Has Fashion Given Business Women a Fighting Chance?
T-shirts on the Christian Dior runway not too long ago declared, “We Should All be Feminists.” More recently, the show space was plastered with protest and feminist-inspired imagery. In light of the state of the gender power structure in the fashion industry, it is difficult not to wonder if creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri is not only talking to her Dior customers but also nudging fashion’s reigning powers that be: The men behind fashion’s biggest brands. There is, after all, a stark lack of women at the helm of the industry’s most well-known brands, and also behind the scenes.
This is a particularly interesting phenomenon if we consider the breakdown of the market for luxury goods. In the 250-billion-euro space, 85 percent of personal luxury goods consumers are women, according to a 2015 Bain report. Euromonitor confirmed that luxury womenswear and accessories continued to outperform menswear in 2016. And as recently as October 2017, online marketing consultancy PMX Agency found that of Gen X consumers – those born between 1965 to 1984, who make up the biggest buyers of luxury goods – women were still significantly outspending men.
These figures are wildly disproportionate to the statistics that detail the supply side of the equation, where the industry’s most highly-ranking positions are by and large dominated by men.
The relatively recent appointments of Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, Natacha Ramsey-Levi at Chloe, and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Christian Dior – the latter being Dior’s first-ever female creative director in the Paris-based design house’s 71-year history – signal a degree of advancement. Such appointments serve – at least in theory – to challenge the status quo of male designers’ power at the helms of the crown jewel brands of luxury conglomerates’ portfolios.
(This is something we examined at length last spring, in asking: Have luxury conglomerates given a fair chance to female creatives in the upper-most echelon of the fashion industry?).
But what is going on behind-the-scenes? On the business side of the equation, the imbalance persists. Industry-wide, women only make up 25 percent of board-level positions in publicly traded fashion and luxury goods companies, as of 2015, per BoF. Initiatives aimed at increasing gender diversity are being imposed in some countries, including France, where a 2011 law requires that all companies listed on the CAC 40 – a benchmark French stock market index – must show that women account for at least 40 percent of their board membership.