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Mar 06, 2024

Where are women in fashion?

Where have all the women gone? Despite fashion being traditionally deemed a ‘feminine affair,’ the emergence of female leaders is a struggle, and women in prominent roles are few and far between.


Is Women’s Fashion Design Dominated by Men?

What’s particularly striking is that men largely lead the design of women’s fashion collections.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a surge in male talent rising to the helm of major fashion houses known for their women’s apparel. During the latest fashion month in Paris and Milan, numerous male fashion designers made their debut, reshaping the creative direction of renowned brands.

The trend is clear: even fashion houses historically led by women now have male creative directors.


Women Initiated, Men Lead

The Italian label Blumarine, originally headed by founder Anna Molinari and her daughter Rossella Tarabini, recently appointed Walter Chiapponi as its second male creative director. His debut took place at the latest Milan Fashion Week Women’s, following four years of Nicola Brognano’s leadership. 

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During the latest Paris Fashion Week, Seán McGirr debuted at Alexander McQueen, succeeding Sarah Burton after her 13-year tenure. Burton, who served as Lee Alexander McQueen’s right-hand woman for 14 years, assumed the role of creative director following his passing in 2010.

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Meanwhile, Stefano Gallici continues Ann Demeulemeester’s legacy at her eponymous label, owned by Italian retailer Claudio Antonioli.

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Un post condiviso da Daniel Roseberry (@danielroseberry)

The iconic Parisian couture house Schiaparelli, founded by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1927, is now helmed by another male designer, the exceptionally talented Texan Daniel Roseberry.


It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World 

What continues to astonish in an industry primarily tailored for women is the prevalence of men in pivotal roles, not only in business but also in creative positions. 

Indeed, the male creative roster extends further, encompassing notable figures such as Nicholas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton for women’s collections, Kim Jones for Fendi womenswear, Sabato De Sarno at Gucci, Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, Matthieu Blazy at Bottega Veneta, Demna at Balenciaga, Hedi Slimane at Celine, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, Daniel Lee at Burberry, and Maximilian Davis at Ferragamo.

Alongside the highly anticipated new chapter of Blumarine under Walter Chiapponi’s direction, the Milan Fashion Week’s womenswear also showcased two other noteworthy male premieres: Matteo Tamburini at Tod’s and Adrian Appiolaza at Moschino. 

Givenchy, recently separated from the much-discussed Matthew M. Williams, who succeeded the more popular Clare Waight Keller, currently lacks a creative director. Perhaps appointing a female designer could be the next strategic move to steer the brand back on track.

However, a fundamental question remains unanswered. The fashion world has made significant efforts to promote gender equity and inclusivity, so why are women so under-represented in the upper echelons of the industry in 2024?


Why Do Female Fashion Designers Remain a Minority in a Self-Proclaimed Inclusive Industry?

The gender disparity is evident. Out of the 14 fashion and leather goods houses at the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, only three women hold creative director roles. Maria Grazia Chiuri has been serving as the creative director of womenswear at Dior for eight years, a historic milestone as the maison’s first female creative lead.

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Additionally, Camille Miceli oversees Pucci, while Silvia Venturini Fendi heads the menswear division at Fendi, with womenswear currently designed by Kim Jones (previously by Karl Lagerfeld). 

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Un post condiviso da Silvia VF (@silviaventurinifendi)

In other cases, female designers share their roles with male counterparts. For instance, Lucie Meier of Jil Sander collaborates with her husband, Luke. At Prada, while Miuccia Prada remains at the helm, her chosen successor seems to be Raf Simons, who currently serves as co-creative director alongside her.

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At Chloé, the new creative director, Chemena Kamali, made her debut during Paris Fashion Week, taking over from Gabriela Hearst, who now solely focuses on her eponymous label. Hearst’s trajectory mirrors that of Phoebe Philo, who launched her own brand last year after stepping down from her role as creative director at Celine in 2017.


Do Female Designers Need Their Own Businesses to Make it to the Top?
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Many talented female fashion designers have found greater opportunities to emerge by launching their own businesses, as seen with figures like Victoria Beckham or Stella McCartney. Others, such as Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Alberta Ferretti, Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, or Sacai’s Chitose Abe, have also forged their paths through entrepreneurship. 

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Un post condiviso da Rei Kawakubo (@kawakubosan)

In general, it is quite evident that female creative directors are often the founders or owners of their businesses.


Empowering Women: Saint Laurent, Chanel, Hermès

Some companies defy the norm. French luxury giants Chanel and Hermès not only feature female designers but are also led by female CEOs.

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Virginie Viard took the helm at Chanel following Karl Lagerfeld’s passing in 2019, while Leena Nair serves as global CEO, becoming the first woman of colour to lead a major European luxury fashion brand.

At Hermès, Véronique Nichanian is the artistic director for men’s fashion, while Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski leads as the artistic director for women’s ready-to-wear. Further, Francesca Di Carrobio serves as the CEO of Hermès Italia. 

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Not a designer but a business pro, Francesca Bellettini stands as arguably the most powerful woman in the fashion industry. As President and CEO of Saint Laurent since 2013, her influence has skyrocketed, culminating in her recent appointment as Kering’s deputy CEO in June. Renowned for her close collaboration with François-Henri Pinault, she holds a crucial role within the organisation as well as in the broader fashion landscape.


How Can We Bridge the Gap in Women’s Leadership? 

Although it’s widely recognised that companies prioritising gender diversity tend to outperform their counterparts in various industries, disparities in leadership persist, often without malicious intent.

What steps can we take to address the issue? Should HR departments take the initiative to review their practices and consider the opportunities companies might be missing by not appointing more female creative directors? Female creative leaders have demonstrated exceptional design prowess, especially in creating products that are tailored to women’s bodies, and they have an impressive track record of driving product sales.


Does the Overrepresentation of Men in CEO Roles Contribute to the Underrepresentation of Female Creative Directors?

Also, could the high number of men in CEO positions be related to the lack of female head designers? This correlation sparks a crucial discussion, particularly when considering that men often hold the majority of seats on boards responsible for hiring creative professionals. This dominance could potentially influence a preference for male creative counterparts when it comes to discussing business strategies. 

Amidst the myriad challenges facing today’s market, it is imperative to recognise the importance of women in the fashion industry. Only then can we usher in an era of genuine women’s empowerment in the fashion world and ensure that fashion choices and the industry as a whole accurately reflect and celebrate the strength of women worldwide.



Clementina Bianchi