The rise of the female direction is prominent in the new year, and continues to grow in the fashion industry. From New York’s first all-hijab collection by Indonesian designer, Anniesa Hasibuan, back in September, to the unveiling of the first Dior season by Maria Grazia Chiuri to now, as Givenchy hails its new and first female Creative Director, Clare Waight Keller– the world of fashion continues to change and make hopeful legacies, and it’s all in due time to get even better. One can dream.
In this day and age, the role of women in the industry continues to be shunned as opposed to their male counterparts, who make up disproportionate roles across all areas of business – from design to publication. It’s an ironic state of mind to consider, since women make up the majority of the consumer base for one of the biggest economic industries in the world. Back in S/S 2017 during Fashion Week, it was analysed that only 40% of showcased designers had female Creative Directors looking after collections, while the rest were held under male-orientated positions. While there are the minimal exceptions to that number, with names like Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace Phoebe Philo, and even Rei Kawakubo coming to mind, who are the brains behind the biggest fashion houses in the industry, there’s still a massive imbalance. Artistic Director Julie de Libran once said, “Women unfortunately are still seen as a minority…. Even if a house was created by a woman during its beginning, today they often have creative leaders who are men driving the house.”
Thus, this announcement from Givenchy, which was posted online via their social media platforms, marks a new stage in the era for the industry – not just for the house and the new direction that it will be take with Waight Keller, but for the diversity in gender – and hopefully in race. Most notably, it’s an important time for the industry to open its eyes to the discussion and importance of the gender parity that has yet to be addressed in this ever-changing, and seemingly lacking industry.
Like Chiuri, who currently oversees the many areas within the Dior house, Waight Keller is expected to be overseeing everything from women’s and men’s RTW, as well as pre-fall, couture and accessories. It sounds like a big job, but shouldn’t be anything that she can’t juggle, having previously handled a creative position at Chloé for six years and building a deeply sought after and evocative empire.
“In fashion,” Chiuri once said, “there are a lot of women, but at the big fashion houses not many are at the top…. We need to maintain attention on this debate of equal opportunity.” It’s important that Waight Keller’s is not just another designer for Givenchy, but embracing what it means to be a woman. At Chloé, Waight Keller was known for her aristocratic vision, bohemian nature and confident style for the modern-day woman, and chairman and CEO of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, who is the mother group for Givenchy, hopes that her ‘widespread expertise and story-telling will allow Givenchy to enter the next phase of its unique path’.
Having a woman to envision the future of the house and brand will be a big step away from Riccardo Tisci, who, over 12 years as Creative Director, took the house down a streetwear and rock’n’roll influenced (some say Goth-tinged) approach, where there will be a different point of view from the archives for today’s Givenchy woman. Considerably, female sex appeal, when explored, becomes different under the designer that helms the concept. Under a male’s design for a woman, it pushes only sex appeal, but when a woman designs for a woman, there is more value beyond the body. It’s also about the emotional state of being, which is important for consumers and one of Waight Keller’s ethics.
Back in 2014, Waight Keller stated that women ‘have never been more important to fashion than now: they are the consumer, and they have the freedom to choose.’ She also made the point of singling out the problem with the industry that fashion is more about a fantasy or concept, but not about the reality of how the consumers – women – dress. Women are more knowledgeable and independent than ever, and want to be able to make conscious choices about fashion that reflect their standing in society. It’s about listening to what women need, their lifestyle, their work, their realistic ideals – not a dream that can be played out in brazen outfits that can’t be envisioned beyond the runway. It has to be practical.
It’s an exciting era to enter the year into, and with International Women’s Day occurring only a few weeks prior, this opportunity for Waight Keller opens up more potential doors for more female creatives to take more up spots in the top houses. There’s a measure of tremendous responsibility for being the first woman in charge of the Givenchy house, since it has been so deeply rooted into its exploration under previous male predecessors, but it’s a challenge that one can see Waight Keller succeeding in. It’s important, it’s necessary and it’s the foot through the door that will hopefully see more women join even the most elite club of critically revered designers.
Although her aesthetic at Chloé is something completely different to that existing at Givenchy, Waight Keller’s appointment will promise a refreshing change to the house. And with her strong-willed vision of the independent woman and ideas about feminism that features highly on her manifesto as a designer, her first collection is something to be expectant about.
Of course, one also has to applaud the house of Chloé for continuing their reign of female creatives, with Waight Keller’s successor being none other than Natacha Ramsay-Levi, who previously worked as the right-hand woman at Louis Vuitton and had an internship at Balenciaga. “I am very proud to join a house founded by a woman to dress women,” Ramsay-Levi said in a statement. “I want to create fashion that enhances the personality of the woman who wears it, fashion that creates a character and an attitude, without ever imposing a ‘look’.”
Could Waight Keller’s move into Givenchy as the first female creative, and Ramsay-Levi’s move into the ever-beloved Chloé be the beginning of a new era in which women could actually lead women’s fashion? Let’s hope.