Women Lousy at Designing Clothes for Women?

| 4 Comments

Ugh.

I've been taking a break from dealing with certain issues because well, because I need a break. I've been trying to work on a couple of posts, one on the whole nasty debate about a "man's right to choose" sparked by Dalton Conley's December 1st NY Times editorial on the topic, and another on the sexsomnia defense a guy in Canada used to beat a rape charge, but I don't get very far before I get too upset to continue.

Here's something I would dismiss as silly if it weren't for the fact that I really dig textiles and clothing. But the clothes I own are typically things I made myself or bought on sale, and I am of the opinion that haute couture is overpriced, wasteful and misogynist. This article made me think about WHY high fashion might be something the average woman doesn't want, need or have the money for. It's from the NY Times, about why women don't succeed as fashion designers. Among the arguments for why men, either straight or gay, are better than women at designing clothes for women, are these:

In some quarters, the perception exists that fashion's main consumers, women, are more comfortable taking advice about how they should look from a man. "Men are often better designers for women than other women," said Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, who more than anyone in the past decade built a brand on his own persona, that of a man whose sensual appeal is to both men and women. Whereas Bill Blass, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta founded their empires on the strength of a nonthreatening, nonsexual charisma, Mr. Ford aggressively promoted his sexually charged designs. "Of course there are many more gay male designers," Mr. Ford said. "I think we are more objective. We don't come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies."

Some designers embrace an extreme version of this position. Michael Vollbracht, the current designer of Bill Blass, said he believes that gay men are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of a woman as an idealized fantasy. "I come from a time when gay men dressed women," Mr. Vollbracht said. "We didn't bed them. Or at least I didn't. I am someone who is really pro-homosexual. I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not."

When women design for other women, Mr. Ford said, they proceed from a standpoint of practicality - not fantasy. "Sometimes women are trapped by their own views of themselves, but some have built careers around that," he said. "Donna Karan was obsessed with her hips and used her own idiosyncrasies to define her brand."

The Times' article purports to be an expose on the topic, but it doesn't include many women's voices on the matter. It does, however, let a designer named Dana Buchman respond to these arguments. Ms. Buchman "sees little value in such arguments. If men are more objective, she countered, then women are empathetic, which can be useful in understanding the consumer. 'I wear my own clothes,' she said. 'I have lived the life of my customer.'" Yeah, but that's precisely the problem, as Tom Ford kindly points out: she's too caught up in the practical issues of how clothes fit the real bodies and real lives of real women! And since she never wants to f*ck herself the way a straight man would and never sees clearly the aesthetic ideal women should strive to embody the way a certain type of elitist gay man would, she will never know as well as either class of man how to dress herself, or other women.

4 Comments

I just finished reading the NY Times article that you cited and I have to say that I found the whole thing grossly homophobic.

Every industry has a favorite son, and Fashion just happens to have a gay son. If I had a nickel for every time a woman has asked me how she looked, I would probably be a millionaire by now. Why do they ask me? Because I am gay and I don't want to fuck them and I am not in competition with them, so they know they will get an honest answer. That is a large part of why gay men do so well as fashion designers.

All this nonsense about haute couture really cracks me up. "High Fashion" does not need to be taken seriously. It's all pageantry. It's all a game to see who has the best fantasies. No one actually wears the shit, except Hollywood divas and they pretty much fit into the aesthetic ideal. The reason it exists is for people like me to "ooh" and "aah" on the red carpet, or to say: "What was SHE thinking?... Oh, Vera Wang, it figures."

Even though Tom Ford is an asshole, he has done well for himself in an industry that has no problem with his sexual orientation. Being openly gay will hurt you in almost every other profession. Maybe I am being anti-feminist, I don't know. But this Tara Subkoff seems really bitter:

"Gay men stick together like a band of brothers," Ms. Subkoff said in an interview. "It's more common for a man to bring up a younger assistant" who is male "and be proud of that," she added, "whereas a woman would be threatened" to promote another woman.

It sounds to me like the problem lies in a lack of sisterhood.

You're right: women don't support each other readily or often enough.

I thought the article veered into both misogyny and homophobia. It's like it couldn't consider the situation without dissing all gay men or all women. I tried not to repeat the mistake in my comments--in complaining that a woman "never sees clearly the aesthetic ideal women should strive to embody the way a certain type of elitist gay man would" and will therefore not be as good a designer as such a man, I was attempting to narrow my response to Michael Vollbracht's statement that "I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not," the last two sentences of which, at least, I think are hooey. I don't care at all that he thinks he's better than straight people in this general way (it seems appropriate, given how many straight people think they're better than gay people), but I don't think the last two assertions make gay men better designers of clothes for women than women.

Gay people are not better than straight people. Straight people are not better than gay people. It is my belief that men who design women's clothing are either indulging their sexual fantasies (whatever that might be) or indulging in wishful thinking (as in what they'd wear if they were women). It is also my belief that women who design for women are not indulging men's sexual fantasies, but their own fantasies of comfort and color . . . which sometimes other women do not view as sexy to men. We should all dress for ourselves, not for the "other," whoever that might be.

Well, I've been thinking about this for the past two days and lo and behold - here is this page.

It occurs to me that fashions have always been designed by men. Otherwise, why are bras and shoes so uncomfortable? So they can get women out of their clothes quicker!!!!!!!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 10, 2005 11:32 AM.

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