From the sleek, modern style of Italian fashion house Prada to the incomparable evening gown designs of Elie Saab, fashion has always had one constant: a lack of gender parity. While female designers have been present in the industry for centuries, their presence remains sparse. In the recent CNA Luxury report, “Where are the Women Designers?”, we look deeper into the wide gap between male and female designers in the luxury fashion domain.
1. Uncovering the Invisible Vide of Women Designers
Though they flew under the radar for much of the last century, women have had a long-standing influence on design all over the world. The contributions of these creative women have been largely absent from the annals of design history, but their influence can still be felt today.
Female designers have been quietly pushing design to new heights, extending far beyond traditional categories. Take Florence Schust Knoll, for example. An American designer, she worked alongside her husband on iconic pieces of furniture such as the Barcelona chair, which has since become part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Other impressive female designers include:
- Charlotte Perriand: Well-known for her role in introducing modern design to post-war France, she collaborated with pioneers like Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe.
- Jennifer Siegal: A leader of modern prefabricated housing, Jennifer was the first to be inducted into the prestigious Order of the American Institute of Architects.
- Lella Vignelli: She and her husband Massimo made a name for themselves with their bold graphic design – their work can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art.
From furniture to housing to visual design, female designers have changed the way we think about design worldwide. While their stories may only now be seen and appreciated, their contributions are long overdue to be recognized and celebrated.
2. Decoding the Inequitable Representation of Women in the Luxury Design World
This era has seen unprecedented shifts in the way women are represented in the top design spaces. Although progress has been made to combat gender stereotypes and boost the representation of womxn in the highest echelons of the industry, there are still clear inequities between genders when it comes to access to the same opportunities.
Decoding these disparities requires recognizing the many drivers, including:
- Societal Bias: Sexism and gender-based discrimination continue to be an invisible force in the design world.
- Financial Inequality: With fewer resources to access and invest in their own careers, women often struggle to access the same level of success as men.
- Access to Role Models: Good role models are essential for any up-and-coming professional, but with fewer senior female designers in the luxury realm, womxn can struggle to find the guidance needed to reach their ambitions.
By understanding why womxn in the design space are often held back, it’s possible to start pointing the industry towards better results. Education on the subject, more balanced investment in female-led projects, and the presence of more female role models in the industry should all help bridge the gender divide and support womxn on the journey towards gender equity in the design world.
3. Making Way for a More Diverse Landscape of Women Design Leaders
The landscape of design is changing, and with it comes an influx of women in leadership roles. The future looks brighter than ever for female design leaders. Let’s take a look at how this is manifesting:
- More women are pursuing higher-level education and becoming certified design professionals.
- The number of women in influential leadership roles in the design industry is increasing.
- The rise of female-crafted businesses and initiatives is challenging the male-dominated industry standard.
Women now represent more than half of all professionals in the design field, but the number of women in executive level roles still lags behind. Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives and programs that provide mentorship, guidance, and resources to help level the playing field. Companies are beginning to provide more gender-balanced hiring committees to review potential candidates. Women are also helping to steer technology products and services to ensure that gender and gender identity are taken into account when designing products.
4. Reimagining a Design Future Fit for All
When it comes to design, much is said about innovation, regulatory compliance and cost optimization. But in our rapidly changing world, adaptive design is key. A design future fit for all requires re-imagining how we consider all the elements that make design systemic and inclusive.
- Usability: Developing efficient systems that everyone can use, regardless of ability.
- Accessibility: Identifying and removing barriers to access and optimizing for a variety of user preferences.
- Scalability: Examining the way designs can be tailored and adapted for different contexts and markets.
We are now in a position to be bold and ambitious with our design goals, recognizing the complexities of the global systems in which we are embedded. Design that addresses issues of ethics, equity and sustainability must be contemplated and balanced in multiple layers of the design process. In doing so, we can realise a world fit for all.
When it comes to developing strong female leadership in all fields, the tide is slowly turning – and we believe the luxury design industry will be no exception. The need for innovation & creativity is greater than ever and the potential that harnessing female talent will bring is extraordinary. Women have the tools to shape the industry ahead in a meaningful way and the potential of what they can create knows no bounds. Described as an immeasurable, worthy cause – it’s time for female designers to make their mark.