Traditionally a singular position, the role of creative or artistic director is one of much prestige and panache. But, as with any task that demands an immense level of responsibility, determining the direction of a brand’s visual identity is perhaps better tackled by two minds rather than one. In the luxury womenswear space, this philosophy has been adopted by a small, but mighty collection of labels who have channeled multiple perspectives into exceptional collections.
This expansion of creative authority is an obvious step toward modernization. Among the female and co-ed-led luxury brands are heritage houses like Prada, Fendi, Chanel, and Chloé. In September, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons presented their first joint collection, signaling a new era of innovation at Prada. Simons, having already held creative reign at his eponymous label, Jil Sander, Dior, and Calvin Klein, was a welcomed challenge to Prada, who shares a similar approach to fashion—one which seeks to subversively merge the past and future. The same month, Fendi appointed Kim Jones to take over its women’s ready-to-wear, Haute Couture, and fur collections. The designer, who’s time at the Italian house marks his first foray into womenswear, is anticipated to impart his vision and distinct design sensibility starting with the upcoming Fall/Winter 2021 season.
The idea of a man-woman creative cooperative isn’t a new concept, though. Who could forget Vivienne Westwood‘s beginnings alongside Malcom McLaren at World’s End Boutique in the early ’70s and Karl Lagerfeld’s 54-year command alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi, which ended upon Lagerfeld’s death in 2019. But the culture of creativity in fashion is notably one which praises the face of a brand while forgoing recognition of their many influences. Although creative directors are celebratory in their own right, the design process is often reliant on more than one mind. Muses, like Sophia Coppola to Marc Jacobs, Lady Amanda Harleigh to John Galliano, Isabella Blow to Alexander McQueen, and right-hand women, like Virginie Viard to Lagerfeld, have long offered artistic input. Take our own Carine Roitfeld and designer Tom Ford’s domination of a sleek and sex-ified Gucci during the heat of the ’90s. With a pair of stilettos and a g-string, the pair were one of many duos from Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen to Donatella and Gianni Versace that prove a fortuitous alignment of visions and tastes are sometimes all it takes to create a revolutionary moment in fashion. Life partners have also joined forces to lead brands—Luke and Lucie Meier’s recent reinvigoration of Jil Sander is just one example of the potency of creative couples.
In today’s fashion landscape, the co-ed design duo is a symbol of an evolving industry. This change can be attributed in part to the pressures of the job, but also the importance of dialogue in the design process. The addition of another mind not only relieves some of the creative workload, but brings forth complementary, and contesting, ideas. Although shared vision is undoubtedly the critical component of success, the banter, debate, and idea-swapping that it takes for co-creatives to form this mutual understanding is what produces progressive designs. It is for this reason that many modern fashion brands, built on collective creative philosophies, are gaining momentum.
A general need for diversity and the empowerment of women are also at the forefront of this shift. The merging of unique perspectives, whether stemming from cultural identity, age, ethnicity, or other factors which shape one’s being, is what is needed to resonate with today’s complex consumers. The female point-of-view, too, is a partial, but all-important addition to the collaborative creative process. With more brands considering co-creative roles, women will perhaps have more room to instill their influence through design.
Whether women are the appointed or the appointee, it is the scarcely applied co-ed collaborative structure that serves as a catalyst for dynamic designs. Just as a man may have a deeper understanding of menswear conventions, a woman’s approach to womenswear offers insight that might otherwise be overlooked. Personal experience can inform design direction and fit decisions based on a lived understanding of lifestyle.
For women, to be a part of this conversation is a foreshadowing of the future. The appointment of a female creative director was, and remains, a rare occurrence. At present, the majority of fashion houses actively showing are led by men in solo creative positions. While there is still progress to be made, perhaps the rise of co-ed partnerships will enforce the importance of varying perspectives. It is more so the convergence of different experiences, rather than gender, that shapes a successful partnership. With consideration of those underrepresented in the fashion space, this model of creative collaboration is only the beginning of a much broader discussion.END
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