Fashion week: Why are women finally designing women's clothes?

 
Model in red dress A model wears a dress by British designer Jenny Packham

The top designers in women's fashion used to tend to be male. Why are women now taking over?

Once upon a time if a woman picked up an expensive dress, it tended to have been designed by a man. Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace are designers whose names are synonymous with feminine style.

They have been followed by Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford. But as Paris Fashion Week opens, are women reclaiming their wardrobes from male designers?

It is a strange set of affairs. Such great leaps have been made in sexual equality. Fashion is an overwhelmingly female passion - the vast majority of fashion students are women. It is commonly said that women dress to impress each other rather than men. So why have there not been more women designing for other women?

Start Quote

Men put on great shows. Women design clothes that people want to wear”

End Quote Lisa Armstrong, fashion journalist

Part of the reason is historical - men were traditionally on the technical and design side in fashion houses, working as pattern makers while women sewed on the buttons and dyed the feathers.

There were always high-profile women designers, from the pioneering Coco Chanel, to Mary Quant in the Swinging Sixties, and more recently Vivienne Westwood and Donna Karan. But they were bold exceptions to the male rule. And even Chanel has been closely associated with men like Karl Lagerfeld for many decades.

The designer and former Clothes Show presenter Jeff Banks says that on the whole men make better designers for women. It starts with a willingness to be frank.

"When women ask an opinion of another woman as to how they look, they always doubt the answer. Because a woman will always say 'oh you look great'."

He disputes the conventional wisdom that women today dress for other women. "I think both men and women dress to impress the opposite sex."

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The difficulty women designers have had breaking through was explored in a landmark article in the New York Times in 2005. It noted that of 37 prizes the Council of Fashion Designers of America had awarded to young designers since 1986, eight went to women and 29 to men. It noted 20 of those were gay.

Tom Ford was quoted in the piece saying that men were more objective and therefore more trusted by women.

"Of course there are many more gay male designers," he said. "I think we are more objective. We don't come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies."

Banks suggests that across society there are far more male than female designers.

"Designers are normally men. I don't know of an eminent motorcar or motorbike designer who was a woman. Or many female architects." It's not because of any lack of ability but because women aren't as "pushy", he says.

Gucci show in Milan Gucci is one of the brands that now have women in the top posts

Julie King, head of fashion at De Montfort University, rejects such a reading. There are more plausible reasons for why fewer women have reached the top jobs, reasons that apply equally to many sectors.

Fashion is a high-stress industry that demands single-mindedness and women often end up compromising for family reasons.

"It's an age-old issue," she says. "A lot of women take a career break so don't want to push themselves forward that extra bit."

Gay men outnumber their peers in women's fashion for good reason, she says. They usually lack family commitments while also having an insight into what women want. "You don't meet many straight men in fashion apart from the accountant. And gay men are very influenced by strong female role models."

Coco Chanel Coco Chanel: a pioneer for female designers

To attack the lack of women in fashion is a bit like asking why there aren't more women chefs, says TV fashion presenter Trinny Woodall. "It's how it's been. But the number of female fashion designers is growing."

And the High Street has been far quicker to embrace female talent than the catwalk. H&M's head of design is Ann-Sofie Johansson and her predecessor was also a woman.

At Top Shop Karen Bonser is head of design and Jacqui Markham design director. And all 28 of Top Shop's design team are women.

Daily Telegraph fashion editor Lisa Armstrong argues that the world has turned upside down since the New York Times article. The male domination is ending. "Six years ago they did have the power, it was McQueen and Galliano."

Now a younger generation of female designers are sweeping all before them - women like Isabel Marant, Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, and Sarah Burton, along with Miuccia Prada, who Armstrong rates as the most influential designer in the world.

Green blob dress The catwalk is a long way from the High Street

Men like Lagerfeld, McQueen and Galliano were defined by the need to be spectacular, unlike the "self-effacing" Burton, who has won great acclaim since replacing McQueen and had the fashion moment of the year with Kate Middleton's dress. It is the women who now have the momentum, Armstrong argues.

"Men put on great shows. Women design clothes that people want to wear," she argues. And men are blamed for another annoying tendency - you can have any size you like as long as it's skinny. "Every male designer I've ever interviewed has liked women to be very thin," Armstrong says.

British designer Ozwald Boateng argues there's still a place for men in women's fashion. "It's not your area so there's definitely more objectivity. The result can be more surprising and women like to be surprised."

Women are succeeding but not at the expense of men, Boateng argues. The whole designer market is growing thanks to demand from China and India.

"Now there's more space for men and women to come through, especially younger designers. The fashion world has become global."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 79.

    Women's clothing, packaging for WONDERFUL contents.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 78.

    I am old - and I know that I was bonkers at your age - so YOU are all bonkers. You only become sane and rational when you are over 70, because by then you lived long enough to see the pattern of life.. Young'uns have a lotta learning to do - just amoebas, despite what you think you know.Good luck,kiddos - you really have no more clue than I had at your age Glad to bo 70+ liberated! But enjoy!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 77.

    Men look @women; women look @men; it's the beginning of a reproductive cycle. Yes, statistically, there are men who look @men; & women who look @women; not just to admire; but to compete. But it's not just all about reproduction. "Survival of the fittest" is about more than looking "well fit"; it's about getting & keeping that job: success; moving on or up. 1990s "Pretty Woman" - what happened?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 76.

    Until very recently women did not have the opportunity to obtain the kind of financial backing required to open a basic collection and establish a real presence in the fashion industry, the idea of working your way up to the top was a myth as the top jobs were all but off limits to women, even Channel had to use her "Connections" to get established.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 75.

    Women are finally getting wise to the fact that famous 'male' designers have been trying for years to make men and women look the same. Nice to see women making judements for themselves.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 74.

    Entschuldigung, you know this is Bruno -the Fashion Polizei- and ve are here at London Uber Cool Fashion week - ees gonna be crazy, ees gonna be In or Out ... ve gonna find out why being Man is so Out dis season !!

  • Comment number 73.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 72.

    1. Women buy and choose their clothing.
    2. It has traditionally been "a man's world", so men got the power jobs including head fashion designer.
    3. A fashion designer has to be able to enter a changing room full of half naked women and look at the cloths. Straight men look at the women's bodies.
    4. So 2 and 3 mean that gay men were the only people permitted to be top fashion designers.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 71.

    68.Shafiqul Islam Jibon:

    You know that actually sounds like it could be fun! we should give that a go!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 70.

    55 - I was stung by a wasp today
    "Women are just as sexist as men if not worse!"
    -------------------------------
    Sorry. You can't say that - it's sexist, you beastly man ;o)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 69.

    For many years male fashion "designers" have gone on nothing more than an ego trip - making a name and a fortune for themselves - nothing to do with what women could or would want to wear. Now women want a slice of the pie, but it's still ego-tripping

    Let's see what either (male or female) produce, then see what REAL women-in-the-street actually wear

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    Male should design female dress and female male's one.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 67.

    It's amazing how even on articles like this that you would imagine would be more appealing to women, the men (myself included) tend to dominate the discussion. Come on ladies, share your thoughts

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 66.

    I personally think it does not matter whether a man or woman designs clothing... as long as the woman wearing the clothing looks great and feels confident.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 65.

    64.Gaz the Manc:

    You missed the point of the article. Superficially, Yes its about fashion but what it really is talking about (although pretty badly) is gender issues and equality.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 64.

    Firstly what a pointless feature...secondly who cares who designs what for her or him...and third, WHY is the "your say" feature enabled on this topic. A total waste of resorces BBC who cares who or what design what the ladies around me wear, they wear it if they like it. END OF

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 63.

    pete21
    3 Minutes ago

    why do women always have to make it about your sex ,male Vs female,
    why can't it be about talent,
    or would that be too easy
    and no fun as you would have nothing to bitch about


    Er! hello Pete, women have always been the butt of common jokes by men, tables turning now baby, its handbags at dawn girls.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 62.

    saucer of milk anyone?
    but then the article is fairly trite so really we can only turn on each other for proper points of view.... shame... beeb should do better

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 61.

    why do women always have to make it about your sex ,male Vs female,
    why can't it be about talent,
    or would that be too easy
    and no fun as you would have nothing to bitch about

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 60.

    I thought that had always been the case, women designing womens clothes!
    Think about it

 

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