A question of men and women

Last Thursday, an article written by Eric Wilson appeared in the NYT entitled In Fashion, Who Really Gets Ahead? Did any of you read it? The article is about the purported favoritism of gay men in the fashion industry.

AT a cocktail party at Chelsea Piers on Sunday night, an annual Toys for Tots charity drive that draws a crowd of mostly gay men, the designer Peter Som wryly observed that there were so many designers, retail executives and publicists present that if the pier collapsed, “there would be no fashion industry tomorrow.”

That quote sticks in my craw; it sounds arrogant. Peter Som is grossly exaggerating and inflating the relative importance of gay men in the business because while they may be designing, gay men are not disproportionately running companies. I think the quote detracts from the real issue. The thing that is bugging me, has always bugged me, is why are so few women making it in the business to the extent that they’re running companies? Saying that the lack of women is due to discrimination, less opportunity or differing life choices just doesn’t cut it for me. If that were the case, then how can it be that 97% of sewn products companies are started by women -as long ago as 1992 (according to US census data)? If there were limited opportunities for women in this business, then how could they be starting companies? It’s a well-known fact that women are more likely to succeed at entrepreneurship than men so if that’s the case, then why do 98% of companies end up being owned by men?

I’d like to know your thoughts so read the article if you’re inclined. Also, keep in mind that while the focus of the article is about gay men predominating, I really think that’s a distracting detail that detracts from the real issues. Why aren’t women keeping and growing their companies? If women have always been the innovators, risk takers and entrepreneurs in this business, why do they bail?

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7 comments

  1. christy fisher says:

    Unfortunately, I tend to agree with Tara and Norma:
    “Gay men stick together like a band of brothers,” Ms. Subkoff (Tara) said in an interview. “It’s more common for a man to bring up a younger assistant” who is male “and be proud of that,” she added, “whereas a woman would be threatened” to promote another woman.
    I also agree with Norma Kamali’s statement about many women not willing to give up the home/family thing.
    Most designers who I have witnessed having a “balanced” home/family life as well as their design thing happening either married a partner in their company (or financial backer, accountant, etc)..or “married up” financially to begin with and started the line after the marriage (Kimora Simmons and the wife of the head of Dell -forgot her name- come to mind)
    I don’t think I have ever heard of a female designer who married a “middle class income” guy “become famous” in this industry working her way up.
    The male gay community has always been strong in the arts. I see it now extending into other areas (such as real estate). Like the “good ole boys network” I think there is a “good ole gay boys network” and they promote their buddies..and also financially back them.
    I do not see gays as being any better at designers than anyone else. As a group, it seems they are more flambouyant and the “shock value stage presentations” of a Heatherette team will get a lot of press gay or not.
    ..and I really hate to say this, but in my humble opinion, I honestly have not met many women who want to work as hard as it takes to continue surviving in this business for years on end.
    I am afraid that many women believe the “Cinderella concept” of being a “fashion designer”and they burn out after a season or two of the reality.

  2. Vesta says:

    I think it may be more related to something I was told when undergoing personality testing related to graduate school. The type of people who really enjoy and are successful at entrepreneurship, are not all that interested in 30 years of daily grind. I see it in myself all the time. I started in retail and perceived holes in manufacturing in my product class. Now that I’m a manufacturer, I perceive holes in fabric supplies (believe THAT or not, lol!), and am quietly scheming to move up the chain again at some point. I still own my retail operation, but my heart’s not in it. If some man came along and offered to run it for me while I jaunt off to build another company, I’d be likely to let him! Basically, as soon as I feel comfortable running an operation and the learning curve levels off too much, I’m outa there.

  3. Josh says:

    Wow, some shocking statements by male designers in that article. Almost embarrassing to me as a gay man who wants to get into this business.

    I can only speak for myself here but to me some of the best designers are women. I can’t believe some of the women that were not even mentioned. Vera Wang who I consider one of the greatest designers of all time. Stella McCartney
    Anna Sui, Diane Von Furstenberg, Patricia Feilds,
    Betsey Johnson, Vivienne Westwood and Jill Stuart are completely left out.

    I feel like this article was simply trying to slant the facts to make a point, that there are a lot of men (and yes they are mostly gay) in this business. I think it’s just like any other business. Sadly, it’s a man’s world.

    I had to chuckle about the band of brothers statment. Where the hell are they? I’ve tried getting to know other gay men who design clothes and I’ve found they are nothing but prima donnas who think you are trying to spy on them or steal their thunder. I didn’t find a supportive group of gay men waiting for me when I announced I wanted to make clothes. lol

  4. Diane says:

    It’s surprising how arrogant the men are about their creative talent and how they understand what women want to wear. Women become DEs because they don’t like what the men have to offer!! Also, the men become successful designing for both sexes but women rarely have a menswear line. Somewhere along the line women decided that gay men were superior hairdressers, interior and clothing designers so we contribute to their success.

  5. Alison says:

    There are several different issues here. The article is emphasising the press that is given to young gay men and equating that with success. Which is incorrect according to the article itself, which states:

    “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, Ms. Buchman’s success has been little reflected in the news media compared with some designers who have barely started selling clothes.

    “I don’t show up in the fashion press a lot,” she said. “If you look at who is touted in the fashion press, it is overwhelmingly young gay men.””

    If the article is about whether young gay men are flashier and easier to write up (see Kathleen’s post on Mao PR) than mature women (gay or otherwise), then we can all shrug our shoulders and move on.

    Guaging a company’s success by how much press it gets in Vogue is like evaluating the typical fashion consumer by whose picture appears in Vogue. We’re all fashion consumers at some level, but very few of us are Aerin Lauder or Ivanka Trump. There are lots of women in fashion, but very few of them head the French couture houses that are so much fun to write about.

    And in fashion, just like any other domain, there are fewer women willing to devote themselves overtime to their careers. One of the reasons we have doctor shortages these days is that decisions about the numbers of doctors required were based on data from the past – when doctors were mostly men, and looked after by women who had caring for their families as a full-time job. Now doctors are mostly women, their partners have careers of their own, and they are simply not interested in spending the 60+ hours a week practicing that male doctors in the past were routinely expected to put in. (This is generalising: each individual is, of course different.)

    So actually, the following proportions look about right to me:

    “The Council of Fashion Designers of America, a trade group that vets those who apply for membership, is made up of 121 women and 156 men. …

    “Who’s Who in Fashion,” a directory published by Fairchild Publications, is split 60-40 in favor of men, and “The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion,” published last year by Charles Scribner’s Sons, included entries on 36 female and 69 male designers.”

    What looks less right to me is “Since 1986 [The Council of Fashion Designers of America]’s annual Perry Ellis awards for young talent have been given to 8 women and 29 men….”

    The women are there, they’re in business and their businesses are successful. It’s the glitz they aren’t getting.

  6. La BellaDonna says:

    “Of course there are many more gay male designers,” Mr. Ford said. “I think we are more objective. We don’t come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies.”
    Then why aren’t the greatest designers of men’s wear women? We can be objective about men’s clothing because we don’t have dicks. We don’t have to worry about whether we dress right or left, or if our dicks are too small.
    “… gay men are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of a woman as an idealized fantasy.”
    Yes. That’s what I want when I’m running for the bus to work in the morning. Fantasy, unencumbered by the need to actually be able to, say, RUN for the bus. A fantasy that doesn’t take into account that I need to use my arms, or that I might need some place to store my bust.

    What a load of self-aggrandizing poppycock. Whatever the reason for the lack of women at the top, it isn’t because gay men are inherently better at design.

  7. henri-v says:

    Wow, what an amazing blog find! I just found you through a Technorati search for this NYT article. I agree with Alison regarding the fishiness of the theory that gay men designers are more successful/better designers. It seems to me that the media hypes young gay designers and that create a self-fulfilling/self-serving prophecy of its own. The fashion elite crown more princes than princesses, and the princes get the hot press and editorial coverage. They may or may not become commercial successes, but they do have their critical acclaim. Validation by a small jury of your peers = total creative victory??? Not to me. It reminds me of the Oscars: sometimes the right person gets recognition, and sometimes the best performers are overlooked because of the buzz around a pretty face or a trendy storyline.

    I think the author overlooked the segment of informed and enthusiastic consumers who do NOT blindly follow Anna Wintour’s edicts (or the Banana Republic reiterations). The article more or less annoyed me. I think it spun a lot of hot air without acknowledging that there are people with opinions on the matter outside the narrow-minded, narrow-shouldered cabal in NYC.

    I tend to patronize women designers because they get me and I get them, but I wouldn’t turn away something wonderful based on the gender or orientation of the designer. Quality and originality can be found in all.

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