I saw a picture of the pop star, Rhianna, today at a red carpet event and she is wearing a dress designed by Tom Ford that essentially shows bare breasts with a cluster of purple jeweled pasties over her nipples and it got me to thinking. Why is it that almost every designer who “dresses” movie stars, celebrities, the wives of presidents and prime ministers are almost always men? Are there no qualified female designers? Having watched a handful of seasons of Project Runway, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Why do we women continue to give most of our dollars to male designers? If 50% of our population was comprised of minorities; and less than 1%, were represented in the media, the music industry, on college campuses, in sports, education, what have you, we would be screaming at the top of our lungs, and rightfully so. But, when it comes to equal representation in certain industries in work world, women are underrepresented.
We hear the same tired excuses. Women are torn between career and family. Women’s clocks are ticking. They require maternity leave. Oh, to give birth to a boy who possibly will get a job her daughter can’t?
There are many examples of female designers who have balanced families and work, including Ms. Karan, Cynthia Rowley and Cynthia Steffe. Dana Buchman built a business with an estimated $150 million in annual sales over 19 years with the philosophy that she shares the lifestyle of a working mother and career woman with her customers. Yet, her success has been little reflected in the news media compared with some designers who have barely started selling clothes. Why is this? 93% of graduates at Parson’s School of Design in NYC are women and 85% of students currently enrolled at FIT, are also women yet young American designers most embraced by retailers and celebrated in the fashion press in recent years, is almost exclusively male: Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriquez, Mr. Som, Proenza Schoeuler, to name a few. So, how do we account for the staggering gender disparities we continue to see in the 21st century? A few explanations….
“In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were many female designers – Alix Grès, Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel – but after World War II, the big names were male – Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin. Ms. Steele of F.I.T. said the change could be attributed to the evolving role of women in society, from one of strength and independence before the war to the postwar ideal of a feminine mystique” (NYTimes, 2014)
Goodbye Rosie the Riveter, Hello Barbie?
Ms Steele continues, “There are all of these unexamined and frankly invalid ideas that still seem to be bandied about….but the perception that all good designers are men……is totally unprovable.”
In restaurant world, we see similar disparities between male and female chefs. It seems especially ironic, given that females have been feeding men, women and children almost exclusively since the beginning of time, that they are so unrepresented in culinary world. Men overwhelmingly hold the highest paying and most prominent kitchen jobs at ambitious, independent restaurants across America…..10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups analyzed by Bloomberg, are women. “Such stats are surprising given the strong female presence at two of the country’s most prestigious cooking schools. Women have made up over 40 percent of the International Culinary Center’s classic graduates for the past decade.” (Bloomberg)
What will change these trends? Women standing up, talking, educating one another, sharing stories and maybe most importantly, understanding the power of the purse, the almighty American dollar.