As part of its 25th anniversary, CNBC is creating a definitive list of people who have had the greatest influence in business over the past quarter century. Determining who belongs on this list—and who should rank higher—has led to some spirited debates. Today, we pit Ralph Lauren against Donna Karan. After reading, cast your vote.
Ralph Lauren is arguably the most influential American designer of the past two and a half decades. He is a fashion icon, a brand and a lifestyle concept.
His story is the quintessential American dream. Born in the Bronx, N.Y., to immigrants from Belarus, Lauren turned his flare for design into an empire.
His influence on the fashion and retail industries stretches across not only decades but categories.
Lauren started his Polo brand with a line of neckties. From there it grew to luxury apparel for men and women, and then to items ranging from fragrances to home furnishings—helping to foster the notion that a brand can extend beyond its original niche if the concept is strong enough.
—By CNBC's Courtney Reagan
Women's fashion had long been a man's domain. Until Donna Karan.
The designer has brought Manhattan style to Main Street for three decades. Her original concept, "seven easy pieces," helped dress women in the workforce in the 1980s, providing them with a mix-and-match wardrobe centered on a basic black bodysuit.
Karan followed up with a more affordable clothing line, DKNY, which expanded to include jeans and men's apparel.
"I don't believe there has been a designer who has more consistently and thoughtfully addressed the complex needs of the modern dresser," Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour wrote of Karan in a 2001 editor's letter.
—By CNBC's Jane Wells