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FLANNELS Five: Fashion's Designer Couples

FLANNELS Five: Fashion's Designer Couples

A closer look at some of fashion’s most iconic partnerships.


Close friends, co-creative directors of Kenzo and founders of cult U.S. store Opening Ceremony, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim grew up in the suburbs and held jobs at the mall before they met at university. No strangers to a student budget, their days were spent bonding over a mutual love of fashion (and, we like to imagine, tequila slammers) and hunting down thrift-store bargains. They launched Opening Ceremony in 2001, in a back-water street in New York’s Soho, and were appointed to Kenzo in 2011. It is they who are responsible for the new era of Kenzo we see today – contemporary and wearable men’s and women’s collections. Their fresh and vibrant vision of the label has given it a new lease of life – a youthful energy the success of which is reliant upon their attentive respect for the traditions of the Kenzo house through print, colour and global references.


At times business partners and at others lover, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé met in 1958 and became one of the most powerful alliances in fashion. Their intense and life-long relationship culminated in a civil union in 2008, days before Saint Laurent’s death. Between them, they ran a fashion empire spanning some of the most beautiful and revolutionary couture and RTW the world had ever seen. Saint Laurent was shy and suffered bouts of depression and alcoholism – a tortured genius – whilst Bergé was practical and business-minded. They were partners in life and work, one unable to operate without the other and bigger than the sum of their parts. Saint Laurent said of Bergé in 2001: “Everything I didn’t have, he had. His strength meant I could rest on him when I was out of breath.”


Mixing business with pleasure is rarely advisable, and many thought the house of Dolce & Gabbana might fall after the high-profile couple’s split in 2005. They were wrong. Their creative partnership has continued full pelt, with all of Hollywood and most of the millennial generation’s most-followed social media stars descending on their runway extravaganzas. The sexy, Mediterannean aesthetic, pop-culture references and A-list clientele have ensured the brand’s continued popularity. They opened their label in the early ‘80s, a bohemian and impoverished time of hard work and a diet of pasta and milk in a forgotten part of Milan. Reports are of their deeply affectionate, brotherly relationship fuelled by a constant flow of creativity and exchange of ideas.


A relationship shrouded in mystery, little is really known about the romance between Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. Amidst the power dressing, spandex and Miami Vice of '80s fashion, Kawakubo (of Comme des Garçons) and Yamamoto (responsible for cult Adidas collaboration Y-3) landed at an unsuspecting Paris Fashion Week in a blur of black draping and avant-garde design. The fashion establishment was horrified, literally running from the shows, but the two were a united front and their then-loving relationship is the stuff of subversive style legend. Part of what was dubbed the ‘Tokyo School’, they challenged the conventions of Western couture, and despite their split in the early nineties the legend lives on.


The matriarch of punk, Vivienne Westwood’s first famous relationship was with her collaborator and fellow anarchist Malcolm Maclaren. More recently, Westwood married her current husband Andreas Kronthaler when she was 50 and he 25 years her junior. They met at the University of Applied Arts Vienna – she was the other-worldly arts school teacher, he the young student with a talent for making dresses. After a year spent in the Austrian capital, she invited him back to London to work for her and later move in to her Clapham home. They share a vision and collaborate on their collections, living frugally, they reportedly cycle to work and regularly turn down invitations to some of the most glittering events in the celebrity calendar. The antithesis, perhaps, of what we consider modern ‘fashion’, it’s their authenticity and idiosyncrasy in a corporate and capitalist world that makes them so appealing.