Style Fashion

Thursday 19 September 2019

2018's Emerging Style Icons: The fierce and incredible women who've shaped our fashion choices

From fashion designers to Oscar-nominated actresses, entrepreneurs to femme fatales, these fierce and incredible women win this year's style icon status, writes Rose Mary Roche

(L to R) Claudia Winkleman, Rihanna, Ruth Negga
(L to R) Claudia Winkleman, Rihanna, Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga
Paris Jackson, Stella McCartney and Miley Cyrus attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala 2018 in New York, USA. Ian West/PA Wire
Claudia Winkleman presented the show from 2010 to 2016 (Isabel Infantes/PA)
Saoirse Ronan arrives at the European premiere of Mary Queen of Scots at Cineworld Leicester Square, London
Adwoa Aboah

Rose Mary Roche

It has been a year of extremes - we have enjoyed a scorching summer, increased female visibility in public life, and domestic economic recovery with the highest growth in Europe in 2018 but also the depressing spectre of widespread homelessness, plastic pollution, and Brexit.

Fashion is always a barometer of the times we live in, and this shortlist of those women who have influenced fashion in 2018 also reflects women's current pre-occupations. Fashion feeds off an innate collective intelligence - as Chanel observed: "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." Some are designers, some are actors and some are activists, while an occasional one is all three. All have shaped our fashion choices, via direct or indirect means.


TV's best dressed femme fatale, from Killing Eve

Rarely has an anti-heroine looked as stylish and striking while dispatching her hapless victims. The black spider of espionage has a fashion sense as lethal as her designer labels and a complex "weaponised femininity" reflected in her contrasting ensembles, which ranged from a romantic pink tulle dress by Molly Goddard to a statement power suit by Dries Van Noten. Villanelle was the favourite fictional femme fatale of 2018 and her covetable wardrobe played a large part in defining her character and cementing her appeal to a devoted fan base. We await series two and her fearless fashion choices with much anticipation.

Sinéad Burke

Irish disability campaigner, contributing editor to British Vogue and academic

Irish writer Sinead Burke poses on the red carpet upon arrival to attend the British Fashion Awards 2018 in London on December 10, 2018

Sinéad is a refreshing and forthright presence in fashion. She first came to prominence in 2017 with her TED talk 'Why Design Should Include Everyone' and describes her role as "a catalyst to combat ignorance". She admits to "an insatiable interest in fashion" while also voicing frustration that mainstream brands don't cater to her body type. She radiates star quality and is both authentic and articulate whether dressed in custom-made Burberry or in the children's clothes she sometimes wears because of her achondroplasia. She was Ireland's most prominent cover girl in 2018, appearing on the cover of The Business of Fashion's influencer edition, while astutely using her profile to highlight the lack of inclusivity within the fashion and design industries.

Ruth Negga

Irish-Ethiopian Oscar-nominated actress and advocate for diversity in film

Ruth Negga

Slim and androgynous, Negga's boyish even childlike appearance shouldn't lead anyone to underestimate her determination and talent. 2018 saw her star in a Louis Vuitton campaign after a striking red carpet season promoting her Oscar-nominated performance in Loving, while her next role in Passing has also garnered positive reviews and her gender fluid interpretation of Hamlet at the Gate was a critical success. She has self-described as "a wallflower in real life" but in her professional life has worn a covetable array of designer labels including striking scarlet Valentino accessorised with a blue ACLU ribbon (to the Oscars), Givenchy, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Rodarte. She is a strong ambassador for modern Ireland with her Irish-Ethiopian heritage, international career and outspoken advocacy about the need for diversity in film.

Meghan Markle

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attends Pillars, a charity operating across New Zealand that supports children who have a parent in prison by providing special mentoring schemes in Auckland on October 30, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand

American actress, duchess and most watched royal

The mixed race American actress who was the most watched bride of 2018 and who then fell pregnant within months of her royal wedding is currently the most influential royal in terms of style. She has brought an entirely new audience and dynamic to the royal family as she navigates life as a modern duchess and mum-to-be. Sleek, stylish and inclined towards minimalism she has provided acres of media coverage in the year of her marriage to Prince Harry. The new royal also wowed in a floor-length white crepe dress by Irish designer Don O'Neill earlier this year, on visit to Tonga with Prince Harry. Debates about her penchant for trouser suits, high heels and Givenchy will now be replaced by analysis of her skill in dressing the royal bump.

Victoria Beckham

British fashion designer, OBE, former Spice Girl

Victoria Beckham arrives for the People's Choice Awards 2018 at Barker Hangar, in Santa Monica, California, on November 11, 2018. (Photo by Jean-Baptiste LACROIX / AFP)

To navigate the transition from pop star to style star and respected designer takes hard work, discipline and sheer determination. VB celebrated 10 years as a fashion brand this year with new investors, a birthday show at London Fashion Week and a British Vogue cover in October. The media-savvy entrepreneur who appreciates the power of her role as a working mum, posed for Vogue with her children, emphasising the importance of personal branding to the success of her business. Since her first collection of dresses in 2008 her business has expanded to include mainline and diffusion collections, eye-wear, handbags, shoes, makeup for Estée Lauder and a collaboration with Adidas. She also revealed a wicked sense of humour with her self-parodying Vogue video which went viral on social media.

Adwoa Aboah

British-Ghanaian model, contributing editor to Vogue, social media star and feminist who champions diversity

Adwoa Aboah

This outspoken and individualistic model and social media star fronted campaigns for both Chanel and Fendi in 2018, starred as Edward Enninful's first cover of British Vogue and was also made a Contributing Editor at the title in an attempt to attract a younger audience to the style bible. As founder of Gurls Talk - a platform for discussing social justice, feminism and gender equality - the British-Ghanaian model is perfectly placed to re-define how modelling and feminism can co-exist. Championing diversity, honesty and a frank approach to mental health issues, she has made imperfection a badge of authenticity and has modelled for brands including Calvin Klein, DKNY, Alexander Wang, Theory, H&M, Versace, Topshop, Fenty, Puma, Kenzo, Simone Rocha and Erdem. She is changing the perception of what a modern supermodel looks like with her frank gaze, shorn head and pronounced freckles.

Stella Mccartney

British fashion designer, OBE, firm supporter of animal rights who uses vegetarian and animal-free alternatives in her work

Paris Jackson, Stella McCartney and Miley Cyrus attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala 2018 in New York, USA. Ian West/PA Wire

In the year that saw her buy back total ownership of her brand from luxury conglomerate Kering, McCartney has emerged as the champion for female-centric design. The low-key mum-of-four has always focused on sustainability in her collections and in 2018 dressed Meghan Markle in her striking going away outfit after the royal wedding. A signature style of sharp tailoring, confidence and sexy femininity blended with comfort and desirability has made the brand a favourite of working women who place a premium on easy, understated style. A life-long vegetarian, Stella McCartney does not use any leather or fur in her designs and in 2018 launched the first vegan Stan Smith trainer in collaboration with Adidas. She has been hugely influential in showing that high fashion can have high ideals and her mission statement reflects this: "We challenge and push boundaries to make luxurious products in a way that is fit for the world we live in today and the future: beautiful and sustainable."

Claudia Winkleman

British TV presenter, with a wicked sense of humour

Claudia Winkleman presented the show from 2010 to 2016 (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The endearing and popular co-presenter of Strictly has emerged as a style icon with a devilish sense of humour in her weekly column 'Can We Talk About?' in the Sunday Times Style magazine. Her witty and down-to-earth observations about the fickleness of fashion and her own style foibles makes her writing unique. Guaranteed to put a smile on any style maven's face, no matter how seriously they take themselves, she has even managed to make anti-dandruff shampoo desirable starring in a TV commercial for Head and Shoulders. Completely unscripted and 100pc Claudia, the advert displays her impromptu commentary style and quirky sense of humour. Her signature look of long blunt fringe, fake tan, smoky eyes and monochromatic tailoring makes her instantly recognisable as well as much loved - she is the highest paid female presenter at the BBC.

Saoirse Ronan

Irish Oscar-nominated actress, the face of Calvin Klein perfume, anti-bullying advocate

SHOWBIZ M (14).jpg
Saoirse Ronan arrives at the European premiere of Mary Queen of Scots at Cineworld Leicester Square, London

The US-born, Irish actress blossomed into womanhood this year and enjoyed critical success for her role in Ladybird while also creating an impact on various red carpets during her Oscar campaign. She chose her labels as carefully as her scripts, wearing striking looks from Calvin Klein, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Chanel while promoting the coming-of-age drama. She told Vogue: "Womanhood, I suppose, is about being as authentic and honest with yourself as you can be and not being tied down by what the idea of womanhood is to other people." Ronan was also featured in Maxim's "Hot 100" list and was named among the best American actors under 30 by IndieWire. Now the face of a Calvin Klein perfume, Women, she is also a spokesperson for the younger generation of Irish girls and women, participating in anti-bullying and mental health initiatives. Beauty and brains in abundance but worn very lightly.


Barbadian singer, actress, beauty and fashion entrepreneur


The singer was everywhere in 2018, even anointing herself as a female Pope at the Met Gala ball. During her career, Rihanna has undergone one of the most significant style metamorphoses of any female star bar Madonna, her heroine. When putting together her own wardrobe she has previously stated, "It's become more about taking a risk... I always look for the most interesting silhouette or something that's a little off." She has also described fashion as her "defense mechanism". Not content with her entertainment career, Ri Ri has expanded into beauty and fashion with her Fenty beauty line, Savage by Fenty lingerie range, (which champions body diversity) and her ongoing collaboration with Puma. Dramatic, naughty and articulate, her business acumen in leveraging her name and visibility across fashion and beauty brands marks her out as the owner of a future fashion/ beauty conglomerate. She is the epitome of cool and smart as a whip.

Weekend Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in this section