Why Is Fashion, Of All Places, Still a Man’s World?

Lauren Sherman | March 9, 2015

It just doesn’t make sense.


The house of Chanel is more than 100 years old. Dior is nearly 70.

While some fashion brands have managed to remain independent, most of those old-time-y names are owned by conglomerates. The people who run these super-companies — namely Kering’s Francois Pinault and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault — clearly believe in fashion as a craft and on some levels, an art form, but they are also shrewd businessmen. If a creative director has a few bad seasons, if clothes — or more importantly, accessories — aren’t selling, then he or she will be discarded.

This happens easily and often. In January, Frida Giannini was removed from Gucci and protege Alessandro Michele put in her place. Adam Andrascik, a relative newcomer, was named creative director at Guy Laroche. And in the wake of Guillaume Henry’s appointment at Nina Ricci last year, Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud took over at Carven.

But something funny is happening here. The names just listed above? All men. Barely any of the fashion world’s head designers are women.

I don’t have insider knowledge of what went on behind closed doors at Gucci when execs were searching for Giannini’s replacement. However, I do know that none of the names that were publicly tossed around were female, save for Valentino co-designer Maria Grazia Chiuri. Simone Rocha was briefly mentioned as a possible lead at Carven, but Dior, Margiela, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga have all hired new creative directors over the past few years and rarely — if at all — was a woman’s name a serious, considered part of the speculation.

But why? It’s not an easy question to answer. Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, Alessandra Facchinetti, Jenna Lyons, and Clare Waight-Keller run some of the most interesting, successful, creative studios in the industry. Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo has managed to achieve what every fashion house wants: commercial success without sacrificing challenging, groundbreaking design. While their partners are male, Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Valentino’s Grazia Chiuri are each co-running two of fashion’s biggest success stories of the past half-decade.

And yet, when you look at Style.com’s highlight reel from the Spring 2015 shows, only four of the 15 labels mentioned are run by women. Could it be that fashion is just another boys club?

Yes. Despite the fact that most fashion brands are catering mostly to women, very few are led by them. (LVMH’s Delphine Arnault is the most visible female exec in luxury, Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet is another.) While women seem to have a better chance at succeeding in this space — out of the 24 female CEOs on the Fortune 500, nine of them run specialty retailers — there’s still an imbalance.

Think about the rest of the fashion industry, at least the creative side of it. What if the majority of fashion magazines were run by men? What if most stylists were men? While men can succeed, and have succeeded, in those roles, women are properly represented.

“Even though women are entering the industry at the bottom, they are not rising proportionally to the top,” Eric Wilson wrote in a 2005 column for the New York Times. A decade later, one would hope that an acknowledgement such as this might have made a difference by now. But instead, things have stayed the same.

So, is it up to the rising generation? Given that this is an industry largely driven by women — our style, our self-expression, our bodies — what will it take for us to lead the charge?

  • wowww this is crazy and disappointing

  • We should just let them be. Women do so much already, so let the men have a bit of pride – plus, they make hella good clothes.


    • Lmm3

      @disqus_s2GVY87vjv:disqus I don’t understand your comment. Women have pride too and make hella good clothes, if not better. According to you, women should be content with doing the grunt work. When women aren’t represented in the creative process we all lose out from what these remarkable women have to offer.

  • KF

    I think it will take a lot of things to change this. Reading Coco Chanel’s biography really opened up my eyes to this double standard, which is why she was so revolutionary. She made clothes for women that she would want to wear, with women in mind. Writing, sharing, and calling out this topic is a great start, supporting female designers is another.

  • Aleksandar Nastasijevic

    I’m a men, and I want to be head of fashion magazine. What’s wrong with that?


    • Amelia Diamond

      totally nothing. we just need to get more women to the top of the design world!

  • Fishmonkey

    I wouldn’the say “still” but rather “already” — until fairly recently while independent design houses were more common, many were run by women. However with conglomeration, as you pointed out, there are fewer people overall who are making decisions, and since they are mostly men, they are more likely to think of men. Study after study shows that this is how subtle biases operate – not intentional exclusion but rather benign “oh, I just haven’the thought about her”, women and minoritis being overlooked more often.

    • Catherine Bohner

      Conglomerate business culture is a bunch of basic douchebags. Even the women that end up on the top don’t do anything to change the system.

  • sev2108

    So fashion isn’t different from any other field? shocking.

  • A great article and some interesting questions raised. In fashion there is a long tradition of categorizing women in such a way that makes it hard to achieve solidarity and thus to make gains. For example young/old. It is very interesting to read the biographies of women designers to understand some of the challenges. Bloggers and others in social media can make a concerted attempt to identify and focus on emerging female designers. This post is going to make me more aware of seeking them out. Thanks…

    Accidental Icon

  • It’s because sexism isn’t over, especially when it comes to finance. It takes capital to start or maintain a fashion label. Men are more likely to fund other men. So men are more likely to succeed at business, which feeds the terrible stereotype that men are inherently better at running a company.

    • DBCOOPER888

      If men are more likely to fund other men, then they are better at running a company because running a company requires being funded…often by men.

      • Except that running a company well is not the same thing as getting funded. My mistake, I shouldn’t have equated running a successful business with getting funding. I live in San Francisco and it’s easy to forget that raising gobs of money doesn’t necessarily mean your business is awesome.

        • DBCOOPER888

          Getting proper funding is an incredibly important aspect of running a business. Do not downplay it.

          • That’s a tautological argument to justify systemic sexism.

          • DBCOOPER888

            How so? We’re already talking in generalities here. If men and women are no more or less capable than each other, in general men will do better in a sexist culture that gives more opportunity to men. Hence, IN GENERAL, men will have more success running a business.

          • dw777

            The point is, DBCOOPER888, that if we presume that, funding aside, women and men are no more or less capable, then it is simply unfair that men get funded more easily. It doesn’t make men “BETTER at running a company,” it makes them more fortunate. It’s removing the barriers, the sexist lending practices, that matters.

          • DBCOOPER888

            It’s unfair but reality is unfair. That’s not a good argument. Running a company involves getting some lucky breaks and men are more likely to get lucky breaks because they’re men.

          • dw777

            It IS a good argument, because we are talking about sexist lending policies, which can be CHANGED. We don’t look at social inequities that can be changed and just shrug, “Life is unfair.” If we did, black people would still be slaves,women would not have the right to vote, yadda yadda. It is absolutely ridiculous to simply ACCEPT inequities and just call them a “benefit” to a privileged group.

          • DBCOOPER888

            Who’s talking about policy changes? No one in this thread. We’re talking who is better at business given the current climate. All things being equal, given our current society men are simply because they are men.

          • dw777

            Now you have made yourself ridiculous. “All things being equal” – is inane, since you have tacitly conceded that they are not equal! And having an ADVANTAGE doesn’t make men better – it makes them privileged. So men aren’t demonstrably “better” – they are being given an advantage, and they enjoy a privileged position. If you can’t distinguish between privileged, and being inherently “better” at something, you are either obtuse or intellectually dishonest and simply trying to promote a sexist agenda. It’s patently silly. It would be more accurate for you to say, “Men are more likely to succeed as fashion business owners, because they enjoy more favorable lending practices.” That would be a fair statement. But calling them “better” is saying that they are inherently superior – which is apparently what you desperately need to do. You might want to examine your motivations – and delusions – in trying to spin basic inequities in the playing field into a perverse, “all things being equal” superiority – when they whole point of the initial post is that all things are NOT equal! And your comment re: no one is talking about lending policies… The point of the initial post in this thread IS that there are sexist lending policies that promote misguided stereotypes. Is it possible that you don’t understand that someone who is being given an advantage is not inherently “better”? If you give one quiz show contestant the answers before the contest, and she wins, you wouldn’t say she is a “better” contestant. She isn’t better, smarter, more knowledgeable.
            She hasn’t demonstrated inherent superiority. She had an unfair advantage. You haven’t demonstrated in the least that men are “better at business” absent the unfair advantage they enjoy.

          • DBCOOPER888

            “You haven’t demonstrated in the least that men are “better at business” absent the unfair advantage they enjoy.”

            Who says I was trying to demonstrate that? I’m saying because men have an unfair advantage they are better, all things being equal. If you want to change that, go right ahead.

          • LHathaway

            shut up, you monumentally ignorant feminist pig.

  • The fact that we’re having a more open discussion is still a good start. Fashion may still run on this mechanical corporate industry and business which, no surprise, is normally run by men…those men in suits at the top. Because they’re all still up there, this sexism just breeds even more sexism for the next lot to come in.
    Even though that column was written in 2005, there have been developments in the way that there is a more open forum and floor for anyone to say/start something. It’s easier now for any young person with ambition to start their own thing and take off. Am I being too optimistic?

  • Never knew this, but it really isn’t that shocking to me.


  • LouLNL

    I currently work as a technical designer for a tailored menswear company and I am a member of an international clothing designer and executives organization… I don’t see this changing any time soon.

  • Rebecca Sum

    Hmmm my counter argument though is that Fashion IS a women’s world – it’s just that the success of women are seen in the independent brands, companies women have created themselves which is what makes them even more powerful that the houses. For example Isabel Marant – she has become one of the most sought after brands with her revolutionary wedge sneakers!

    I think the success of women in the fashion industry is their success in not conforming with the major houses. Kate Spade, Tory Burch are also great examples of this.

    Just my two cents !

  • This is a weird problem in a lot of fields. Dance, for instance, is another female – dominated field that is disproportionately run by men. And as in fashion women disproportionately do leg work in running service organizations, administrative positions, sector management and improvement…as it sounds like you’re describing in fashion. It’s almost like men are the head of the game while women take on care positions….kind of like its the patriarchy or somethin.

    • Lmm3

      @am@am__eh:disqus Other examples are libraries and hospice care companies are often run by men with women doing the lower-paying work.

      This really has to stop. Two things need to happen: 1)Women need to promote women and 2)Women need to step-up and make it clear they want to take on leadership roles.

  • I think it relates to the general gender gap and culture: men and women act differently, and men are still often more self confident in an interview than women, they often dare take more chances and I would say taking on the role of leading a huge fashion house forward is scary. I think it is changing, but slowly, and fashion design is such a creative, personal taste and tough discipline, that is driven a lot by a closed culture that is more difficult to influence and create a roar about as e.g tech. I actually think that fashion design is less gender biased than a lot of other industries, and decisions are based more on previous work and skill. BUT it would be nice to see more female designers rise to the thrones and an important subject to adress! Go go GO all female designers!

  • Well that’s interesting… Especially with all the women’s rights going on now


  • Y.

    Fashion is a mans’ world if you are a designer or photographer. Most of the designers are aimed at women while men receive the same looking shirt in different colors with maybe a somewhat interesting pattern.

    And what about editors, bloggers, and stylists? Most editorials are aimed towards women with sexist titles like, “Every girl needs this lipstick in her bag.” It might sound catchy or clever, but such a title feels like it’s telling someone that, “Fashion is not for you. It’s for women. This article is for women.” Or, “If you are a women, you need to look this way.”


    • Y.

      *woman, sorry English is bad.

  • Could it be that the men are just a bit flashier and hired as figureheads more than anything else? That’s the problem with many women, we tend to be understated and make our accomplishments look effortless. Many of the women aren’t exactly splashy new hires to boast about on a quarterly report.

  • Ask Socratic

    Interesting. I was actually thinking about this the other day. The irony within it all is that the men dominate only to cater to a woman’s world.


  • Interesting:

    Karl Lagerfeld: “I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couldn’t care less about their opinion.”


  • Interesting:
    “I’m not crazy to discuss fashion with men. I couldn’t care less about their opinion.”
    Source: Karl Lagerfeld on Fur (Yea), Selfies (Nay) and Keeping Busy. The New York Times Online. Matthew Schreiner. 3rd March 2015

  • Greer Clarke

    This article was so necessary and well written. I hope it gets widely read.

  • Catherine Bohner

    (I’d argue the most visible female exec of the industry is the lady who made Burberry expensive and then moved to Apple but that might be my NPR-listening bias)

  • This is surprising to hear honestly..



  • Jordyn

    What a great article. I also think there is a large gender divide in female fashion photographers–at least at the top of the industry, as there are a ton of amazing up-and-comers who may change that divide in the near future, but you’d be hard-pressed to name more than just a handful of female photographers who have a lot of influence over the industry at the moment, and definitely not more than their male counterparts.

    • MermaidJayne

      Yeah this is definitely a problem because at the end of the what we were in images are the way men want to see women not the way women want to see women. Even when trying to sell things o women. I mean do we even know how women want to see women since everything is filtered through the male gaze. That’s something I becomes a major focus soon: how women want to see other women.

  • rdrdrdop1

    I forgot where I read the quote but, “A man, even a gay man appreciates a good looking woman.”
    Most female designers are boring in their design, except case of Frida Giannini but,……

  • artemiscuous

    I think a lot of this has to do with corporate culture. Its general attitudes, as well as the criteria for success and prestige, are still conceived as masculine. Women who achieve success typically do so by downplaying any traits they have that are perceived as feminine (whether or not that is valid) and emphasizing their traits that appear more masculine. So that’s why fashion is no exception to the rule, at least in terms of conglomerate-owned houses.

  • Zebulon

    Fashion is not dominated by men:
    1) Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and arguably the penultimate judge of fashion.
    2) Donna Karan
    3) Claire Shaefer
    4) Ann Taylor
    5) Tracy Reese
    6) Rebecca Taylor
    7) Julia Alarcon
    8) Linda Platt of Tom and Linda Platt
    9) Laura Nash (sew chic)
    10) Kay Unger
    11) Marcy Tilton
    12) Chloe Parker (style arc)
    13) Anne Klein
    14) Vera Wang

    • Ami Park

      yes and that’s all

      • Zebulon

        There are many small botique designers, like Francessca Starlacci. Men may get more attention, but the women designers have some serious talent.