Do Women Really Run the Fashion Industry? Yes and No.

Front row at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
Front row at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
Photo by Cherise Luter

When people think about the fashion industry and the individuals at the helm, most immediately imagine veterans like Anna Wintour, Diana Vreeland or Coco Chanel. No one ever thinks of names like Frank A Bennack Jr head of Hearst Corp. parent company of Elle Magazine or Michael J. Dolan head of IMG the producer of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. While women continue to be the face of or the creative behind major brands, men are still holding the purse strings and, in some cases, puppet strings.

Much like other major industries, the number of prominent women in fashion seem to fall off at executive level and those serving in a lead executive capacity as CEOs or presidents are few and far between. Of the 94 names included in Business of Fashion's popular Top 500 List in the Executive Category, only 15 are women, which a stark contrast to the more creative categories of editors and designers. If one does a little bit of digging, you will find male heads behind some of the most iconic female lead brands.

Charles Townsend is the head of a little media group called Condé Nast. As such, he oversees the publishing of women's magazines Allure, Lucky, Vanity Fair, WWD and, of course, Vogue. All of which have a female editor-in-chief and majority female editorial team. This guy is Anna Wintour's boss.

As the chairman & CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), Bernard Arnault is responsible for the global expansion of Céline famously headed by Phoebe Philo since 2010 and Donna Karan International. The LVMH portfolio also includes over 15 other accessories and beauty brands, including Sephora.

It would be a miracle to find a dedicated fashionista that does not think Jenna Lyons when they see a J.Crew store. Lyons has turned the brand from humdrum to high fashion and is credited with bringing the brand back from the brink. But, she is not the head honcho at J.Crew. Millard Drexler serves as CEO and chairman of the board. Hmmmm.

The fashion world loves to gloat that modeling is one of the few industries where women are paid more than men....way $40 million more. But much like sports, the real money and power lies with those writing the checks not receiving them. Of the 17 top modeling agencies in the world, four have a woman at the helm. It is crazy that these are the people helping set the standards of female beauty and they aren't even members of the gender.


Conde Naste Crew at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
Conde Naste Crew at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week
Photo by Cherise Luter

A pattern emerges where the lead creative position is filled by a woman, but the lead business position is held by a male or an entirely male board of directors. What causes this? Is it a belief that when it comes to creative expression, women are more than capable, but when it comes to a purely business role, women do not have the acumen? Women in fashion are sometimes perceived more like Carrie Bradshaw than Donald Trump and therefore relegated to the "fluff". It is this belief that may account for the uneven distribution of male business heads, not just of parent companies, but of major fashion brands themselves. Additionally, the position of major investor or venture capital firm head is usually filled by men, which is alarming being that these are the people choosing which new companies and products will be serving a mostly female demographic.

Though it may seem that the fashion industry is a haven on female empowerment, a glass ceiling does exist. In the past few years, the number of female leaders has indeed increased, but, much like other industries, there is still much work to do. A few suggestions that may increase the interest in the business side of fashion and decrease the impact of the glass ceiling.

Can the "you have to have a member to be a member" idea. The boys club needs to be shut down by the members themselves. It is up to the men currently in these positions to see potential outside of their immediate circle. Women must be equally considered for change to happen and right now it is men that have that power.

Support fashion dreams outside of the creative. When a girl says she is interested in fashion, she shouldn't be immediately ushered to design school or a publishing internship. On the other hand, when a girl says she is interested in business, she shouldn't be sent immediately to the financial sector. Mentors and teachers should present a range of options to graduating seniors.

Show off the less glamorous side of fashion. Industry professionals and media tend to highlight the flashy parts of fashion, which essentially boils the entire sector down to six or seven jobs. Current professionals should make an effort to show off not only the creative side, but those working on the business side as well.

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