennant appeared in numerous campaigns for Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Hermes, and Chanel.

Tennant’s ascent as a fashion model was due to some respect to her boyish, androgynous look—which was in vogue in the early 1990s and had become a new way of looking at feminine beauty which Karl Lagerfeld and many top designers were embracing—and because of Tennant’s her aristocratic background. Stella Tennant was a distant cousin of Princess Diana and the granddaughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish, and Deborah Mitford.

Stella Tennant is survived by her husband, French photographer David Lasnet and four children. She was 50 years of age.

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Sergio Rossi

One of the early victims of COVID-19 was Italian footwear icon Sergio Rossi. Sergio Rossi shoes were used by  Azzedine Alaïa, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana in their collections, and worn by celebrities from Lupita Nyong’o to Rihanna, and Paris Hilton to Laura Dern.

Rossi launched his eponymous footwear brand in 1968 in Bologna, Italy. And the brand’s most famous shoe styles being his extravagantly strappy, round-soled Opanca sandal and the more classic, sharp-toed and high-heeled Godiva pump.

Riccardo Sciutti, CEO of the brand told WWD that Sergio Rossi “loved women and was able to capture a woman’s femininity in a unique way. He was never over-the-top, always in good taste. The shoes were always wearable and he was never satisfied until they were perfect. They were not accessories for him. He told me once that he wanted to create the perfect extension of a woman’s leg.”

The Sergio Rossi brand was acquired by Gucci Group, now known as Kering, for 96.2 million dollars in 1999 and was later sold to European investment house Investindustrial in 2015. Sergio Rossi died on April 4. He was 84 years of age.

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Karyn Collins

Though not as famous as some of the fashion designers in this memoriam, Karyn Collins light shines just as bright. As a fashion editor and journalist Karyn Collins was a constant presence at New York Fashion Week for over 25 years.

A graduate of Howard University, Karyn Collins continuously primed her craft, always striving for excellence. She required that of herself, and she also required that of the many journalism students she taught at Rutgers, Seton Hall, Bloomfield University, and other New Jersey universities.

Karyn Collins wrote for New Jersey’s Star Ledger newspaper, Madame Noire, and many other fashion and entertainment print and online publications. Karyn came to work with in 2013, serving as our editor-at-large until her death.

She is greatly missed by all our staff and her humor, wit, charm and intelligence can never be replaced. Karyn Collins succumbed to cancer on November of this year. She was 56 years of age.

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Sharbari Dutta

Known for her ethnic menswear designs for Bollywood stars, Sharbari Dutta was found dead in her home on September 18. According to the, Sharbari Dutta was “one of the most popular names in the fashion industry, Dutta had brought about a revolution in the way the world saw men’s ethnic wear. From styling current Pakistan PM Imran Khan to cricket meastro Sachin Tendulkar, her ethnic fusion designs changed men’s ethnic wear for the better.”

A well-known name in the global fashion industry, Dutta introduced colored Bengali Dhotis and designer Punjabi kurtas with embroidery to the mainstream fashion world. She had dressed personalities ranging from sportsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly to Bengali actor Prosenjit Chatterjee and singer-composer Anupam Roy, fashion industry sources said.

“I would like to ask the younger generation to flaunt their wear confidently. Don’t mimic, be yourself. Films don’t influence fashion statement,” Ms Dutta had told PTI earlier.

Sharbari Dutta was 64 years of age.

—William S. Gooch

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