When I begun to reflect on the fashion highlights of 2016, I realized the most obvious was the impact that Gucci’s Alessandro Michele and Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia (Balenciaga’s Creative Director, as well) had on the industry. It’s easy to be seduced by their decadent creations, which offer a sometimes cavalier, if not always inventive, attitude towards the industry.
These designers undoubtedly make clothes that women want to wear. They have shaken us out of our ’90s rut, burned bridges with the boring, churned up the hype levels and reduced even the most composed magazine editors to chattering wrecks. Michele and Gvasalia offer romance and attitude, and we all want to be a part of their vision — that Gucci’s shares rose to their highest in 15 years, and Vetements sold out of its £800 vintage Levis is testament enough to that.
But if I may quietly address the (probably) bright pink and embellished elephant in the room — these designers are both men. So when will female fashion designers have their day? Well, quite possibly in 2017.
A quick skim through the list of influential female fashion designers of yore will highlight the obvious names: Coco Chanel as fashion’s most inventive mistress, Diane von Furstenberg and her empowering slinky wrap dresses, Dame Vivienne Westwood and her disregard for convention, Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kakakubo, who brought avant-garde fashion into the mainstream, Miuccia Prada and her, well, everything, along with the late Sonia Rykiel, with her knits and brightly coloured stripes. These are, or have been, the moguls of the industry, and alongside newer designers such as Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard, they’re informing contemporary dress for the better.
In 2016 we have a new era of supermodels, more women than ever in the boardrooms of major corporations, and female politicians at the helm of major powers in the western world. However the key influencers in fashion — the execs of nearly every major fashion organisation, from Victoria’s Secrets CEO, to Kering Group CEO, to CEO of OTB group — are all men.
Step forward Maria Grazia Chiuri, the newly appointed creative director of Dior who moved from her long time role at Valentino to replace Raf Simons as the first ever female Creative Director at the house. For Paris Fashion Week, the designer wasted no time in establishing the significance of her appointment, sending out models who wore teeshirts emblazoned with slogans such as ‘We Are All Feminists.’ If this seems kitsch to some, it’s important not to underestimate the importance of her appointment: of the major fashion reshuffles of 2016, barely any female names were considered for Creative Director positions — now is not the time to be subtle.
The other hope for women in fashion was the appointment of Bouchra Jarrar at Lanvin, who replaced Alber Elbaz in March after he was rudely booted from the label. Since her arrival, she has focussed on establishing her own language at the house: “I understand the power of clothes. It’s why I give a lot of attention to proportions; I like to optimize them. I want women to be beautiful, that’s my job.” She told American Vogue.
So will 2017 see more females coming to positions of power? In an era where fashion is more frenetic than ever, the major houses are playing the hiring and firing game with aplomb; if the current line-ups don’t deliver commercially, there’s a whole slew of female talent ready to take their place — Stella McCartney, Simone Rocha and Phoebe Philo have cultivated loyal followings for their global, and successful, brands. And according to Business of Fashion, there’s a larger percentage of female creatives in the next wave of designers and emerging labels than ever before — 47.3 percent and 40.5 percent of designers, respectively.
But the problem with a multi-billion dollar industry like fashion is that creativity is second to commercial, always. So while a male creative vision is selling, the impetus for radical change isn’t there.
In light of the small shifts in 2016, all eyes are on next year to break the glass ceiling in fashion — or at least puncture a hole in that Chanel perspex bag.