It's quite funny that with all the traditional, age-old notions of fashion being considered 'feminine', a majority of creative directors across the industry, are men. In a report released by Business of Fashion in 2016, it was found that among the 313 fashion brands surveyed, only 40.2 percent of them were helmed by women—more men are actually designing for women.
While it is true that most of venerable fashion houses were founded by men—think Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermès, just to name a few—one could argue that they were established at a period where there was very little (if any) concept of female empowerment and gender equality.
But it's a new decade now and there haven't been much cultural shift too. Save for a few historic moments in fashion, such as Maria Grazia Chiuri as Dior's first ever female artistic director, and LVMH creating a new luxury fashion brand helmed by Rihanna (the first woman to ever do so within the French fashion conglomerate), there's room for more women at the top.
We're by no means discounting some of the important works by male creative directors, nor are we advocating that only women should be designing for women. That's not how gender equality works after all. It would be great, however, to see a proportionate representation that's of course, also marked by skill and talent.
Thankfully, in the menswear realm, women are proving (and have continuously done so) that they're just as capable—and in some cases, more so than men—designing for men. Some dabble exclusively in menswear, while others take on roles that completely oversee both gendered directions of a fashion house.
In honour of International Women's Day, we celebrate our 10 favourite female creative directors (and a selection of their best menswear looks) that have proved that fashion shouldn't be a male-dominated industry. And what men want in fashion, they've got the answers.
Clare Waight Keller
Role: Artistic director at Givenchy.
Notable achievement: Appointed in March 2017, Waight Keller is Givenchy's first female artistic director handling menswear, womenswear, haute couture and childrenswear.
Interestingly, prior to Givenchy, Waight Keller had little experience in menswear as compared to womenswear. She was the creative director of womenswear brand Chloé for almost six years, where she crafted an image that was well-received by critics and clients. At Givenchy, her designs have been lauded as modern interpretations of Hubert de Givenchy's legacy with menswear spanning sharp contemporary tailoring and accents of streetwear-infused pieces; returning the fashion house to an era of elegance and craftsmanship.
Role: Founder and designer of Paria Farzaneh.
Notable achievement: The young menswear label has been cosigned by Frank Ocean, and seen on top Korean boyband BTS.
There's no denying where Paria Farzaneh gets her inspiration from—her Iranian heritage. Marrying vibrant prints that are unmistakably Iranian in design, with unique constructions and streetwear-tinged details, the aim is to shift the perception of Western communities towards the turbulent Middle Eastern country. Her designs spark conversations and have been well-received by the fashion media. To date, she counts Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées as two of her biggest stockists.
Role: Creative director at Alexander McQueen.
Notable achievement: Burton become head of womenswear design at Alexander McQueen two years after graduating from Central Saint Martins and was considered the founder's right-hand woman. She's been helming the brand since McQueen’s death in 2010.
It's not easy taking on the reins of a fashion house, especially one that's very directional and whose founder is still regarded as one of the fashion geniuses of our time. Yet, Sarah Burton has managed to keep the legacy of McQueen alive for almost a decade now, while shifting the direction towards a slightly more wearable aesthetic. The world is a more beautiful place thanks to Burton's intricately embellished and printed tailoring for men.
Role: Co-chief executive officer and lead creative director at Prada, and founder and designer at Miu Miu.
Notable achievement: Before taking over the family business, Miuccia completed a PhD in political science and studied mime. She debuted the fashion house's first ever ready-to-wear collection in 1988, founded Miu Miu in 1993, and started Prada menswear in 1995.
Miuccia remains one of fashion's most directional designers, dictating trends that other fashion designers—both big and small—would often take reference from. Her ability to remain consistent in her approach to design while injecting fresh nuances, have gained her a loyal following, with her collections often critically praised. Nylon clothing that's stylish and soon-to-be fully recyclable? All thanks to Miuccia. She's also gifting us with a monumental partnership with fellow designer Raf Simons starting with the spring/summer 2021 season; what a legend.
Role: Co-creative director at Jil Sander.
Notable achievement: Before Maria Grazia Chiuri took creative reins at Christian Dior, Lucie was the interim co-creative director together with Serge Ruffieux.
Luke and Lucie Meier working together at Jil Sander is a great example of how a husband-and-wife partnership can work harmoniously at the workplace. At Jil Sander, Luke credits Lucie with bringing her haute couture know-how to the brand which he needed in order to make Jil Sander a success as he comes from a more streetwear background. As a result, Jil Sander's minimalist menswear has been consistently cuttingly sharp, yet at the same time, not as cold and icy as one would expect minimalist clothing to be.
Role: Men's artistic director at Hermès
Notable achievement: Nichanian has been at Hermès since 1988 and was hired by then-president of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas.
It's really impressive to be at the creative helm of a fashion house, especially in menswear, for more than 30 years. For a fashion house that's has such a longstanding history of leather mastery, Nichanian has successfully translated Hermès craftsmanship into creating a men's universe that's just as luxurious and desirable as its leather creations. A crocodile leather T-shirt? That can only be expertly done by Hermès and conceptualised by Nichanian.
Role: Founder and creative director at Sacai.
Notable achievement: Abe has just been recently announced as the first designer to design Jean Paul Gaultier's haute couture collection, in a new direction for the brand.
Chitose Abe trained under both Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, and counts fashion legends such as Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld as fans. Her work for Sacai—a brand that she completely owns—is known for combining elements of two different clothing items together to create something completely new and interesting. And her constant collaborations with brands the likes of Nike and North Face are always heavily coveted.
Grace Wales Bonner
Role: Founder and designer of Wales Bonner.
Notable achievement: Grace was named 'Emerging Menswear Designer' at the 2015 British Fashion Awards, and received the LVMH Prize in June 2016.
Based in London, Grace takes reference from her mixed heritage—Jamaican and English—creating dialogues with her designs, topped off with expert craftsmanship. There's a point of view to her designs and a play with proportions and cuts that are fresh and modern in menswear. She represents a new generation of fashion designers that are conscious of their representation as people of colour, and translates that into the casting of models as well.
Silvia Venturini Fendi
Role: Creative director at Fendi.
Notable achievement: Silvia is the only Fendi working in the business and has continued to design all facets of the fashion house, even after the passing of artistic director Karl Lagerfeld. She's also the one behind Fendi's iconic Baguette bag.
Fendi is first and foremost renowned for its fur. And Silvia has managed to transform as well as adapt the business to be more than that, especially in the menswear segment. Her use of real fur in creative ways throughout different categories—from technically challenging fur coats to creating small accessories from leftover fur—are divisive to some extent, but she has dabbled in using other natural materials to mimic fur. There's also the sense that as a designer, Silvia is aware of changing attitudes in society and that is reflective in her designs.
Role: Founder and creative director at Comme des Garçons
Notable achievement: Kawakubo is the grand doyenne of contemporary fashion who counts a long, non-exhaustive list of fashion designers who have checked her as an inspiration.
Rei Kawakubo's influence extends far beyond fashion. But in the menswear realm, Kawakubo has consistently challenged the status quo, even before concepts like gender-blurring and collaborations became trends. She's also a champion of new talents, having taken them under her wing and continuously curate some of her favourite brands to be stocked at Dover Street Market outlets around the world.