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The First Jobs of Fashion’s Most Influential Designers

Courtesy of Azzedine Alaïa

The rise to influence and success is often lined with hard work and—in the early stages—possibly a few unattractive jobs, too. While some career paths are linear, others are dotted with the unexpected. Vogue Arabia investigates the first jobs of Karl Lagerfeld, Manolo Blahnik, Azzedine Alaïa, and Giuseppe Zanotti to uncover the debut ambitious steps of a few of the greatest designers in our orbit. Scroll down to see who started out where, and be inspired.

Azzedine Alaïa: Housekeeping for a Comtesse

Born in Tunisia to wheat farmer parents, the couturier credits his elegant twin sister as his early fashion muse. His mother’s best friend would bring the young Azzedine Alaïa Vogue magazines, and after graduating from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, he took up an apprenticeship at a dressmaker’s. There, he honed his craft. For five days, he worked at Christian Dior as a tailleur but was dismissed. Alaïa then did a stint as a housekeeper at Comtesse de Blégiers but this twist of fate led him to meet high profile people who would later become his greatest clients, including Greta Garbo. Soon afterwards, he worked for Guy Laroche and Thierry Mugler in succession before setting up his own atelier. Alaïa is now regarded as one of the world’s leading designers.

Manolo Blahnik: Vintage Clothing Shop Assistant

Manolo Blahnik Four Seasons Hotel Milano

Shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik with one of his brogue shoe creations. Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

While studying at the Louvre art school, Manolo Blahnik worked in a local vintage clothing shop in Paris as a sales assistant. He rose to fame when he moved to London to work as a buyer at Zapata, and contribute to the Italian men’s Vogue title, L’Uomo Vogue. Two years later, he met Diana Vreeland, then editor-in-chief of US Vogue, and presented his sketches to her. Vreeland famously retorted, “Young man, make things, make accessories, make shoes.” The rest is history. Manolo Blahnik shoes are worn the world over by shoe aficionados of all generations.

Karl Lagerfeld: Junior to Pierre Balmain

Carla Fendi, Life President of the Board of Directors for the Fendi Group of companies with Creative Director of Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld, 1992. Getty

Karl Lagerfeld entered a design competition and won the coats category alongside long-term friend Yves Saint Laurent who won in another discipline. Shortly afterwards, he was hired by Pierre Balmain’s team to serve as Balmain’s assistant. Three years later Lagerfeld left Balmain to design the haute couture collections at Jean Patou. Lagerfeld is the creative director for Fendi and Chanel.

Giuseppe Zanotti: House DJ

Giuseppe Zanotti Jennifer Lopez

Giuseppe Zanotti designing the Giuseppe for Jennifer Lopez collection with J-Lo. Courtesy of Giuseppe Zanotti

It’s no surprise that Giuseppe Zanotti was born a few kilometers from Rimini, Italy, which is renowned for its shoe manufacturing; but it may surprise you to read that he was an avid avant-garde DJ in the early ‘80s. It wasn’t until the early ‘90s that Zanotti transformed his passion for shoes into a reality with a small workforce at the Vicini shoe factory. By 2000, he opened his first shoe boutique in Milan.

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