There is a common misconception that the fashion industry is run by bitchy harridans with ferocious nails, immaculate blow-drys and walk-in wardrobes. Ask the average man what he thinks of fashion, and he will generally reply with something similar to ‘well, it’s for girls isn’t it?’. Given that the majority of the male population seem resigned to this view, I wonder if they’d take more of an interest in the fashion industry if they knew that it is, in fact, the men who run the show.
Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Roland Mouret, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren… I could go on. These are all designers at the top of their game, all of them dictators of style and taste, all of them hugely successful, and all of them are men.
Man’s man Tom Ford has enjoyed success as the creative director of both Gucci and YSL, creating the TOM FORD brand in 2005. Here is a man that really understands how to enhance, flatter, and dress a woman’s body, with SJP, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman amongst his celebrity fans. But Mr Ford does not only design womenswear; he has his own line of sunglasses, skincare, make-up, and fragrances, as well as a menswear range that won him the 2008 CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award. Ford is a man of many talents and a key player in the fashion industry.
There are of course the female heavy-hitters of the business: Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney, and Miuccia Prada to name but a few. But the past decade has turned up a flurry of fresh designer talent, and it’s the guys who have come out strongest. Take Christopher Kane for example. Even before he left Central Saint Martins in 2006, he had worked for Giles Deacon and attracted the attention of Donatella Versace. From his debut collection in September 2006, Kane has gone strength to strength, winning the BFC British Designer of the Year in 2009. Another bright young thing is Prabal Gurung, who saw his first solo collection go down the catwalk as recently as February 2009. Since then, he has dressed the likes of Michelle Obama and Demi Moore. Similar stories are found with Thakoon, Mark Fast, Bora Aksu, and many others. It’s now the girls who are fighting to be recognised in a world that’s supposedly run by women.
And what of the old establishment? Seasoned experts like Giorgio Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, and Marc Jacobs are still at the top of their game, producing up to six collections a year for womenswear alone. Chanel, probably the brand that is most synonymous with femininity and women, has now had Karl Lagerfeld at the helm for over 25 years, showing that yet again a man is behind one of the most successful and creative fashion houses in the world.
Over at the business end of fashion, there is even more male dominance. Bernard Arnault is CEO of the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennesy, and is chairman of both LVMH and Christian Dior. The House of Chanel is owned by brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer. PPR, another French holding company that owns Gucci Group and other luxury brands, has François-Henri Pinault as its chairman and CEO. Everywhere you look, it’s the men who hold the power.
On the high street and in the world of online shopping, menswear is finally coming to the fore. Websites such as ASOS and Matches play host to a huge array of clothing and accessories for men, whilst February saw the launch of Mr Porter. Brainchild of net-a-porter.com’s founder Natalie Massenet, Mr Porter is the first online luxury retailer aimed exclusively at men. Away from cyberspace, the size and number of menswear departments and exclusive stores on the high street has been steadily increasing. Topman alone now boasts over 175 stores worldwide, and is well on the way to catching up with the 400+ stores of its sister brand, Topshop, launched 14 years earlier.
The high street may be a bit slow on catching up with the male trends of the catwalk, especially when compared with how quick the turnaround is for womenswear, but it certainly seems to be adapting to the high demand for on-trend menswear. The perception that the fashion industry is nothing but lipstick, stilettos and hairspray is seriously outdated, and both men and women need to work equally hard to modernise how this powerful and influential world is viewed by the general public.
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