Tuesday, April 15, 2008

men better designers than women?

I can't not write about this although initially I wasn't going to. On Monday, Nicholas Huxley (whom I've met and who is quite charming in person) made the following comments in an article in the Daily Telegraph:

"Girls are designing more for themselves and for their girlfriends. They do ruffles and minis and more frou-frou looks. It is for the way that women are dressing today. They are dressing to go out shopping for men. It is cheap and nasty."

Apparently, the four males chosen for this year's fashion week are designing garments that are "intelligent", "slick", "stylish" and "classy". Apparently these are (subjective) attributes that female designers are incapable of incorporating into their work.

Then it becomes strange. Rachel Wells of The Age in Melbourne blogged about it, and while there are some outraged comments, some men, and more bafflingly women, have come to Mr Huxley's defence. According to quite a few, there is nothing wrong with these comments.

I do wonder how the female students at the Fashion Design Studio at SIT are feeling. I do wonder how the female teaching staff there are feeling, too. And I do wonder how these comments will wash with the institute's management.

Two years ago a journalism student at UTS interviewed me for an article about this very phenomenon: men claiming they design better for women than women do. He passed me on to this 2005 article in the New York Times. From Tom Ford: "Men are often better designers for women than other women", citing objectivity. If you think that's bad, just wait until you see the comments from Michael Vollbracht. Elsewhere, I remember an article (I think in a 2006 fashion supplement to The Times) Donatella Versace was asked why there seemed to be more succesful men in fashion than women. Her response (more or less, from memory): not many women seemed to study fashion design. Just read the stats in the New York Times article...

On a positive note, at least we know these people still exist in the 21st century, which should empower us to do something about it.


M.H. said...

Are men better designers than women in Australia? Or are men better designers overall? If we speak domestically, the market is much more dominated by womenswear designers of women holding a creative directional role. I don't agree with men being better designers than women because of what I have read, listen and learned is whilst there have been more male individuals who have heavily influenced the history of Fashion, women have always held a side by side role. The number of male designers is higher than women but that doesn't mean they are better and the fact that there are actually quite a number of collaborative studios who inearth Fashion such as Nom de Guerre or United Bamboo, it stands to reason that I enjoy a male's perspective as well as a women's. And I feel most strongly towards that women who want to become a designer of Mode, they should be encouraged to design menswear more so than womenswear. Ann Demeulemeester,Veronique Branquinho, Ute Ploier, Siv Stoldal and there should be more.

Timo Rissanen said...

Excellent points, m.h., but I'd disagree on one detail: "The number of male designers is higher than women". As a fashion design educator and industry practitioner, my experience is that fashion design is dominated by women, as are most of the rest of the professions in the fashion industry. This, however, is not always reflected in the media coverage; male designers tend to feature heavily. This, I'd argue (and agree with you) is not because men are better, but rather, some (many?) doors open easier for men.

In fact, the question, 'Are men better designers than women?' isn't the right one to ask; either way, it'll yield an answer tinted with some degree of chauvinism. (Though I did intend for it to be rhetorical.) When I think of the better question, I'll post it.

Thank you very much for your comment!

Alami Musafir said...

It would be instructive to obtain some field data before blathering on. So please take a look at:

This was in July, 2011. Here are the named designers:


Sandy Powell Ralph Lauren
Donatella Versace Marc Jacobs
Sarah Burton Valentino ___________________Garavani
Stella McCartney Domanico Dolce
Betsey Johnson Stefano Gabbana
___________________John Galliano

So 5 women versus 7 men. Pretty clear cut, eh ? Moreover two of the women are matched by two unnamed men of equal or greater ability: Sandy Powell by her cousin Antony Powell, Donotella Versace by her (late) father, the founder of the Versace fashion house, Gianni Versace. So M.H. is RIGHT about male designers being higher than women. Remember, we're talking about Women's fashion. There are NO women designers for menswear. Is this significant ? Quod Erat Demonstrandum !

Possible reasons for this (and this male dominance extends right across design and art, be it gastronomy, painting, auto design, aircraft design, music, drama, cinema etc etc)is the Left brain dominance for males. These mental attributes, analysis, planning, visualisation, obsessiveness etc give males the edge over females in design. It can be readily appreciated that these attributes would be very advantageous for designers.

Timo Rissanen said...

Dear Alami, thank you for your comment. I struggle with the point of view you put forward; it strikes me as a sexist attack on women. As for background research, I read Angela McRobbie's 'British Fashion Design' many years ago and she discusses among other things the differences men and women experience in setting up and financing a business in a patriarchy; in short, women have a much more difficult time, particularly in securing financing. McRobbie's arguments are grounded in years of primary research. I highly recommend the text: http://www.amazon.com/British-Fashion-Design-Trade-Industry/dp/0415057817/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1376026747&sr=8-7&keywords=angela+mcrobbie

Alami Musafir said...

Timo, sexism is a product of subjective opinion. The information I have presented is a matter of objective fact, devoid of opinion. Is there any thing factually incorrect with my data ? If you have any factual data which refutes what I have stated then please present it, otherwise...!!

Despite your high opinion of McRobbie's book, it is a matter of fact that innumerable artists lived in poverty and yet produced works of great artistic
creativity, many of which were only appreciated posthumously (males formed by far the great majority of this group). In addition, if lack of money were significant in blocking artistic creativity then it would follow that adequately funding randomly selected individuals would allow them to produce great art. I think that even you would find that hard to accept.

Women do excel over men in socialization, marketing, teaching infants, child-rearing etc. Is that a sexist or factual statement ?

Incidentally, this blogger.com comment entry system SUCKS bigtime!
It takes me at least 3 attempts to enter a comment.

Timo Rissanen said...

My very best wishes to you Alami.

Alami Musafir said...

Why, thank you Timo. What a gracious reply! My very best wishes to you too!

(PS the Blogger.com comment entry system STILL sucks bigtime)