Fashion design is a female oriented industry, but why are men gaining all the acclaim?

Chanel Runway. Photo: Getty Images
Chanel Runway. Photo: Getty Images

James Brown once said, “this is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman.” Some would say that’s true, others – primarily women – would oppose.

It is a well known fact that fashion is predominantly a female oriented industry. So by relating the king of soul’s lyrics to the fashion industry it can be seen as quite the opposite, especially when considering its ratio of men to women. However, women of the public are so used to having men – from celebrity stylist, Ty Hunter to fashion consultant, Gok Wan – tell them what to wear and offering advice on how to wear it, it can at times make you question whether it’s men who actually run the show.

Fashion icons such as, Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington – American Vogue editor-in-chief and creative director, respectively – are widely known to be a dominant taskforce in the industry. Their presence in the fashion game has influenced and inspired many women within various aspects of the industry and opened up career opportunities compared to other industries chiefly dominated by the opposite sex. “I initially studied journalism [fashion] because I was inspired by the achievements of the late Diana Vreeland and the iconic Anna Wintour; both of them are great examples and they paved a way for women,” says, 22-year old fashion stylist and buyer, Naomi Sandwell.

Though there are several women who have gained numerous successes in the industry, particularly the design department, the amount of men gaining more attention and praise outweighs that of the women. Research shows that male designers have been presented with the coveted Womenswear Award 14 out of 19 times, on the other hand, a woman has never been awarded the Menswear Award. For example, Montreal-born, London-based designer, Erdem Moralioglu, took home the womenswear designer of the year in 2014 and Northern Ireland native, J.W. Anderson, was presented the menswear designer of the year award (also 2014).

Erdem Moralioglu. Courtesy: British Fashion Council
Erdem Moralioglu. Photo: Justin Goff

It is pretty evident that men are receiving more acclaim in an industry that is generally associated with women. In an article for Man Repeller, American journalist Lauren Sherman states, “barely any of the fashion world’s head designers are women.” A statement undoubtedly true, however, could the reason behind this possibly be the fact that most successful and celebrity-crazy high end brands – such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Balenciaga – are owned by conglomerates run by men?

Kering’s François-Henri Pinault and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault are primary examples. Most of the creative directors at the many designer brands owned by their companies are men; from Alexander Wang to César Rubio. The usual case with high-end brands owned by businessmen is if sales aren’t coming then the creative director has to go.

This is a situation that has occurred a number of times. This past January saw former Gucci creative director, Frida Gianini replaced with Alessandro Michele and Peter Dundas at House of Cavalli replaced with Massimo Giorgetti.

Alessandro Michele. Photo: Ronan Gallagher
Alessandro Michele. Photo: Ronan Gallagher

The interesting factor about these aforementioned changes is female creative directors like Gianini are being removed and switched with men, while Cavalli’s replacement for Dundas was also from the same gender which proposes the question, ‘are women actually being considered when a role arises?’

According to a publication by The Independent, ‘women occupy just a third of the top jobs in fashion,’ further supporting Sherman’s statement on the scarcity of women as head designers in the industry. Digital Editor, Jorinde Croese, 21, identifies the reason behind women occupying less top fashion jobs as “power problems.” Croese continues, “there’s not a big enough shift in the industry, though companies like LVMH are massively contributing to a positive change at present.” Despite LVMH’s efforts, figures from October 2014 show that ‘4.6 per cent of Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs’ – a group LVMH happen to be a part of.

The fashion industry has various well established and successful female designers; varying from young to old: Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood and many more. However, the majority of media acclaim and categories such as ‘fast-rising under-40 designers’ go to men; from Alexander Wang to Jason Wu, Christopher Kane to Jonathan Saunders.

In today’s society gender inequality is well-debated and challenged topic. Pay gap is one of the significant issues when deliberating the inequality women face at work. A gender pay report made by the Equality Human Rights Commission indicate that the gender pay gap for full time workers has fallen below 10 per cent, while men now earn 17.5 per cent more than women on an average hour.

Alexa Chung. Source: Instagram
Alexa Chung. Source: Instagram

While research shown may be more towards public and private sector jobs such as, healthcare, administration, management and finance, the reality is the same occurs in the fashion industry.

The top designers and creative directors at prominent luxury brands are all mostly men. From Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel) to Raf Simons (Dior), Ricardo Tisci (Givenchy) to Hedi Slimane (Yves Saint Laurent) – the list is somewhat extensive.

Manila-based menswear and womenswear designer, Carl Jan Cruz notes that women are notably “underrepresented in the industry.” However, he believes that men’s craft in fashion differs to women’s which possibly explains why there are more acclaimed men in the industry particularly in the luxury sector. “Men’s skills and vision differs to women’s which gives different perspective and buyers seem to prefer designs by the “dominant sex.”’

If you look at the number of female students who study fashion-based courses, particularly fashion design, you will see how evident it is that women are more populous in the fashion world than men. Katherine Lee Joe, a fashion writer at Daily Life, points out that there are “far more women designers at the bottom of the industry,” with approximately 70 per cent of them being fashion graduates.

Menswear designer and recent fashion graduate, Jega Tremaine, explains the adversities women face in fashion: “it’s not easy as people would think. From internships I’ve done I have experienced inequality from the way I was treated compared to the male interns. In all honesty, there have been job roles I applied to but I’ve been overlooked because of my gender.”  

There’s an old saying that goes, “behind every successful man is a woman.”

It seems that might be the case for the fashion industry. All the successful men in the industry, particularly the design sector, have all – one way or the other – been influenced and inspired by women figures. Therefore, It is inarguable to state that women are the backbone of this multi-billion industry.

Moreover, to reinstate the question, is gender inequality still alive in the fashion workplace? The answer is a relatively simple. Data figures show it’s the men gaining success, while women continue to work hard but are left overlooked for the major roles. However, with the likes of LVMH doing more to make the industry a fairer and better place for women, this can only mean fellow top fashion houses will begin to do the same.

Perhaps Mr Brown’s famous words, this is a man’s world, will receive a name change voicing gender equality rather than male supremacy.


Timmy Odejimi
Posted by:Timmy Odejimi