“These other designers that do the pretty little sketches, the boys,” Coco Chanel said to John Fairchild of WWD, “they don’t understand women, they don’t know how they live.” Despite the dominating presence of male couturiers and designers, fashion has offered countless women a livelihood, a career, a name. And then there are those who’ve made history through their artistic vision and entrepreneurial chops. Chanel, for instance, built a brand before the word “brand” was even in use. Elsa Sciaparelli brought Surrealism—and absurdist intelligence and wit—into the realm of dress, and therefore into the mainstream. And that’s just two examples. The Peabody Essex looks at the women who fired up fashion, starting with Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress. —L.J.
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