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Top Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry

Female Designers who Changed the Industry

Iconic names that shaped the industry then and now

Jon Sharpe
By Jon Sharpe, Chief Creative Officer

When it comes to celebrating women, the interiors industry is of note for its endless list of brilliant female interior designers past and present. Whether it’s 1920s icon Dorothy Draper or modern-day design mavens like Kelly Wearstler, the interiors sphere has undoubtedly been shaped by some of the most forward-thinking females.

To honour International Women’s Day, we bring you our round-up of the most iconic designers and architects, including three of our LuxDeco 100 designers. From their ambition to their business intuition and, of course, their innate style, take inspiration from these remarkable leading ladies.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - ZAHA HADID - LuxDeco Style Guide
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The design world came to a standstill at news of Zaha Hadid’s premature passing in March 2016. The Iraqi-born British architect captivated minds with her fluid, spatial designs that stand tall across the globe. Notable projects include the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Heydar Aliyev Centre—two spaces which demonstrate her unrivalled eye for geometric lines. A woman of many firsts, Hadid she became the initial woman (and first Iraqi) to win the esteemed Pritzker Prize and the first to receive the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to architecture.

Why we love her? She redefined 21st-century architecture. Period.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - India Mahdavi - LuxDeco Style Guide
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Colour is life for celebrated French interior designer India Mahdavi (LuxDeco 50 2019) who is perhaps most well-known for dousing sketch London’s interiors from head to toe in candyfloss pink before that was a thing; she basically created the Millennial Pink trend. Her playful genius has been tapped for covetable product collaborations with the likes of De Gournay (wallpaper), Louis Vuitton (table and tray) and Pierre Frey (fabrics); long-standing relationship with Laduree and Valentino, resulting in those delicious and instantly recognisable pastel interiors; a reconstruction of the women’s fashion floor in high-end Berlin department store Kadewe; and, more recently, a commission to create the setting for a Pompidou Centre exhibition of its 20th century design collection.

Why we love her? She succeeded where others would have failed in turning childhood inspirations of Disney movies and other cartoons into highly Instagrammable, trend-forming spaces.

Top Female Interior Designers Who've Changed The Industry | Ilse Crawford | Read more in The Luxurist |
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A unique figure of the interior design world, Ilse Crawford MBE has played three main roles in her career—that of critic, creator and teacher—of which she has excelled in all three; quite an offering to the industry. The London-based interior designer and academic honed her design eye as the founding editor for Elle Decoration before developing Donna Karan’s home collection and being approached to design Babington House. In 2001, she set up her own studio, Studioilse, and the projects have been varied, human-centred and characteristically thoughtful since. A lover of learning, the designer’s academic career includes serving as head of the Man and Well-Being department at the Design Academy Eindhoven for 21 years. For that alone, her impact on the interior design industry cannot be overestimated.

Why we love her? Known for her cerebral approach, she truly believes in the power of good design as a way of enhancing our lives and proves that by instructing a new generation in the same.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - Dorothy Draper - LuxDeco Style Guide
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Dorothy Draper

One of the earliest female interior decorators and one of the first to professionalise interior design as a fully fledged career, Dorothy Draper (1889-1969) set the bar so high it’s now no mean feat to come anywhere close to her iconic status. Known for the audacious style and groundbreaking colour combinations that deviated from the typically dark palettes of her time (think coral red, aubergine, chartreuse, turquoise blue), the American visionary was commissioned to design high-profile public spaces, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs. She also put her skilled hand to product design—from automotive interiors to cosmetics.

Why we love her? She invented Modern Baroque—her very own style which put a modern spin of classical aesthetics.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - Andrée Putman - LuxDeco Style Guide
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Andrée Putman

Renowned for designing boutique hotels and interiors for fashion houses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, Andrée Putman (1925-2013) has become an industry legend. The French interior designer, who valued elegant minimalism, light and space, established her global name by working on a diverse range of projects, from designing for Air France Concorde and the Guggenheim Museum to launching her eponymous studio, now led by her talented daughter Olivia. Putman also specialised in product design and has collaborated with esteemed brands, such as Christofle, enabling us all to add a dose of her anti-excess aesthetic to our homes.

Why we love her? She founded Ecart International—a platform for early 20th century designers, such as Jean-Michel Frank and Eileen Gray.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - Elsie de Wolfe - LuxDeco Style Guide

Elsie de Wolfe

Elsie de Wolfe (1859-1950) wasn’t credited with the title of “the mother of interior decoration’ for no reason. The interior designer and writer got her first break when asked to decorate The Colony Club—the first women’s clubhouse in America—and built up a distinguished book of clients, including industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick. Inspired by French 18th Century elegance, the designer veered away from dark, heavy Victorian aesthetics, opting for light, warm feminine spaces, often peppered with soft upholstery, animal print and antiques.

Why we love her? She’s the bestselling author of 'The House in Good Taste', which offers timeless design advice still today.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - Kelly Wearstler - LuxDeco Style Guide
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Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Wearstler (LuxDeco 50 2019) is one of the world's hottest celebrity designers. The American interior designer (a.k.a. the queen of Maximalism) has not only become globally recognised for her distinctive interiors, but also pioneered her own lifestyle brand that includes everything from lighting and decor to wallpaper and jewellery. Brave shapes, unexpected textures and invigorating colour palettes are the hallmarks of her iconic projects, from the Viceroy Hotels in Santa Monica and Miami, to the Four Seasons, Anguilla, and the Bergdorf Goodman restaurant, New York.

Why we love her? Her interiors are absolutely fearless.

Female Interior Designers who Changed the Industry - Gae Aulenti - LuxDeco Style Guide

Gae Aulenti

Flying the flag for Italy, Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) takes the final spot on our shortlist. Architecture, graphics, furniture, stage design, lighting and interiors—the creative’s catalogue of work is a next-level example of women’s ability to multitask. Her most renowned project was converting a Paris train station into the beautiful Musée d’Orsay. Part of the Neo Art Nouveau group, which moved away from the architecture championed by the likes of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, Aulenti looked to philosophy, art, music and history for her design inspiration.

Why we love her? An inspiration to the next generation, Aulenti was one of the few women designing postwar Italy.

Header Image: Zaha Hadid by Steve Double