In an age where gender equality is preached but not always enforced, Alexander Andrew takes a look at discrepancies in various facets of the fashion industry.
The recent Men’s Fashion Week in New York got off to a promising start with designs from Giorgio Armani and Christophe Lemaire of Lacoste taking to the runway. Yet, perhaps rather fittingly considering all the fixed smiles and erroneous wearing of sunglasses indoors, something false began to emerge through the smoke and mirrors. Take a look behind the scenes, and one notices a startling lack of equality – or at least a certain lopsidedness of gender both on the catwalk and behind the scenes.
With the knowledge that Mr. Charles F. Worth was the first person in history to have his name sewn into a purchasable garment, one begins to question the perceived female dominance within the fashion industry. By solely inspecting the modeling aspect of fashion, one can see that male and female models contribute equally, and yet women are more highly revered and thus better paid. According to Forbes Magazine, “A top male model may take home anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 annually, but most make a less glamorous living from catalog [sic] work.” This sounds like an impressive figure until you consider the fact that the top-earning female models are making millions. Gisele Bündchen earned an estimated $45 million last year alone – a startling statistic for a generation that has been raised to accept and push for equality.
The argument for female dominance within the fashion industry hints at the perceived downfall of masculinity, and some believe that women should be more highly revered, and as such, gain a higher status amongst men in the same career – a reversal of gender roles in most other professions. The possible explanation for this ‘dominance’ may be due to the widely held opinion that fashion is a predominantly feminine industry, and thus causes men to react strongly against any ‘accusations’ of interest in fashion, which begins to visually question their sexuality, and thus straight males back down in the industry for fear of being stereotyped.
An article by Nour Haba, ‘Gender Inequality in the Fashion Industry’, raises the idea that in spite of a culture of female oppression engrained in western society, fashion has become an outlet; a place where women can rise to the top, i.e. above men. Ever since Vogue was established in 1892, one can imagine how this ‘dominance’ should have been satisfied over the years, not forgetting the introduction of suits for women, shoulder pads and the occasional bow tie brought about by Beau Brummell.
However, there is an obvious gender imbalance off the runway, with a severe male dominance in the design stakes. Many designers openly and frankly maintain that homosexual males have a more acute eye for design than women within the industry, and are chosen ahead of women for design positions. Taking statistics from the New York Times, the Council of Fashion Designers of America claims that 121 women and 156 men make up its council, and the encyclopedia of ‘Clothing and Fashion’ held entries of thirty-six female and sixty-nine male designers, the majority of the males being openly gay. Evidently, this perception of the homosexual male with an eye for design and style – more so than his female or straight male counterparts – is one that colours hiring choices within fashion design circles and has created a pronounced double standard. Most of fashion’s biggest design houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent, are led by men – Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Lucas Ossendrijver and Stefan Pilati, respectively – and the success of newer, British and Irish names such as Christopher Kane, Christopher Bailey for Burberry and J. W. Anderson also prove that this disparity is here to stay, and aid in tipping the scale of gender balance the other way.
Despite a large majority of designers being male, most consumers of fashion today are still female, but we must ask why that is. In spite of the fact that the young men of today have shown an increased interest in fashion, through affordable high street shops such as Topman and H&M, the average fashion consumer is of the fairer sex. One may begin to blame society, the media, the industry, but who in reality is conforming? We, the public, are ultimately culpable. Complying with trends, pushing peers, and thus creating this illusion of a decline. There is an irony in the fact that male models are underpaid compared to their female counterparts, and yet there is male dominance in the design side of the industry. Is this an inequality the industry will just have to grow used to, or is there something that can be done to combat it? As in any workplace, there is inequality on every level – it just appears that the fashion industry has taken this to an extreme. The creative dominance of men contrasted with the underrepresentation and financial discrepancy that male models suffer is a point in question, the balancing out of which remains to be seen.