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?