Not too long ago, a New York-based designer (who we will leave unnamed) took to her Facebook page to pose the following question, "Why is there a lack of support for women in women's fashion?" To this, someone responded: "Let's not play that card." (A sure fire sign that this is a topic that faces some opposition and that it is one worth discussing).
The designer went on to state an interesting fact: "In the past 10 years, there have been 2 winners of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund that were women," and she's right. We checked. And of the male winners, three (Joseph Altuzarra, Alexander Wang, and the boys of Proenza Schouler) are primarily womenswear designers, and a couple others design both womenswear and menswear (Rogan and Greg Chait of the Elder Statesman). As for the recipients of the CFDA Awards for Womenswear and Emerging Womenswear designers, over the past 10 years, there have been 11 male and 8 female winners.
This year's CFDA Awards nominees for womenswear add to the problem. Up for the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award ... all men. Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang and Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. As for the Swarovski Award for Womenswear, one that honors emerging designers, two men and one woman: Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters for Creatures of the Wind, Rosie Assoulin, and Wes Gordon. Hmm ...
The CFDA/Vogue is only one source, though, and we cannot blame them exclusively for the overarching issue. What about other organizations in the U.S. fashion industry that certainly play a role? Well, let's look at recent Fashion Group International winners in the womenswear category. FGI's recent Rising Stars: Norman Ambrose and Tia Cibani (a tie for 2013's womenswear winner); Wes Gordon and Misha Nonoo (a tie in 2012); Fabiola Arias and Bradley Scott (yet another tie in 2011). It seems to be evenly matched for the Rising Stars. And what about the Ecco Domani winners? 2014: designers Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein for their womens/menwear brand; Lindsay Degen for her knitwear line, and Jordana Warmflash of Novis. Pretty even.
The 2013 honorees: TOME, the womenswear line designed by Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin; and Susan Woo's namesake womenswear line. Again, the winners are pretty evenly males and females.
Placement in magazines should also be taken into consideration. As we've told you, the power that fashion publications have, particularly Vogue, in making or breaking the career of a young design brand, is significant. In 2007, former New York Times fashion critic, Cathy Horyn, commented on this phenomenon, most notably, Anna Wintour's power to further the careers of designers by taking them under her wing and thus, getting them jobs and getting them stockists. Horyn wrote: Wintour has "involved herself in the placement of designers at fashion houses ... She instigated the deal last year between the men’s designer Thom Browne and Brooks Brothers, cultivating in a virtually unknown talent the idea of a larger audience and then urging the company’s chief executive."
Wikipedia may actually put it best, though: Wintour has long "persuaded designers to loan clothes to prominent socialites and celebrities, who are then photographed wearing the clothes not only in Vogue but more general-interest magazines like People and Us, which in turn influence what buyers want."
While magazines appear to provide a relatively even playing field between male and female designers, there is no denying the glowing emphasis on and allure of men designing for women. Case in point: Tom Ford, who designed sex-infused womenswear at Gucci and YSL before launching his eponymous label. According to Ford, "I think gay men make better designers." And Karl Lagerfeld, who famously said: “The woman is the most perfect doll that I have dressed with delight and admiration.”
The number of men designing womenswear vs. women designing womenswear is arguably best exemplified if we look abroad to the biggest design houses in the wold, where the vast majority of creative directors have been and continue to be men: Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Marc Jacobs, Roberto Cavalli, Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane, Christophe Lemaire, and the list goes on and on. The most notable exceptions make up a shorter list. Think: Miuccia Prada, Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, Sarah Burton (at McQueen), Frida Giannini (at Gucci) and Donatella Versace.
To this seeming disparity, our unnamed designer says, "I refuse to believe that that is because men know better what women want, or that there is a lack of female talent." Another individual chimed in, saying: "There does seem to be a subtle (or not so subtle) bias that favors male designers of womenswear." She makes a great point. In the U.S., particularly in New York, it seems that most of the womenswear labels we celebrate are designed by men. There are obviously some exceptions (think: Cushnie et Ochs, Veronica Beard, Ohne Titel, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen - to name a few), but are there enough? And if not, is the industry just not doing enough to adequately foster women in the current climate which focuses quite heavily on male designers (thanks, in part, to the rapidly growing menswear industry in the U.S.).
So, now that we have some of the facts, I'm opening this one up for discussion. Are female designers being adequately fostered in the fashion industry in the U.S.?
* This article was initially published in March 2014.