Why aren’t more legacy fashion houses run by women?

Are there that few women running legacy fashion houses today and is it true that they have very little power?

Diane von Furtenberg in her office in New York

Diane von Furtenberg in her office in New York

On the second day of New York Fashion Week, an online magazine Business of Fashion – without exaggeration one of the most authoritative sources of information in the industry – published an article titled “Female fashion designers are still in the minority.” The main statement was based on a lot of research and a simple calculation. The editorial team calculated the amount of fashion brands participating in four fashion major weeks, finding that women designers run only 40% of them. The same concern had other big platforms – from blog The Man Repeller run by Leandro Medina to the column in the New York Times by columnist Vanessa Friedman. They all state: women are in the minority, which is at least unfair. We decided to find out if everything is as bad as it seems for women’s rights in fashion and if there is actually a reason to ring the alarm.

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Every year students of both sexes enter the prestigious fashion colleges around the globe. In London Central Saint Martins, according to official statistics, out of the total number of graduates 76% are female, in New York’s Parsons – 77%, in the Antwerp Royal Academy – approximately 60%. The most titled professors are also women. Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane owe their careers to the famous Louise Wilson from Central Saint Martins. Linda Loppa, the former dean of the Faculty of Design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, gave a kick-start to the famous “Antwerp Six”. Today one them, Walter van Beirendonck, has taken her post today. On average, the sex ratio among teachers about 60 to 40 leaning towards women.

Diane von Furstenberg in her studio, 1987

Diane von Furstenberg in her studio, 1987

Let’s go further. Despite the high unemployment, graduates who decide to work in their specialty field are working for various fashion brands. Gender issues do not concern the employers as much as their willingness to work around the clock, their creativity and responsibility. Some graduates might also be engaged with their own brands; they all also participate in various competitions for young designers.

Vivienne Westwood in his studio in London, 1982

Vivienne Westwood in his studio in London, 1982

Look at the LVMH Prize shortlist and the list of winners: intentionally or not, but the percentage of men and women at every stage of the award is in almost perfect balance. In 2016 the winner of the LVMH Prize became Grace Bonner Wales. And she makes, let us recall, clothes for men.

Phoebe Philo and Karl Lagerfeld at the LVMH Prize, 2015

Phoebe Philo and Karl Lagerfeld at the LVMH Prize, 2015

Do you still miss the days of Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli? Do you feel sad that even DKNY and Diane Von Furstenberg – iconic brands founded by women – are now in the hands of men? It’s not that simple: in the world where marketing and business skills are winning against creativity, the creative director of the fashion house is required to not just be creative, but to be a good director and a manager of its team in the first place.

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg

There are a few reasons why women do not always reach the top of the corporate hierarchy. The most obvious one is their desire to start a family and have a baby, as stated by the Business of Fashion. Nothing extraordinary: at the age of 30-40 years in the Anglo-Saxon culture women often decide to interrupt their careers for the sake of creating a family. And this is exactly the age when you are more likely to achieve maximum heights in the profession and good, long-term contracts.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1936

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1936

Being a creative director it is also a huge responsibility, with the never-ending struggle of the sales department and many other features, familiar to any senior manager. It is not excluded that the amount of women “appointees” in the fashion world is much smaller than those who developed and cultivated their own powerful brand – like Miuccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo, Consuela Castiglioni, Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, Mary Katrantzou and others. But those are the brilliant examples and no one will dare will challenge the authority of Phoebe Philo (Celine), Stella McCartney, Clare Waight Keller (Chloe), Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski (Hermes) and Julie de Libran (Sonia Rykiel). As are we confident that Maria Grazia Chiuri awaits a huge success at Dior.

There are many more men creative directors, we do not argue. However, it would be strange to say that the clothes for women should be created just by women; after all, we all want to buy beautiful, quality clothing that is well tailored and carefully stitched. As for that matter the creative department of each fashion house includes people of both sexes: your sweatshirts, dresses or suits were definitely stitched by both men and women.

Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri during their last joint exit at the Valentino Haute Couture, A/W 2016-2017 fashion show

Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri during their last joint exit at the Valentino Haute Couture, A/W 2016-2017 fashion show

We now propose to look at a wider picture. All of the top stylists – from Katie Grand and Katy England to Lotta Volkova – are women. The main fashion portal -net-a-porter.com – was created by Natalie Massenet. She is also now the head of the British Fashion Council. In America a similar position is taken by Diane von Furstenberg. The key figure in trend analysis is a Dutchwoman Li Edelkoort. Best PR-agency in the industry was created by Karla Otto. And of course, the most influential fashion magazine editors are also women.

Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour

It’s unnecessary to look for other logic than the individual’s personality or their talents. Hardly anyone will argue that men are worse or better at combining clothes or writing articles. For each Pat McGrath there is a highly qualified makeup artist-man, for each Demarchelier – there is Annie Leibovitz.

Maybe, as the Council of Fashion Designers of America screams about multiracial issue, but says nothing about gender equality in the fashion industry (with some exceptions in a number of Arab and African countries), that means there is no problem at all?

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg

Since the world of couture and pret-a-porter has become so unbelievably commercial, the only criteria for a successful career has nothing to do with gender or sex. It is all about the talent, multiplied by a desire for a long time with hard work that you genuinely love.

Finally: According to Payscale, female models earn one and a half times more than male. How does this make you feel?


Text: Irina Gorskaia

Images: Vogue Archive

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