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A call for more women as creative directors

By Kristopher Fraser


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Fashion |OPINION

The fashion industry has long been one of the pillars of women's empowerment. It is an industry that is built upon the genius, innovation, consumerism and gravitas of some of the most impressive women in history. While the obvious expectation would be that women would be on top in every aspect of the field from chief executive officers to designers, their strength is relatively minute in the latter mentioned category.

As it stands, the majority of creative directors of the most prominent luxury fashion houses are men. That is not to say that these men aren't talented or undeserving, quite the contrary. However, even in an industry where women are expected to rule, it still is not an even playing field.

Some of the most well known luxury brands in the world include Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada. Note that three out of the four aforementioned fashion houses all have men as their creative directors. The majority of the most famous luxury brands in the world are women's ready-to-wear focused, yet so few women come to mind when you think of the industry's best known designers.

Some of the biggest headline makers during the most recent fashion month which just concluded with Paris Fashion Week included Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Nicholas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton, Raf Simon for his debut at Calvin Klein, Ricardo Tisci for his last collection with Givenchy, Olivier Rousteing for Balmain, Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent and Dolce and Gabbana for their millennial studded show.

The few women that managed to nab big headlines included Prada as per usual, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior and Rihanna for Puma x Fenty.

Rihanna is unique in that she was a billboard chart-topping musician before she ventured into the fashion business. Miuccia Prada took over the business from her grandfather Mario Prada. While Chiuri now holds one of the most coveted positions in the entire industry, she spent the majority of her career working side-by-side with Pierpaolo Picciolo, with Dior being her first reputable solo venture.

The fashion industry has a dearth of women in top design posts

Prada and Chiuri have proven that their own talents and brilliance stand independent of their association to any men their careers have been associated with, and thankfully no attempt has been made to define their success through their association with men in power, but they did not cut straight to getting recognition on their own, they had to work harder for it than their male counterparts have had to.

The few other women that can be pointed to in powerful creative director positions at reputable brands include Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin, Phoebe Philo at Céline and Angela Missoni at Missoni. It should be noted that similar to Prada, Missoni's role was also passed on to her by her family.

While the fashion industry is very competitive and cut throat, it should not be this difficult for a woman to find herself in a top tier designer position without any juxtaposition to her family or a man in power. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, this was an industry that immediately responded by championing women's rights. The CFDA had a partnership during Fashion Week for Planned Parenthood. Prabal Gurung sent an entire line of t-shirts down the runway with messages like "The Future is Female" and "Girls Just Want Fundamental Rights."

How then, have we not done better to elevate women to the most prestigious creative director positions the industry has to offer?

For starters, in an industry that is dominated by women, men have an easier time getting their work noticed. Their ability to stand out by just being men is a quintessential example of male privilege.

Secondly, the heads of these global fashion conglomerates like Richemont, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering need to do their part to balance the gender playing field. For far too long, they have let these design posts go male dominated. LVMH took its first step by putting Chiuri in her current role at Christian Dior, and perhaps they will give a woman another chance when they replace Ricardo Tisci who announced his departure from Givenchy last month.

While women have long held coveted positions in other aspects of fashion, from Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, who is easily the most powerful fashion editor in the world, to Linda Fargo, senior vice president and director of women's fashion at Bergdorf Goodman, who can make a designer's career with one buy, ladies are still coming up short in the design arena.

Young women should not be discouraged though. Let us not forget one of the most historic fashion designers of all time and the only fashion designer on Time Magazine's list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century was Coco Chanel. While Chanel's fashion house is currently headed by Lagerfeld, it is her name that will carry the legacy and legend of the brand forever.

It is also up to the design schools to ensure that their young female designers are getting the best opportunities in regards to internships and mentorship possible. These issues are never a quick fix, but in an age where the future is female, the young women who will lead tomorrow need their building blocks to stand on today.

It won't happen by next fashion month, but by preparing young women now to be the premiere ready-to-wear designers of tomorrow, and by finally giving women a chance to lead these top luxury brands in creative director positions, the playing field can be even. On this International Women's Day, the industry should start taking steps toward giving women the chance they have so long and so fairly deserved.

Photo 1 and 2: Dior website
Photo 3: Bouchra Jarrar Facebook
Photo 4: Phoebe Philo Facebook

Maria Grazia Chiuri