Born: Notting Hill, England, 1972. Education: Attended Central St. Martin's College of Art & Design, London, graduated in 1995. Family: Daughter of musician Paul and photographer Linda (de-ceased) McCartney. Career: Interned for Christian Lacroix, apprenticed with Knightsbridge tailor Edward Sexton; launched her first line, "Stella," of lingerie-modeled dresses in London, 1995; became head designer of Chloé in Paris, 1997; first Paris show at the Ritz included her spring-summer collection, 1997; introduced spring collection, 1997; moved to Gucci, 2001; launched her own label, 2001. Awards: VH1 and Vogue Designer of the Year, 2001. Address: Eighth arrondissement near the Palais de L'Elysse, Paris, France.
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The name itself implies fame, but it can't all be attributed to the ever-popular Beatles legend, Paul McCartney, or his photographer wife, the late Linda Eastman McCartney. Barely in her 30s, the British designer Stella McCartney had already introduced several clothing lines of her own, not to mention becoming head designer of the House of Chloé.
Living in her Notting Hill flat, McCartney seemed to have it all. Guests flocked to experience the inviting atmosphere and sensual modeling episodes. Sexpot slips, metal-mesh minis, and revealing knit dresses were McCartney's greatest accomplishment up to 1997. But her carefree, living-for-the-moment lifestyle came to an end when the offer to head Chloé was presented before her—an offer any young designer couldn't refuse.
Hired only 18 months out of design school, McCartney's flirtatious style was a perfect fit with Chloé. Although young and inexperienced, her determination and bold personality earned her quite the success she deserved. In 1999 Chloé pulled in an amazing $421.4 million, not including the opening of its first subsidiary in 20 years, a Chloé boutique in Manhattan.
With the help of high-profile friends Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, McCartney successfully took over veteran designer Karl Lagerfeld's place at Chloé. Whether it was for a fitting, fashion show, photo shoot, or merely moral support, Campbell and Moss helped pave the road for McCartney. "Stella's a friend of mine. I wanted to help her out on this," Campbell said in 1995 at the start of McCartney's career. While Chloé continued to thrive with newcomer McCartney, rumors still swirled about the young designer's path. People thought she was too young, didn't have an understanding of the design world, and even worse, was hired based on her father's name. "I don't think the Chloé chiefs would be stupid enough to ride a whole company on me because of who my father is. I'm the breath of fresh air that Chloé needs," McCartney told People in January 1998.
As McCartney transitioned from London to Paris, she kept a diary describing in detail her day-to-day experiences. Some inserts focused on Paris life in general, and some on what she was feeling. Learning the ins and outs of Paris seemed to come quickly for her; it was in the designing world she had yet to prove herself. Near the end of the journal, dated the morning of 5 October 1997, McCartney wrote: "To me, this spring-summer 1998 collection is more than a fashion show, it is a statement. Fashion shows come and go, don't they? They don't change the world, do they? But these clothes that you see parading by are my way of speaking to women, to the girls of my own generation, but even more to the women who are old enough to be my mother, and especially to my mother, Linda, to whom this collection is dedicated."
McCartney often commuted back and forth between London and Paris and also did a fair amount of travel within Paris. As she met more people and visited more design studios, it became clear she needed to reduce the gap between male and female clothing. The idea may not have surfaced completely, but what did develop was her 1998 spring-summer collection. The line resembled those of her London days yet with a flare of sophistication and modern maturity. Although other designers would agree that McCartney's designs portray a "girlish" and feminine style, the designer herself believes her collections have grown since her time in London and are based on romantic tradition. "My mom always collected thrift-shop stuff—especially Italian slips," McCartney commented in an April 1998 Time magazine article. "I've always loved underwear and antique fabrics and lace for all their soft texture."
Probably the greatest challenge McCartney faced at Chloé was her ability to appeal to both 25-year-olds as well as 45-year-olds. In her spring 1998 collection, McCartney featured garments that indicated sensuality. Wide-leg pantsuits, delicately patterned knee-length day dresses, lace-trimmed slip dresses, spaghetti-strap tops, and translucent minis are at the heart of what the designer loves most— femininity. But the look appealed to a much more youthful audience. With the influence of President Mounir Moufarrige and Lagerfeld, McCartney's level of detail helped her address the age-insensitive issue. Her styles became as popular among 20-somethings as they were to women in their 40s and 50s. McCartney's clothing portrays more than a fashion statement; her fashions often characterize a woman's personality, intellect, and sexuality. McCartney's young, flirtatious style has slowly transformed into elegant fun.
The question hanging in the air, however, was how long McCartney planned to stay at Chloé. The young and inspiring designer had only begun to set out on her career; opportunities were already bombarding the once "girlish" designer. As for her role at Chloé, some said it would soon diminish, as she has been known to move from one pursuit to another rather quickly in the past. McCartney took Chloé to a level most people never anticipated, which was exactly the reason many foresaw another major career move in the youthful designer's life. Industry insiders speculated there wasn't enough room for McCartney to grow at Chloé—at least not to the extent she desired. And they were right: life at Chloé was short-lived for McCartney. The designer's bold, captivating style intrigued Domenico De Sole, president and chief executive of the Gucci Group. In April 2001, Gucci announced it had signed McCartney, who would soon launch her own label under its banner.