Last year, longtime Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, one of the few women designers currently at the top of a luxury fashion house, announced she was leaving the brand after more than two decades. Soon after, when her replacement — former JW Anderson head of ready-to-wear, Sean McGirr — was announced, the fashion industry was left with a nearly all-men club leading its biggest luxury fashion houses.
With the exception of Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Virginie Viard at Chanel, few women currently sit at fashion’s highest echelons of creative directors. “When it comes to who holds the power in this industry — whether that power is financial, decision-making, or creative— men still reign,” says Emily Stochl, host of the Pre-Loved Podcast and a secondhand clothing expert. It’s a bizarre reality, especially considering fashion is an industry that largely services women. “We are very used to seeing a man’s vision for what a woman should wear,” says Linda Sumbu, a social media fashion commentator. “The contribution that many male creative directors have given in fashion is unparalleled — many of them design with the love of women — but I also think many design with the preconceived patriarchal assumptions of what women should wear.”
Lived experiences are perhaps the best informants when it comes to designing womenswear. Figures like Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood, Phoebe Philo, Diane von Furstenberg, and Carolina Herrera established a path for themselves in a male-dominated industry by speaking directly to women in a way that felt more like peer-to-peer conversations rather than a genius-muse trope. And their success — both financial and artistic — is a testament to what fashion could be if only it did the obvious move: let women design for themselves. “I do hold hope that, as women and non-binary folks take up the helm of the fashion industry of the future, they’re able to use the strengths they’ve demonstrated as stewards of sustainability and education to make the industry an overall better palace,” says Stochl.
And that’s exactly what women designers, often working on their own independent labels, are doing today. Names like Sandy Liang and Collina Strada, for example, have become eponymous to today’s woman, setting trends (Liang’s bows are one of the year’s top styles) and ethos (Collina Strada’s Hillary Taylour is setting a new standard on sustainability) that are changing the industry from the ground up.
As an antidote to the heavily male dominated energy in high fashion, here are some of the women designers that fashion girlies are excited about in 2024.
It’s become normal for men to design for women. So much so that it was a bit jarring to see a label like Bode, founded by Emily Adams Bode Aujla, take the 2022 CFDA Award for American Menswear Designer of the Year. She was also the first-ever woman designer to show at NYFW: Men’s. To podcast host and secondhand fashion expert Emily Stochl, Bode “flips the script on the traditional fashion industry narrative.” Stochl adds: “Vintage-lovers can tell that Bode has a deep appreciation for vintage and heritage clothing and I especially love their work that utilizes antique textiles.”
Ballou first launched her brand, which draws inspiration from her coastal upbringing in South Carolina, in 2018. Since then, she’s amassed a following for her vibrant pints, sensual silhouettes, and bold color palettes. Shopbop fashion director Caroline Maguire first met Ballou last spring, and has since welcomed her designs into the company’s e-commerce platform. “The inspiration she gets from nature leads to her one-of-a-kind prints that are absolutely gorgeous,” she says. What started as a swimwear line meant to bring bathing suits out of the shoreline is now one of fashion’s most exciting resort wear brands, worn by the likes of SZA and Bella Hadid.
The Tory-ssaince is real. Since taking over creative operations of her brand, Tory Burch has risen as one of fashion’s most thrilling designers, focusing on classic staples and fluid silhouettes that add as much ease as they do edginess. Data confirms it too: According to global search platform Lyst, searches for Tory Burch items were up by 15% last year. Luxury fashion shopper Gab Waller says that she has seen an increase in requests from clients for Tory Burch pieces, particularly the brand’s footwear. Waller points to Burch’s creative direction as the reason for this reemergence: “I know Tory herself is really focusing on the creative and the design, so I’m very excited to see what happens there,” Waller says.
Like Bode, Rose, who has collaborated with brands like Nike and Clarks, is one of menswear’s most exciting names, captivating even women. “The thing about menswear is that while I can appreciate it, it is never really my focus when fashion week occurs,” says Sumbu. “But the way Martine Rose makes menswear made me pay attention.” She points to Rose’s fall/winter 2024 collection, which played with oversized, asymmetric proportions, as a good example of the designer’s genius. “I truly believe, especially with the drought of female fashion designers within luxury houses, that she will be leading the creative direction for one of them soon,” says Sumbu.
Following years of ultra-popular collections, Irish designer Simone Rocha started 2024 with a bang: a couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier. “Her collections filled with girlish charm is exactly what enchanted me with her.” Rocha’s unique intersection of femininity, romantic silhouettes, and playful styles is what has earned her a cult following since she first debuted her brand in 2010, later partnering with labels like Crocs and H&M. “It is a pleasure to see her rise,” says Sumbu.
When it comes to size-inclusivity, few designers are putting in the ork like Karoline Vitto, the Brazilian-born, London-based designer that’s known for her cut-outs and curve-accentuating silhouettes. Marie Claire fashion editor Emma Childs, who first got acquainted with Vitto through Instagram describes her work as “clothing that’s sensual and spotlights the squishy bits of women’s bodies — the parts we’ve long been told to shroud away from public view.” Since debuting in 2022, Vitto has been worn by Ashley Graham and Kelly Rowland and received the Emerging Designer Award at the inaugural Latin American Fashion Awards in 2023. According to Childs, Vitto’s ascent “has no end in sight.”
Dauphinette is a New York-based brand led by designer Olivia Cheng, known for her mastery of upcycling and repurposing materials. Stochl says she was first drawn to Cheng’s work because she’s “tacking something very significant in the re-use space,” adding that her focusing on repurposing long-lasting materials, which have included dollar bills, footballs, and matchbooks, differentiates her from her peers.
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