Tuesday, 5 September 2017

why fashion needs female creative directors

The fashion industry is currently riding a wave created by female creative directors. Despite fashion supposedly being a "women's industry", historically, the world's most successful high fashion brands have been led by men. In such a visual industry, it is significant that everything is largely filtered through the male gaze. It can even be considered a contributing factor to many of the issues in fashion today surrounding body image and unrealistic beauty standards. 

Campaign image: Alexander McQueen AW14 campaign with clothes designed by Sarah Burton. Dress by Clare Waight Geller at Chloe for SS15.

In March this year, Natacha Ramsay-Levi became the latest woman to become creative director of a major fashion house. Ramsay-Levi takes the helm at Chloe, replacing Clare Waight Keller as she moves to Givenchy. The two women join Maria Grazia Chiurri at Dior and Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen as female creative directors of some of the most famous designer brands in the world. Being a woman and getting to the top of the designer chain is no longer reserved for celebrities and those who benefit from family nepotism.

Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo represent the innovation of female designers. Throughout the 20th century both provoked with their Avant Garde, punk designs.

Many prestigious houses were initially founded by women. Paris’ oldest fashion house was founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889. Lanvin began by designing clothes for her daughter. The brand’s logo depicts a mother and her daughter, reflecting its family oriented origins. Lanvin's humble beginnings represent the thread of femininity running through the brand.

At the start of the following century, Coco Chanel opened her first shop, defying contemporary expectations of women. She despised the heavy hats and uncomfortable corsets that were popular at the time and offered plain boaters, sportier looks and, eventually, her magnum opus, the little black dress. At the same time, Elsa Schiaparelli was collaborating with artists to create sweaters with surrealist prints that fused fashion with art. Both her and Chanel focused on a sportier style for women that would define their era.

Edie and Olympia Campbell for Lanvin AW14; the brand still sticks to its family oriented roots. Quote from the ultimate female creative, Grimes.

Schiaparelli and Chanel battled it out through the ‘20s and ‘30s to be the most popular designer of the time. What Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Chanel all had in common, however, was an eye for creating clothes that women felt comfortable in. Of course, this is what every designer strives for and it is hardly a revolutionary vision when addressed on its own, but Schiaparelli and Chanel pioneered the sartorial liberation of women between the two world wars. Would they have done so if they had been men? It’s questionable.

With so many women leading the industry, it is an exciting time in fashion. We are not only seeing women taking on established brands, but founding their own labels too. The past decade has seen the rise of independent female designers, with Molly Goddard and Iris Van Herpen experiencing huge success. Molly Goddard’s playful modern princess clothes speak to a new generation of young women, making her an industry darling. Whereas Iris Van Herpen creates pieces that walk the line between fashion and art, using experimental techniques that prove that originality is not an impossible feat. 

Donatella Versace is known for designing seductive clothes created from a female perspective.

It can be irritating and unoriginal when people put emphasis on the person doing a job. So, why the emphasis on being a female creative director, not just a creative director? In these turbulent times, identity politics is more prevalent than ever, and that even translates into high fashion. Whilst Maria Grazia Chiurri’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ t-shirts are more of a symbol of wealthy, privileged white feminism than anything else, at least they got people talking about the layers of privilege, tokenism in fashion and, of course, what feminism means today. Even that was better than Karl Lagerfeld's flop of an attempt to relate to contemporary protest for Chanel in 2014.

Upon the announcement of her appointment, Natacha Ramsay-Levi said, “I am very proud to join a house founded by a woman to dress women.” At womenswear brand, it seems like a no-brainer to have a woman at the helm. The women mentioned in this piece are all white, and fashion has a long way to go in representing women of colour. Tokenism is still a huge issue in fashion, but it cannot be solved over night. With more women working from within these brands, we can hope for change. Fashions fade, but we can hope that this industry shift will be eternal. 

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