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Many people think of fashion as a realm dominated by women, but in fact, men hold many of the industry’s most of powerful positions. Kojo and Robin Givhan consider what that gender divide means, and the fine line between art, marketing, and exploitation that designers walk. They’ll also discuss why men are taking a greater interest in fashion–including in the world of professional sports.
- Robin Givhan Style and culture correspondent, Newsweek/Daily Beast
Alexander McQueen’s Women’s Spring/Summer 2012 Collection
Rick Owens’ Fall 2012 Collection
Rick Owens Fall 2012 by <a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/LiberisDigital”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's easy to assume that fashion is a field dominated by women, starlets and models provide the face of the industry. And women spend more on clothes than men do. But a closer look reveals that many, if not most, of the industry's top earners and influencers are men. There are signs that change may be in the air as more women come to take the helm at top design houses. At the same time, men continue to become more style conscious then ever thanks in part to an army of stylists deployed where you might least expect them, the NBA and the NFL.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIPulitzer Prize winning fashion critic Robin Givhan is back to help us navigate the world of fashion. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. She's the former fashion editor of the Washington Post, that's where she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work. Robin Givhan, good to see you again.
MS. ROBIN GIVHANIt's good to be here.
NNAMDIThe fashion industry is driven by women, but many of the top designers and executives in the industry are men. Are women under represented in positions of power within the industry and if so why?
GIVHANWell, I think you have to first decide what is a position of power within the fashion industry. I mean, certainly, in terms of the image of the industry and the kind of impact that it has culturally, you think about the models and you think about the editors of fashion magazines and you think about the consumers. So in that way, women have an extraordinary amount of power in the industry. It's one of the, you know, the few areas where, you know, a female model completely out-earns her male counterpart and can have a much longer career.
GIVHANBut when you start thinking about who owns the design houses and who owns the publishing houses and who runs the model industry and who's, you know, the agent for the models, then you start seeing a much more male dominated industry. I mean, you -- when you also start thinking about sort of the buzz making part of the industry, the designers who capture our imagination. They quite often tend to be men as well.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number you can call to join this conversation. Do you think there's a gender divide in the fashion industry? Why do you think it exists and persists or doesn't? 800-433-8850. A lot of men, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford among them, made their name designing for women. Are there any women who have made their name designing clothes for me?
GIVHANWell, I wouldn’t say that they've necessarily made their name designing for men. There are women like Miuccia Prada, like Donatella Versace who run brands that design for men as well as for women. And, you know, I'm reminded of Jhane Barnes who was one of the few women who designed solely for men. But in general, you know, the menswear industry is dominated by other men, you know, designing for their brethren. And I think there's, you know, to some degree, a sense of greater trust that men have with a male designer, particularly when you start getting into the world of tailoring. And that stereotype of, you know, gray haired tailor with the mouth full of pins, chalk marking up a suit is still very much alive and well.
GIVHANBut when you think about the women's side of the business, the sort of cliché that we have in our mind is of, you know, Pygmalion. It's this idea of the male designer and his female muse. And there's a lot of conversation, even now, with male designers who will talk about the women who inspire them, you know, the friend who serves as their daily muse which has become almost like a professional position.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Robin Givhan. She's special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you consider fashion to be art? A conversation we're about to have very shortly. And if so, why or why not, 800-433-8850? This may be a loaded question but are there...
NNAMDI...any hints -- any hints that can tell you whether a collection is designed by a man or a woman?
GIVHANIt is a loaded question. I do think that there are aspects of design that differentiate between men and women. And, I mean, most fundamentally is the idea that, you know, a man's not wearing the clothes when he's designing for a woman. That said, I can real off a laundry list of female designers who have created collections that often leave you scratching your head thinking who's going to wear that? Or, you know, it's not as if female designers are sending out models who are a size 12 or a size 14, even if that's the average size of a woman. I mean, they're still part of the fashion industry and they're still competing to, you know, stake their claim and get to the top of the heap.
GIVHANI mean, one of the more interesting female designers is a woman, Phoebe Philo, who designs for Celine. And it has, sort of, risen in part because she designs in a very streamlined, almost very functional way. And people talk about how it's, you know, it's such a women's collection because she seems so completely in touch with the way that women live their lives. And that is something that's very distinctive to her because she's a woman. But you can argue that the person most responsible for changing the way that women dressed in the workplace was a guy by the name of Giorgio Armani. So I don't think that any gender has a hold on it. I think it's much more about the people that they surround themselves with.
NNAMDIIf you're following fashion, we'd like to hear what trends you're taking note of, call us at 800-433-8850 or if you have any questions or comments for Robin Givhan, 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. One fashion bigwig, Karl Lagerfeld is famous for his stewardship of a legendary design house started by a woman, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. You recently, shall I say, dared to write the words that many others may have been thinking but were reluctant to write or to say, what did you say and what was the reaction?
GIVHANI essentially said that while the work that he's done at Chanel is incredibly impressive, in that he's been able to take a brand that's been around for such a long time, maintain it in a very contemporary way and it's a billion dollar brand. But he also has designed many collections under his own name. He designs for Fendi, he has designed for Chloe. He's a photographer, he's a curator of music, he publishes book. And each of those adventures has often times been met with, not just applause but, declarations of his genius. And my argument was that, this was an example of someone who was really overrated by ministry.
NNAMDIOh, stop. That's a word you'll hear at basketball games if Duke happens to be playing Maryland, here in town. You'll hear all the Maryland fans saying overrated, overrated.
GIVHANThere are many parallels between fashion and sports.
NNAMDIYou said he was overrated.
GIVHANI said he was overrated. And I like to think that I backed it up with evidence. And I didn't think it was particularly controversial because I had had a similar conversation with other members of the industry. But to...
NNAMDIYou didn't notice that none of those other members of the industry ever said it publicly?
GIVHANI clearly was not paying attention. But, yeah, I mean to say publicly is to, you know, to say something -- it's to step outside of what can be a very insular industry and an industry that, rather than criticize, it criticizes by omission. So a fashion magazine that is not supportive of a designer or enthralled by a designer's collection is not going to say, it's a bad collection. They simply won't cover it. And I think, that it does a disservice to consumers and I think it does a disservice to the industry because as a consumer, if you're at all alienated by the industry or a little bit estranged from the industry, I think if you're constantly being told that something is not only wonderful but it's genius...
NNAMDIIt's the work of genius.
GIVHAN...and it's amazing. And you're sort of scratching your head going, wait a minute, I don't get it. You know, that just pushes you farther and farther away from the industry, it's another customer lost.
NNAMDIWhat was the reaction to your comment?
GIVHANYou know, surprisingly I had a lot of really positive feedback from other people in the industry, from other designers, from editors, from consumers. But, you know, Mr. Lagerfeld wasn't particularly enthralled with me. But, you know, I understand that.
NNAMDIWell, the biggest surprise to me was when Mr. Lagerfeld said, Robin Givhan, never heard of her. Now, come on, Karl Lagerfeld, but that was his initial response and he said….
GIVHANIt's an insult by omission.
NNAMDIYeah. And he said, first of all, Tina Brown's magazine is not doing well at all. Yes, apparently he didn't take very kindly to this criticism, but has it had any effect, any significant effect, on you and your role as a critic?
GIVHANWell, you know, the first thing I would say about, you know, his comment about the magazine, one of -- what I thought was particularly intriguing is that he said something along the lines of I don't know how that magazine expects to get advertising with stories like this. And to me, that was evidence of precisely...
GIVHAN...what is of deep concern, you know, to me with the way that the industry operates. The other thing is that, you know, I certainly did not expect that, you know, I would be greeted with flowers and bonbons when I showed up at that Chanel show. But, you know, it's a very -- it's a professional company and my invitation arrived and I went to the show and I reviewed the collection and life continued.
NNAMDIJust one small question. Were you able to have a front row seat? Just asking.
GIVHANI am not...
NNAMDIYou used to.
GIVHANI don't always have a front row seat at Chanel but let's just say that binoculars might've been a little helpful this time around.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Max in Woodbridge, Va. Yes, put on your headphones please. Max, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAXHey, Kojo, great show today. Just wanted to drop, you know, two quick observations. I'm wearing a button up dress shirt right now and it buttons, the buttons are on the right and the wholes are on the left. Women, it's my understanding, are the opposite and I think that's just an interesting sort of, you know, historical perspective on kind of where fashion came from.
MAXI mean, you know, you were able to afford to be the finer fashions in the past, I think, where we're typically dressed by, you know, assistance and things like that. So that's just one sort of influence of male versus female fashion. And secondly, if you look at the reality shows that are on right now, like you know, "Project Runway" or something like that, there are typically fewer guys, but, and this is just my opinion, sometimes the intensity is a little greater in those guys.
MAXIt's almost like when you look at British rock bands versus American rock bands, rock bands started here but those British bands, while there are fewer of them, are typically the best. So that's just my perspective and I'll hang up and let you all talk about it.
NNAMDIRobin Givhan, what's yours?
GIVHANI'm not sure if what you were saying, Matt (sic) that means that the male designers are typically the best? But just historically, you know, there was a period when men were really the peacocks of the fashion industry or at least rivaled women in terms of being flamboyant. And that changed in part because of the rise of the business suit and this whole idea that it became this sort of perfect uniform which men relied on. And women continued to, you know, sort of show off their plumage and come up with more original and creative ways of dressing.
GIVHANBut I don't -- it would be very hard to say that men are better designers. I think that often what you see in the fashion industry is that they tend to be somewhat more flamboyant designers. And they tend to be somewhat more boisterous designers.
NNAMDIMax, thank you very much for your call. Let's stay with the conversation about me for a second because agents, trainers, family and friends typically make up pro athletes entourages but many are adding another key figure, a stylist. Why are athletes taking such an interest in fashion?
GIVHANYeah, there was a piece in the New York Times which I thought was...
NNAMDII saw that.
GIVHAN-- was really intriguing. And, you know...
NNAMDIAnd for those of you who didn't see it, this was a piece having to do with a guy who was getting ready for the NFL draft. He hadn't even yet signed a professional contract anyplace, yet there was a photo of him with a stylist preparing his outfit for the evening of the draft, apparently already trying to create his own brand, if you will.
GIVHANYeah well, you know, having witnessed some of the costuming of previous drafts, both for the NFL and the NBA, I think that choosing a stylist was a wise decision. But I also think that, you know, they're wising up because, you know, the branding is hugely important. And now the possibility of becoming the spokesperson for the face of a fashion brand, you know, it's huge potential financially. There are professional athletes who are involved in the fashion industry. You know, a professional hockey player who interned at Vogue Magazine, basketball players who have partnered with fashion designers to launch brands.
GIVHANSo I think that it's very savvy on their part but I also think that it's just an indication of the way that men's relationship with fashion has evolved. You know, this is a younger generation of men who grew up, you know, surrounded by things like Abercrombie and Fitch and Urban Outfitter and, you know, the whole notion of that terrible cliché of the metro sexual and all of that. But I think it's given them a much greater comfort level, first of all, with fashion.
GIVHANAnd I think that it's something that has become -- you know, it's become a sign of their own sort of cultural savvy. As much as it is if someone asked them about, you know, the music that they prefer, I think that they sort of feel like they should have an opinion about their style.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. We're going to take a short break. Are you part of an industry where image matters? How does your profession dictate your personal style, 800-433-8850? We're talking with Robin Givhan. She's special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. You can also send email to email@example.com or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Robin Givhan, special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. She's the former fashion editor of the Washington Post. There she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow. If you happen to be intimidated or uninterested in fashion we'd like to hear from you. We'd like to know why. Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIRobin, fashion shows are often over the top artistic expressions of a designer's vision. For the uninitiated, those who have never been to or seen one, tell us about the experience of going to a runway show.
GIVHANYou know, the best runway show I always say is something that can inspire -- when you see the clothes on the runway they -- the show can inspire within you the kind of emotion that you would hope to feel wearing that garment to some event in your life. It should sort of transport you and just kind of make you -- put you into a fantasy. Put you into a story, a film, you know, of your own imagination.
GIVHANBut one of the things that I think shocks people, though, is that, you know, the average fashion show lasts about ten minutes and has maybe, you know, 30 to 40 looks.
NNAMDIThe average waiting time however...
GIVHANThe average waiting time can range from about 30 minutes to an hour or even longer. But it's an extraordinary presentation because some of these shows literally can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they only last such a short period of time. And it's really a fleeting experience that, you know, maybe there's a videotape, maybe there are photographs. But as an actual experience it's so short lived. And it's one of the few times when a designer ideally has the opportunity to paint the most detailed picture of their sort of philosophy.
NNAMDIHow important is it to have a contextual understanding of this ten-minute event? To understand exactly what you just explained here in addition to the fact that a great deal of preparation and time went into preparing those ten minutes.
GIVHANWell, you know, with a designer like Alexander McQueen who died a couple years ago, I mean, one of the extraordinary things about him is that in many ways he often started with an idea for a show and everything sort of followed that. So he couldn't really conceive of a collection without also conceiving of how it would be presented. And the two work together in a seamless way. But then you think about someone just recently like Rick Owens who had a show in Paris and one of the songs that he used essentially repeated an expletive for women over and over and over. And, you know...
NNAMDIThe B word.
GIVHAN...the B word and, you know, I found it offensive quite frankly that something that was supposed to be aimed at women and was supposed to entice them into wanting to wear these clothes was sort of brow beating them with the B word. And the song came from, you know, an artist who, you know, explained that well it comes out of, you know, vogue-ing and gay culture and all of these other things. And it preceded the whole Paris is burning, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I thought, you know, that is really all well and good within that context.
GIVHANBut the designer took it out of that context and put it into his own and put it into a context that literally lasted for ten minutes. And maybe he's been thinking about it for months and months but it's a ten-minute window. And in that ten minutes all of that sort of fell apart because, you know, perhaps it was an execution. You know, I argued that, you know, perhaps if he had instructed his models to walk with more of a swagger and with greater authority then you would've had a different sense, you know, hearing that song paired with them. But that wasn't the case.
NNAMDIWhen I saw that it occurred to me that because it is know that many African Americans object to the N word, you see the N word on television but you generally see it used by African Americans, either hip-hop artists and the like and you almost never hear that word on network television.
NNAMDIThe B word, on the other hand, seems to permeate network television. You cannot watch a comedy show on network television without seeing the B word invoked. And even though like some African Americans and hip-hop artists who have adopted and embraced the N word, some women presumably have adopted and embraced the B word. But I still can't figure out why on the one hand you won't see the N word on network television but on the other the B word is everywhere on network television.
GIVHANWell, you know, I think a lot of times it's a case of sort of speaking to so many like-minded people that you're not really getting an impression from outside your -- you know, your vacuum. And I think that's often times what happens within the fashion industry when, you know, things -- whether it's the B word, whether it's painting a white model black for the sake of an esthetic presentation, whether it's, you know, a whole long list of things. Whether it's, you know, using pen -- using stripes that are reminiscent of, you know, pajamas worn by holocaust survivors in a fashion show and saying, I had no idea that that could, you know, be evoked by that image.
GIVHANThe fashion industry I think often suffers from being surrounded by people who all think alike and who all are so committed to an esthetic vision that sometimes they don't look beyond that and they don't think about the responsibility and the ramifications of what they do. And -- which is why I think it's so important for media that is not specifically fashion media to cover the industry because it brings -- they bring that outside perspective.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here now is Jay in Washington, D.C. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYThank you. Hi. Robin, actually I've met you several years ago at Judy Byron's home with Linda Pasell (sp?) . You were on a little panel. And I miss you in the Washington Post every day. I'm calling because you brought up the subject of whether fashion is art.
NNAMDII asked, yes.
JAYYes. And I have to say that I loved Robin's writing about fashion because you wrote about it as anthropology, sociology, economics, as a practical necessity, as fun and as art. And it is all of those things. It is absolutely an expression. That's how you can tell one designers work from another, just like you can tell a Picasso from a Norman Rockwell, you know. And it is absolutely art and the fabric that they use is literally fabric and stuff and bodies. And the concepts that they come up with follow the exact same process as every artist process follows in every medium.
NNAMDIJay, thank you very much for bringing that up because the art of fashion is indeed getting increased attention from big museums. Female designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.
NNAMDIMiuccia, Miuccia, Miuccia Prada whose work -- I knew somebody would correct me -- whose work is separated by decades. But the two of them are the center of a hotly anticipated show at the Met in New York. Why pair those two, and feel free to comment on Jay's question. I noticed that your mind tends to connect all things anyway.
GIVHANWell first, I mean, I think that any designer would be just bowled over to be compared to Picasso. You know, I am always really cautious about describing fashion as art. I think that there are many designers who are extraordinarily artful. And I have seen things come down the runway which I probably would describe as art. But usually when those things come down the runway and I am tempted to describe them as art, I'm also tempted to say, that is not wearable.
GIVHANAnd, you know, to me the best, the most extraordinary designers are the ones who can create something that really does just take your breath away, or just makes you feel like you have been transformed, if only for, you know, the few hours that you have it on. But the point is that you have it on, that you can wear it, that you can navigate through life in it, that you can get into a car in the dress. And if you can't do those things then you've sort of missed one of the fundamental principles of fashion design, which is someone has to wear it.
GIVHANAnd that does link in many ways to Miuccia Prada because she is a designer, I think, who really does make that link, you know, in so many of her collections. Where she's able to take something that makes you reconsider a color, reconsider a fabric, reconsider a silhouette. Make you think about all these things in completely new ways. Make -- she can make you pause and question your own sense of what is beauty and what isn't. But at the same time you can wear these clothes.
NNAMDIBut Prada has said she's not particularly interested in how the clothes look on the body. She's more interested in the idea, storyline and the theory of the design as opposed to being read to the idea that fashion is supposed to make you look pretty or beautiful or powerful. And what was your response to that?
GIVHANI was completely bowled over. I mean, I was madly in love with her at that point because it was such a contradictory -- contrarian point of view. But, you know, this is someone who came to fashion sort of grudgingly. You know, she was -- her family created luggage and leather goods and she was a 20 something feminist out on the streets protesting. So the idea that she was going to become a designer was something that was really anathema to her.
GIVHANAnd I think she has struggled a great deal with ambivalence about her place in the industry and...
NNAMDIWhich is why you say the connection between her and Elsa Schiaparelli is subversiveness.
GIVHANYeah, I mean, they make you think about what's appropriate. You know, I mean, this -- Miuccia is someone who created a collection that involved fur that looked like it came -- it got, you know, scraped off of a teddy bear. You know, she's done plastic fringe. She's chosen colors that most women would probably say are unflattering. Schiaparelli was intrigued by the surrealist and created a hat that looked like an upside down shoe. But I think what they all -- what makes Miuccia particularly interesting is what you were saying, that she doesn't necessarily think that clothes have to make you look pretty.
GIVHANI mean, her argument is that, you know, clothes -- fashion should bring you pleasure but it doesn't have -- in the same way that a painting, a film could give you -- bring you pleasure but it doesn't have to be pretty. It doesn't have to be sexy. You know, her attitude is that fashion can't make anyone sexy. That has to come from within. It's just about the pleasure of fashion, which I think is a very contrarian thing because most people, a lot of women in fact look at a dress on a rack and they think, is this gonna make me look hot tonight.
NNAMDIWell, the notion that for Prada it's all about pleasures gets you to one of your favorite themes, and that is fashion intimidation. Talk about that.
GIVHANFashion intimidation. Well, you know, it's this idea that there's this great sort of mystery in terms of being able to indulge in fashion. And I don't think anyone, for instance, approaches the world of sports and says I'm too intimidated to go to a basketball game because I might not get it. And there are people though who will say they don't want to walk into a store because they might not get it. They might not get the clothes that are hanging there. They might not understand them.
NNAMDIHold that thought for a second because Becky in Silver Spring, Md. seems to qualify. Becky, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BECKYHi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm really enjoying the program today. As you were talking about the intimidation factor, for me it's more a case of I find the whole high fashion scene to be somewhat elitist and a little exclusive. And to be honest it's frankly out of reach for many people like me that are just middle class. And above and beyond that, it just doesn't seem all that -- I guess I'm one of these people for whom clothing is more functional. It can be beautiful, and it can be sensuous, but I don't know, I'm just kind of put off by the way out styles.
BECKYLike you were saying Robin that it's important -- I think you said something about that sometimes people will design clothing that doesn't even appear to be wearable. But one other quick thing I just want to say is that years ago when you were still writing for the Post, I remember this column you wrote about never, never wear white stockings. Do you remember that?
GIVHANDid I really say never ever? Well, probably I did.
BECKYI think you were stunned and outraged that women would do such a thing, and I really enjoyed that column because it was funny and I thought it just said -- well, I have to admit that maybe many, many years ago, I may have worn sort of off-white (word?) with an outfit which I thought looked good with it. And I realized at the time when I read your column is that, yeah, I think there was maybe a little bit of intimidation in my mind, but in any case, I'll just stop talking and let you respond, and thank you so much.
NNAMDIYou waited this many years to hear Robin Givhan on here so you could bring up that white stocking issue, didn't you? Care to comment at all on what Becky said?
GIVHANSure. You know, the thing about the high-end fashion and being intimidated by that, and it's elitist, you know, I'll use another sports metaphor. You know what, you can watch the game from the corporate sky box, or you can watch a game from the bleachers. I mean, it's all a matter of perspective. So one of the great things right now about the fashion industry is that, you know, a designer like Karl Lagerfeld is making clothes for Chanel, and sure, very few people can and are willing to spend $3,000 on a jacket, but he also just designed a collection for Macy's for, you know, a tenth of the cost.
GIVHANSo one of the wonderful things is that there are so many different entry points now for fashion that you can get hat so-called, you know, design perspective. And the other thing, you know, I can quote, or at least paraphrase Prada on this, when she said that often people come to her and they want to know what should they wear, and they'll say, you know, I don't understand fashion, I don't get it, you know, it's confusing to me, and her attitude is, you know, any other field that you didn't understand you would study and you would research and you would learn about it and that would help you understand it, feel more comfortable with it and perhaps incorporate it into your life.
GIVHANThere's no reason why anyone should, you know, come from the womb completely understanding how fashion works, and having a perfect sense of style. People who do are intrigued by it, and they learn, they study, they put a little energy into it. So in many ways, you know, not to blame the victim so to speak, but I think often times people don't want to put in the effort to feel more comfortable with fashion.
NNAMDIBecky, thank you very much for your call. That brings me to another statement that I read that you made about fashion criticism, or it may have been about criticism in general, and that is that it's not just opinion, it's assembling facts having to do with whatever it is you happen to be critiquing or studying or reviewing at the time.
NNAMDIAssembling facts and looking at whatever it is within that context and drawing conclusions.
GIVHANYeah. I mean, I think it's like any other topic. I mean, you know, when you're writing a column or you're reviewing a collection, people will add or disagree with whether or not they liked it or thought it was relevant, and I think that's fine, but the important thing is to, you know, come at it with a sense of context, to explain how you got from point A to point B. And one of the -- it sort of -- the conversation came up in many ways because someone had asked me about fashion blogs and, you know, there are a million blogs out there and some of them are great, and fascinating and some of them are not so great.
GIVHANI mean, it's as with any kind of media, but one of the things that sort of bothered me was that there was a sense that fashion criticism was essentially saying I like it or I didn't like it. Well, that's fine, but you have to explain why you didn't like it. Was it because something was unwearable? Was it because the context was off? Was it because it was derivative? Was it because economically it makes no sense at all? But, you know, you have to explain why you like or dislike something in the same way that an auto critic wouldn't just say I don't like that car.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try our best to get to your calls. It looks like the lines are filled, so if you have questions or comments for Robin Givhan, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. You can send email to email@example.com. If you follow fashion, we'd like to hear what trends you are taking note of. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Robin Givhan. She's the former fashion editor for the Washington Post where she won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work. She's now special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. We got an email from Patricia who says "As a youngster growing up in London, I modeled at Worth, one of the oldest au couture houses. The clothes were truly au couture. I feel that a lot of the clothes on the runway are hardly au, let alone couture.
NNAMDI"I watch 'Project Runway' and am often underwhelmed, especially by the choice of winners. What does Robin think?"
GIVHANWell, the, you know, the fact that you're looking at "Project Runway" hoping to see a little au couture. I mean, they're making clothes out of corn husks. I mean, so I would definitely lower the bar on that a little bit. You know, one of the things that is kind of interesting to me about "Project Runway" compared to other reality shows like "American Idol," is that the -- while I find the talent on "Project Runway" to be creative, and the personalities certainly mesmerizing, there's yet to be a winner who, you know, is sort of the equivalent of a Carrie Underwood on "Project Runway."
GIVHANProbably the closest was Christian Siriano who actually is from the Annapolis area and, you know, he's done, you know, I think he's building a solid business, and I had the chance to interview him when he came back to Washington from a trunk show, and I was very impressed by the fact that he was very business minded and he talked about meeting with retailers and really listening to what they had to say about his collection. But so far, you know, there's still -- to me there still isn't evidence that "Project Runway" can really produce a great designer.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here now is Corrina in Gaithersburg, Md. Corrina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Corrina, are you there?
NNAMDIGo right ahead.
CORRINAI agree with you all about the concept that it is art -- that fashion is art, and I love watching "Project Runway" and a lot of the other things that are on TV, but I can't wear half of -- not even four percent of the stuff that I see on the runway, and it's because I'm short. It's because I'm a normal body type. I'm not like an Amazonian toothpick, and it seems like all the fashion is made for that.
NNAMDIFashions are not for women with curves is what Corrina seems to be saying.
GIVHANYeah. All right. I'm gonna play devil's advocate here because I don't buy this idea that there's nothing out there for real women to wear, and, you know, that's "real" in quotation marks. You know, no one beyond those models who are like 17 and 18 and 19 years old really have figures like that. I mean, models are by their very nature these sort of rare birds that, you know, no one else looks like. And I -- one of the things that makes me nuts is that women go into a store and they assume that they should be able to buy something off of the rack that fits them perfectly, and the likelihood that that's gonna happen is, you know, pretty slim because these are just sort of generic sizes.
GIVHANNo one came in and measured your hips and measured your waist. It's not going to fit perfectly, and there seems to be such an aversion to the notion of tailors and seamstresses who can actually make the clothes fit, and men have a completely different relationship with clothes. Obviously particularly with suits. They go in with the expectation that they're gonna approximate a fit and then someone's gonna finish it off, and that's a real disconnect.
GIVHANBut, you know, that's, you know, that's one small piece of it. The other thing is that I think, you know, women go in and I don't know where they're looking. I don't know what they're trying on. I don't know how -- what it is that they feel isn't working for them. I sometimes wonder if they just look at what's on the runway and they decide since I don't have that body type it's just not going to work on me, when I have seen things that are on the runway on normal women and they look fantastic.
NNAMDICorrina, just a few weeks ago we had a clothing size conversation. Marc Fisher was guest hosting on the show on April 10th, so you can go back into our archives and listen to that show. Corrina, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Wes in northern Virginia. Wes, your turn.
WESHello, yes. I always like your show. Yes. I was -- I don't necessarily agree that the top of the fashion industry is really so dominated by men. Well, it might be, but the current fashions that women wear today are -- some of them are very unappealing and unattractive to men.
WESYeah. Things such as empire waist babydoll dresses, things like that make even some of the most attractive women look very unattractive, and I have to assume that these styles are either -- are designed by either deluded women or gay men who are not trying to make the women look good.
NNAMDIYou're thinking that there are designers who deliberately try to foist upon women fashions that make them look bad because well, they don't much like women?
WESThat's what it seems likes.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Robin Givhan respond. I can't wait.
GIVHANI think it's really funny, the idea that these clothes aren't appealing to men. Don't get me started on Dockers and how appealing they are to women. But, I mean, I do think that, you know, there have been stories about how yeah, there are certain designers who are much more appealing to women dressing for themselves if you will, versus those who are dressing because they are specifically trying to attract the gaze of a man, and, you know, the sort of shorthand is that a designer like Marni, which is designed by Consuelo Castiglioni, who is a woman, and her shapes tend to be sort of a sack dress kind of a shape and quirky shapes and quirky colors, do tend to appeal to women opposed to men.
GIVHANAnd designers like Dolce & Gabbana tend to make clothes that perhaps are more appealing to men, you know, who are looking at women who are wearing them. But that's -- I mean, I think that, you know, it sort of depends on the woman because there are many situations when a woman is just really -- she's dressing for herself and she's dressing to be comfortable, and she's dressing to be professional, or she's dressing because she's in love with a certain trend.
GIVHANI mean, there's a very funny blog called "The Man Repeller," which sort of goes down, you know, these great trends and things that women are completely enamored by and that men supposedly dislike. But I think there is one small assumption on the part of the caller, which is that women are supposed to be dressing to make you happy.
NNAMDIWes, apparently that ain't the case all the time. Thank you very much for your call. We've got an email from Mike in Fairfax, Va., who says, "I'm a millennial man with a fairly strong interest in fashion, particularly formal wear, suits, ties, et cetera. I'm also an attorney where one's fashion sense and presentation are frequently an important part of everyday life. Thinking back, I've realized that fashion-conscious shows like "Entourage" and "Mad Men," have had a particularly lasting influence on how I follow trends and styles.
NNAMDII think some of it also has to do with the fact that males in my generation are less insecure about being pegged as effeminate for taking pride in their appearance even if that means wearing less conservative styles," underscoring a point I guess you were making earlier.
GIVHANYeah. I agree with every single thing that he said. It's true. I mean, one of the interesting things is that a lot of the male Hollywood stars, you know, they use stylists and they really think about their look on the red carpet, and they try to evoke something that's a little bit, you know, more personal than just the classic tuxedo, and absolutely, shows like "Entourage," shows like "Mad Men" where there's real attention given to the look of the male characters, it has an impact, and one of the other things too, particularly with sports is that just historically, African-American men, Latino men, have had a much sort of closer relationship culturally with style, and it hasn't been seen as something that pegs them as effeminate or otherwise less manly.
GIVHANIt's been sort of a point of pride, and in the business world, certainly African-American men have always had, or tended to have, a much greater sense of the importance of looking pulled together and polished and, you know, tended to hold more tightly to business suits, even in the days of business casual because it gave them a certain professional polish that they felt added to their resume.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Robin Givhan will be back, I guarantee it. She's a special correspondent for style and culture with Newsweek and the Daily Beast. She is the former fashion editor for the Washington Post where she won Pulitzer Prize in criticism for her work. Robin Givhan, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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