DMT Beauty Transformation: The 10 Women-Run Fashion Houses Changing How We Dress
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The 10 Women-Run Fashion Houses Changing How We Dress

March 08, 2020DMT Beauty

#DMTBeautySpot #beauty

When you think about what goes on behind the scenes of the women’s fashion industry, what do you imagine? Perhaps you’d picture a large open-air office filled to the brim with women of all kinds, designing clothes, writing copy, and analyzing exactly what it is that women want to buy. And in some ways, that’s exactly right. Many of the most highly respected editors in the business are women, as are the buyers, including Elizabeth von der Goltz at Net-A-Porter, Lisa Aiken at Moda Operandi, Bridgitte Chartrand at SSENSE, and Olivia Kim at Nordstrom.

We’re also in the majority on the other side of fashion: the consumer side. According to a report titled “Shattering The Glass Runway” put on by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Glamour, and McKinsey & Company, women spend three times more than men on apparel, accounting for $159 billion in sales in 2017. Any way you look at it, we’re propping up the industry.

And yet, when it comes to designing, men continue to hold the majority of creative director roles at major brands. According to BOF’s spring ‘17 fashion week study, only 40.2% of the 371 designers surveyed were female. Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, Raf Simons now at Prada, Riccardo Tisci at Burberry, Hedi Slimane (who, in 2018, replaced a female as creative director) at Celine, Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, and Daniel Lee at Bottega Veneta — and that’s just the Cliff Notes version. All that being said, though, the less-than 50% of brands led by female designers are consistently some of our favorites — a fact that shouldn’t take anyone by surprise. 

Heritage brands like Givenchy, Chanel, Prada, and Dior are all helmed by women. Splashy newcomers like Fenty, Bode, Simone Rocha, Brother Vellies, Stella McCartney, and Cushnie are run by women, too. In fact, The New York Times reported in 2018 that 85% of graduating fashion majors are female, 86% at FIT and 93% at Pratt. 

Ahead, the low-down on some of the designers who are pushing back on the data and paving the way for a fashion industry that’s truly for women, by women. 

Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty

@badgalriri. 32 years old. Singer. Designer and Founder, Fenty, Savage x Fenty & Fenty Beauty.

Robyn Fenty, known to all as Rihanna, is an unshakable force. The musician-turned-CEO has been in the spotlight since she was a teenager, with her first album Music of the Sun, which came out in 2005. That same year — the year she turned 17 — she moved from her hometown of Saint Michael, Barbados to the US, where her career got its start. 

In 2017, she launched Fenty Beauty. A year later, Savage x Fenty, a sexy, affordable, and inclusive line of members-only lingerie was launched to the glee of millions of women around the world who, like her, struggled to find lingerie that matched their skin tones and body types. The brand is also rumored to be the nail in Victoria’s Secret’s coffin. Next came Fenty, a luxury collection, the launch of which marked the first time a woman, let alone a woman of color, introduced a line with LVMH, ever. Even better? The first drop was a work of genius, from the corset dresses to the monochrome co-ords. 

Rihanna’s not the first musician to launch a career in fashion — not even close. But unlike her predecessors, the 32-year-old is designing something unquestionably new, all while throwing a wrench in an industry that so desperately needed one. 

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Bergdorf Goodman.

Simone Rocha

@simonerocha_. 33 years old. Creative Director and Founder, Simone Rocha. 

It’s been a decade since Simone Rocha launched her namesake line of tulle gowns, pearly accessories, and flouncy blouses with big embroidered collars —all with a gothic twist. We’ve been in love since day one. Rocha, though, had design on the brain long before we’d heard of her. 

The daughter of famed British designer John Rocha and his manager Odette, Rocha has fashion in her blood. She didn’t, however, follow in her father’s design strategy. Instead, she looks at womenswear, and in turn femininity, as being about “practicality and reality,” something she learned from running an all-women’s studio where she hears from the women she works with about what they actually want to wear. “It’s really empowering because being a woman designing for women, you’d think that a lot of women are a part of the process, and that’s actually the case in this building,” she says in an interview with The New York Times. As we know, that isn’t necessarily true elsewhere in the industry. 

Each season, Simone Rocha pushes the boundaries of femininity with her collections. Her fall ‘20 line was one of the most impressive and nuanced to date. Lace crowns, exaggerated satin bows, and “birthing dresses” were all present in the collection, which was inspired by J.M. Synge’s play Riders to the Sea, a story rooted in a woman’s resilience after the death of her family, according to Vogue

With the praise that followed it, there’s no question that Simone Rocha will remain on the scene for decades to come, during which she’ll continue to share women’s stories and design clothing only with them in mind. Photo: Nick Harvey/WireImage.

Maria Grazia Chiuri 

@mariagraziachiuri. 56 years old. Creative Director of Womenswear, Dior.

Previously the co-creative director of Valentino alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli, Italian fashion designer Maria Grazia Chiuri did what many would think was impossible: She ditched her longtime partner for a solo gig as the first-ever female head of womenswear design at Christian Dior. Despite setting off on her own after two decades with a partner, she hasn’t looked back, nor has she been afraid to develop a style separate from the one she shared with Piccioli. 

It was under her leadership that the brand reinstated its iconic Saddle bag, which has been spotted on countless celebrities and fashion enthusiasts since its return in 2018. The French fashion house also saw a 15% increase in sales in 2019. 

But above all else, her legacy rests in feminism. For the spring ‘18 collection, Grazia Chiuri took inspiration from Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” handing out copies of the essay and printing its title on T-shirts. Her spring ‘20 collection, a nod to classical representations of goddesses throughout history, was shown in front of a backdrop that read, “What If Women Ruled The World?” And just last week, she threw her most feminist-focused show of all, one illuminated with signs by female artist Claire Fontaine which flashed phrases like “Consent” and “When Women Strike The World Stops.” Her efforts surrounding gender equality haven’t gone unnoticed, either. In fact, she received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian distinction, from the country’s gender equality minister Marlène Shiappa in 2019. Photo: Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images.

Stella McCartney

@stellamccartney. 48 years old. Creative Director and Founder, Stella McCartney.

Stella McCartney is the foremost advocate for sustainability in fashion today and the point of comparison that we use to test whether or not brands’ sustainability efforts are authentic. Not only was she championing the movement before it was the “thing to do,” she also practices what she preaches, season after season.

For her fall ‘20 collection, McCartney sent models dressed as animals down the runway, followed by an Instagram campaign featuring cartoons of animals expressing things like, “My coat looks better on me” and “What the fox?? I’m not fashion.” The entire collection, as per usual, was cruelty free. 

The designer has 32 years of experience, including a stint as creative director of Chloé. In addition to her sustainability efforts, she’s also known for her very British and feminine design aesthetic, so much so that she was plucked to design the dress Meghan Markle wore to the Royal Wedding reception. Apart from the obvious reasons for accepting, McCartney said she designed the dress for Markle because she’s “a women’s woman,” according to Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images.

Clare Waight Keller

@clarewaightkeller. 49 years old. Artistic Director, Givenchy. 

Clare Waight Keller has quite the resume. Straight out of college, she was plucked by Calvin Klein to design for CK Calvin Klein, quickly moving up the ranks to the primary line. From there, she moved onto Ralph Lauren, followed by a stint at Gucci. In 2005, she landed her first creative director role at Pringles of Scotland, where she stayed until 2011, when she took the reigns at Chloé, breathing new life and a unique sense of femininity into the brand again after Phoebe Philo’s exit years before. Six years later, with stacks of experience under her belt, it was announced that Waight Keller would replace Ricciardo Tischi as creative director at Givenchy, an ascension that would, only two years into the job, give her the opportunity to design the then-Duchess of Sussex’s highly (as you can imagine) publicized and applauded custom wedding gown. She’s also Markle’s go-to for clothing advice, from what she should wear to a royal wedding that isn’t hers to how to dress for your first one-on-one outing with the Queen of England. Markle’s loyalty was solidified when she awarded the designer with the British Designer of the Year Womenswear Award in 2018, mentioning in her speech Waight Keller’s understanding of the deep connection that women have with what they wear, a “connection rooted in really being able to understand that it’s about supporting and empowering each other, especially as women.” 

Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images.

Carly Cushnie

@carlycushnie. 31 years old. Designer and Co-Founder, Cushnie.

In becoming a successful fashion designer, there are two routes you can take: following in the footsteps of those before you by gaining experience at a renowned fashion house, or going off on your own. Carly Cushnie is an example of the latter, often the route less taken — and finding extraordinary success. 

In 2008, following her graduation from Parsons and internships at Proenza Schouler, Donna Karen, and Oscar de la Renta, Cushnie, alongside her classmate Michelle Ochs, launched their namesake brand formerly known as Cushnie et Ochs. Apart from designing, the duo also advocates for women in the workplace, telling their success story often and to anyone who will listen in the hopes that women will find the strength to stray from the beaten path in order to follow their career goals. 

In 2018, after ten years together, Michelle Ochs left the brand, forcing Carly Cushnie to go off on her own. But the loss hasn’t stopped her. Rather, it pushed her to try something new: introducing denim and focusing some of her seemingly endless attention to detail on accessories. Her designs are known for their fit, something that ironically enough isn’t always easy to come by, which is why iconic women flock toward them. Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Ashley Graham, and Lupita Nyong'o are all advocates for the 31-year-old designer. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows.

Marine Serre

@marineserre_official. 28 years old. Founder and Creative Director, Marine Serre.

Despite only having six full collections to her name, Serre’s work has already made its mark on the fashion world, with the finest names in the business not only talking about them, but wearing them — specifically, her iconic moon-printed tights, leggings, and bodysuits. Beyond just prints, though, Serre is known for her overarching dystopian design aesthetic, with stylish versions of hazmat suits causing a commotion at her latest fall ‘20 show last week in Paris. 

While studying design at La Cambra in Belgium, Serre interned at Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen, and Dior under the helm of Raf Simons — three designers known for their unconventional and thought-provoking portfolios. But unlike some of the men she’s worked under, her biggest priority has always been for people to wear her clothes every day, she said in an interview with SSENSE. “For me, it is important to connect to reality,” rather than fantasy. Her graduate collection caught the attention of The Broken Arm, a contemporary boutique in Paris, i-D Magazine, and Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia, who offered the designer a position at the brand. But with orders coming in from Opening Ceremony, SSENSE, and Dover Street Market, she decided it best to venture off on her own. Then, LVMH came calling. As the youngest on the shortlist for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, her designs impressed Phoebe Philo, Karl Lagerfeld, and Nicolas Ghesquiere, and she took the prize home. Photo: Darren Gerrish/WireImage.

Aurora James

@aurorajames. 33 years old. Founder and Creative Director, Brother Vellies.

Aurora James, founder and creative director of cult favorite footwear and handbag brand Brother Vellies, is a woman of many trades, most of all an advocate. Her label, named after her fashion-forward take on the traditional African desert boot, the velskoen, began as a mode of supporting South African, Kenyan, and Moroccan artisans and the African footwear they’re known for. “There are a lot of charitable shoe brands, but giving someone a handout isn't as empowering as giving someone a job,” she says of the motivating force behind starting the brand. All of Brother Vellies’ design studios around Africa are inherently inclusive, employing people of all genders, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and tribes. The brand also promotes a sustainable agenda, not only because of its intrinsic nature as a small artisan-based business, but also because of the materials utilized in the design process: vegetable-tanned leathers, recycled tires, hand-carved wood, and feathers died using flowers. "I feel like we should all appreciate the fact that this world needs to be treated a certain way — it’s ours for now but it will not necessarily be ours later,” James says. 

Cut to 2019, the year of Aurora James’ big break. In May, the designer received Canada’s International Canadian Designer Award following Nikki Minja’s appearance at the Met Gala wearing Brother Vellies boots. Later, stylist Shiona Turini handpicked the designer’s snakeskin Palms Boots to feature throughout the award-winning film she costume designed for Queen & Slim. For the L.A. screening, none other than Beyoncé wore the boots in a sign of support that would launch James’ career further into the stratosphere. Photo: Dominique Charriau/WireImage.

Emily Adams Bode

@bodepersonal. 30 years old. Founder and Creative Director, Bode.

At her core, Emily Adams Bode is a menswear designer. She shows during Paris Fashion Week Men’s, just opened a store in Manhattan’s Chinatown that predominantly sells menswear, and is most known for dressing the likes of Leon Bridges, Jordan Peele, and Harry Styles (who she’s rumored to be dressing for his upcoming Fine Line tour). So why is she making this list? 

If you thought female womenswear designers were hard to come by, just imagine the scarcity of menswear designers that are women. They’re basically non-existent. So for Emily Bode to be doing what she’s doing — at the level of success that she’s doing it — is one hell of a feat for women in fashion. Plus, in a landscape where unisex dressing is more popular than ever, there really is no reason for women not to wear Bode’s line of Wes Anderson-esque outerwear, around-the-campfire co-ords, and retro patchwork pieces made solely out of vintage fabrics — all of which is sustainable. And before you say it, no, she’s not guilty of the kind of greenwashing we’ve become accustomed to. Bode, with its vintage-sourced materials and small production sizes, is the kind of brand the industry can look to as an example of what fashion looks like when consciousness is added to the mix. Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images.

Miuccia Prada

@prada. 70 years old. Creative Director, Prada.

Miuccia Prada wasn’t always bound for a career in fashion. Quite the opposite, actually. Originally named Maria Bianchi, the iconic fashion designer actually studied political science, graduating with a PhD from the University of Milan before spending a chunk of time as a mime (yes, a mime) and joining the Italian Communist Party. Fashion was “the worst place for a feminist in the ’60s,” Prada is quoted saying in Document Journal. Before long, her calling became too strong to ignore, even if the environment wasn’t ideal. In 1979, she joined the family business. 

Her background as a feminist fighter, though, still shines through in her fashion, something that’s apparent in the lack of traditionally sexy pieces, or rather, “sexy” as it would be defined by men. Instead, Prada designs trendsetting pieces for both Prada and Miu Miu with women always at top of mind. Just as she’s always done, Miuccia Prada is still, to this day, daring to be different. “I want to be more clever, or more difficult, or more complicated, or more interesting, or more new,” she says to Document Journal. We’d say she can check off all five. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

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Eliza Huber, Khareem Sudlow

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