Do female designers approach fashion design differently?
“This is a very difficult question because I am a woman and have difficulties imagining myself as a man,” muses Miuccia Prada. “What I can say is that being a woman has taught me to compromise with many situations on a personal level [as well as] workwise. This, for me, is a great achievement because out of compromise, you can usually get to a greater result without necessarily giving up on anything.”
This story first appeared in the November 17, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Donna Karan contends that male designers often resort to “fantasy” approaches, whereas their female counterparts take a more “personal” approach—including divining what’s missing from the marketplace.
“So often I hear women saying, ‘I can’t find the right clothes.’ That’s because fashion is often too young. Not everyone can wear a miniskirt—nor should they,” Karan says. “We’re not models. There’s a reality. It comes down to the basics. How do we fit a pant? That’s what I learned from Anne Klein, my mentor.”
“You are very appreciative of the female figure,” says Mary Katrantzou. “I do design for women of different ages and shapes. It’s quite a democratic product.
“It’s less idealistic in a way. It’s a little more pragmatic about what a woman wants and needs,” she adds. “A woman can try on the clothes and see how she feels in them and that informs the design process.”
“I don’t think the mission is so different between men or women designers,” notes Clare Waight Keller, creative director at Chloé. “Fashion is about desire and personal expression, but women have that innate instinct to know what they want and why they want it. In the end, I want what every other woman wants: To look good and feel great, to have attitude and personal style.”
“Men are more objective, and women are more empathetic,” says Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew. “The female designer is her own muse, whereas a male designer has to find his muse. Female designers live the life of their customers. That’s why they love Stella McCartney, who runs a fashion house and has four children, and Donna Karan, a real woman with weight issues.”
Atkin also cites Tory Burch and Sarah Burton, who took up the design mantle at Alexander McQueen and added a “woman’s mentality” to a label with rough edges and dark corners.
Do women set out with a different purpose when they set about designing fashion?
“I do not think the mission can be different because of gender but mostly because of who you are as a person and what you want to communicate with your work,” says Prada.
“Both men and women can create beautiful and innovative fashion—it would be trite to say customers care more about a dress due to the gender of its creator,” according to Marigay McKee, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. She characterizes the debate as “a matter of respect and appreciation. I feel as though customers respect male designers, but appreciate female designers.
“I do believe the approach of female designers is much different,” she adds. “Stereotypically in the industry, women are viewed as catty, vapid and wealthy. Therefore, female designers must first pave a new path, forging a completely new ideology. Overall, female designers, whom I am sure are cognizant, serve a greater purpose—they have the power to create a future generation of equality and individuality, free of judgment and limitations.”
Stella McCartney cautions that questions about who makes a better designer “slightly breeds a sort of antimale-designers [feeling] and that does not sit terribly comfortably with me.
“I think there is enough room for both great talented female and male designers in fashion,” she says. “I do also believe in wearable clothes, that you can have everything, that you can have an element of high-fashion luxury desirability with the sense of individualism, but at the same time you can wear this piece.”