Why a personal uniform is a go-to strategy for fashion designers

Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood's own fashion sense made her instantly recognisable - Pierre Verdy

Trends? Fashion designers have dictated a few. Yet in a business built on ever-changing style, one of the cleverest things you can do is have a style that barely changes. Which is likely why most designers have a uniform, and stick to it as devoutly as a priest.

While some like to be walking, talking ambassadors for their own brand, others prefer not to distract from their work. As a new auction at Christie’s reminds us, Vivienne Westwood fell resolutely into the former camp. In June, the auction house will sell rare items from the Derbyshire-born designer’s personal wardrobe, a treasure trove of more than 200 lots spanning four decades, to raise funds for her favourite charities.

vivienne westwood
Her clothes reflect the breadth of her interests, says Craik - Tania Hoser

“She was the ultimate free thinking non-conformist, and this shone through in her designs, as well as her activism,” says Adrian Hume-Sayer, a director at Christie’s and head of sale. “Looking at the themes of her collections, from Propaganda to Climate Revolution, she practised what she preached. Her clothes reflect the breadth of her interests.

The things that gave her inspiration were hugely varied, from 18th-century French painting to the climate crisis. Her wardrobe is very much a reflection of her and her ideas.”

vivienne westwood
Westwood's flaming orange hair was a fixture throughout her life - Getty Images

Indeed it is, for if anyone dressed in homage to her own design ideals and philosophies, it was Westwood, a woman who thought nothing of going knickerless to meet the late Queen, and whose flaming orange hair was as much a key fixture in her 80s as in her younger years.

Westwood’s wardrobe made her into an icon, instantly identifiable to her public. Here’s what other designers’ uniforms might reveal – or conceal – about them too…

Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld receiving the Commander's Cross of the Legion of Honour in Paris, 2010 - Getty Images

Lagerfeld’s black tuxedo jacket, white shirt and skinny black jeans, worn with omnipresent black sunglasses and black leather gloves, was arguably one of the most distinctive fashion uniforms of all time. His fan and wispy grey ponytail, meanwhile, became his most enduring trademarks. Lagerfeld once described his uniform as “like a mask. And for me, the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.” Like Andy Warhol, the deliberacy with which he made himself into a caricature was pure genius. He was a trademark, and that trademark was Chanel – by way of Roy Orbison and an 18th-century couturier.

Miuccia Prada

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Prada's Ready to Wear Spring-Summer 2024 fashion
Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Prada's Ready to Wear Spring-Summer 2024 fashion show - Getty

Most 74-year-olds would stop short of wearing A-line skirts and ankle socks, but most 74-year-olds are not Miuccia Prada – a designer so inexorably chic that only last month she graced the cover of American Vogue. If you’ve ever wondered why any midlife women of your acquaintance are wearing Alice bands, bold drop earrings, oversized brooches or slingbacks with kitten heels, it’s likely because they were inspired either by a Prada show, or by Mrs Prada. They’re one and the same.

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams attends the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter collection in 2023 - AP

The American record producer, singer, songwriter and fashion designer is one of the few modern celebrities who truly deserves to be called a multi-hyphenate. You have to be a genius to write a song as catchy as 2014’s Happy: a hit record is far harder to craft than a hit fashion show, and Williams dresses with a quirky, quicksilver liquidity that mirrors his busy, inquisitive, polymath mind. Described by Esquire as “the world’s best dressed man”, he’s currently bringing his own luxurious take on hip-hop style to Louis Vuitton’s menswear. How does Williams dress? Like a louche member of a billionaire boy’s club – coincidentally, the name of his first label.

Donatella Versace

Donatella Versace at Elton John AIDS Foundation's viewing party in March 2023
Donatella Versace at Elton John AIDS Foundation's viewing party in March 2023 - Getty Images

There are many wonderful things about Donatella Versace, but the best thing of all is that she’s so resolutely, unapologetically, glamorously Italian, with a “molto sexy” personal style that never wavers, however chaste or androgynous the trend cycle. Like a Calabrian Bet Lynch, no pencil skirt is too tight, no stiletto too high to countenance taking her bows in. The mob wife aesthetic? She invented it. But Donatella is no mob wife: she’s the entire mob, a steely survivor who always does things her way.

Phoebe Philo

British designer Phoebe Philo in Paris, 2011
British designer Phoebe Philo in Paris, 2011 - Getty

Entire PhDs have likely been written about London-born Philo’s personal style, which not only spawned its own army of fans (if Taylor has her Swifties, Phoebe has her Philophiles), but set a blueprint for some of her female contemporaries when taking their own bows (paging Victoria Beckham). An avowed minimalist, you’ll never see Philo in a bright colour or a garish print: it’s a white shirt worn under a navy jumper worn with loose, tailored trousers all the way, finished off with whichever trainers you yourself will be wearing six months later.

Hedi Slimane

Hedi Slimane
Hedi Slimane prepares for the Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 2013 collection - Getty Images

If the revered French designer has ever worn a baggy jean, we’re yet to know about it. Few male designers’ personal style has been as faithfully recreated in their own collections as his. As creative director of Dior Homme between 2000 and 2007, he made skinny black jeans, slim fitting suits and narrow leather jackets cult items among men of a certain age, as well as men too large to wear them (Karl Lagerfeld famously said he lost weight specifically to fit into Slimane’s designs). Since then, Slimane has helmed Yves Saint Laurent and Celine, always bringing his distinct personal style with him. How to describe it? “Chainsmoking lovechild of Lou Reed and Keith Richards” works.

Alessandro Michele

Alessandro Michele at the 2022 Met Gala
Alessandro Michele at the 2022 Met Gala - FilmMagic

At Gucci, he invented the “sexy librarian”, making a virtue of geeky accessories such as bottleneck glasses and yellow tights. At Valentino, where he’s now creative director, the jury’s out on what the Rome-based Italian will unveil. What we do know is that it won’t involve minimalism. More is more for Michele: if he were a musical, it would be Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, thanks to his love of wearing rich brocades, bold prints and lurid colours.

The Olsen Twins

The Olsen Twins
Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen at the CFDA Fashion Awards in New York, 2019 - AP

Clearly, the Olsen twins are two separate people. But are they? Have you ever seen them together in the same room? I’m kidding – although so reclusive are Mary-Kate and Ashley that it’s been an age since anyone has seen them at any sort of public event. Launched in 2006, their fiendishly expensive label, The Row, is the first and last word in “quiet luxury”: breathless acolytes like to describe it as “effortless”, “artistic” and “uncluttered”. Like The Row, the Olsens’ personal style is the result of what happens when you spend your early years as a child actor on Full House, forced to wear gingham pinafores and cute white socks with ruffles. It screams “no-one will take the p--s out of me ever again”.

Giorgio Armani

Giorgio Armani at his Autumn-Winter 2023-24 show in Milan, Italy
Giorgio Armani at his Autumn-Winter 2023-24 show in Milan, Italy - WireImage

He might be known as “king of the blazer”, but Mr Armani’s own catwalk look is a strict case of “no jacket required”. Now 89, the Italian legend always takes his bow in a simple navy round-neck jumper, navy trousers and pristine white tennis shoes – a classic, nonchalant look that mirrors his design philosophy. “Fashion is about trends – style is about more eternal qualities,” he has said. “The essence of good design lies in the consistency of approach.” And the consistency of your own look, presumably – which in Armani’s case is best described as “what Dickie Greenleaf would have worn, had he lived to be 90”.