Is The Fashion Industry A Gay Man’s World?

A few years ago, designer and sometimes actress, Tara Subkoff, came under fire when she accused the fashion industry as being “a gay man’s profession.” At the time, Subkoff, was behind the label Imitation of Christ (which has since been renamed ‘Imitation’) and had just signed on with Easy Spirit to do a capsule collection when she made the remark during a panel discussion called Generation X Fashion.

As if that statement weren’t enough, she also went on with further accusations saying Vogue‘s Anna Wintour only supported “young, gay men.”

Subkoff’s comments not only put her at some sort of war against the industry in which she was trying to establish herself a legitimate designer, but as we all know, Wintour does not take kindly to shit talk. You mess with Anna Wintour, you mess with a career in fashion.

Although Subkoff made the statement years ago, during this Fashion Week, we wondered if others involved in the fashion community felt the same way, or if they thought she was just being, well, Tara Subkoff – she’s not exactly known for being subtle or discreet.

Designer, writer and insider Abbe Diaz, recounted her experiences in the fashion world in her book PX This – Diary of the Maitre d’ to the Stars. She said:

“I have worked in fashion since 1997, and I completely agree with Tara Subkoff; I remember her quote well, and it made me briefly idolize her simply for her very public irreverence. Frankly, I don’t think she “whined” at all; I think she simply uttered a phrase a good portion of designers think but never get the opportunity to opine in any significant way.”

She concluded this thought by saying, “in terms of fashion being a ‘gay man’s profession’ the facts and number of well-known designers speak loudly and clearly on their own.”

In 2007, Women’s Wear Daily published a piece questioning why there weren’t more female fashion designers. The article cited that although more women were becoming heads of illustrious fashion houses, it was men, gay men, specifically, who reigned supreme. Said Floriane de Saint Pierre, head of a consulting firm in Paris, ”In the early 1990s, the creative directors of fashion houses were nearly all men.”

Said model booker, Rachel Khona:

“I would agree that it is a gay man’s industry. It doesn’t mean women can’t get ahead, but you certainly have to sacrifice certain things. Women tend to want to get married and settle down. As gay men don’t necessarily want to, it allows them to go out and network and party every day of the week until the wee hours. Their aesthetic is what dominates fashion as well.”

True, but what does a man know about a woman’s body? And how many of these rail-thin 15-year-old models even have a woman’s body? Perhaps, gay men are the ones to blame for the fashion industry’s addiction to women who literally resemble wire hangers.

In 2009, Jezebel writer Tracie Egan Morrissey wrote in her own blog, “One D at a Time,” that gay men were to blame:

“I think that gay men are actually the most to blame for many of the problems in the fashion industry, like the absence of womanly curves on the runway, and the hideous, figure-assaulting trend that is the tent dress, which no women who have tits, and no straight men who have an appreciation for tits, have any use for.”

Image consultant, Linda Froiland, couldn’t agree more:

“I often find fashion very, very silly. Do I think it’s because there are too many gay male designers? I am not sure, I have many gay male friends so I would never want to disparage anything they do. I do feel however, that fashion has completely forgotten the female form. We have hips, busts, shoulders, we have thin legs, thick legs, our arms are muscled from working out, etc. Fashion is only designed for those that are very skinny with no shape at all.”

Those who respect fashion as the art it is often defend this mentality by stating that men are more “conceptual” than women who tend to be more practical, especially when designing for fellow women. But as the tide changes and haute couture is traded in for prêt-à-porte, that could have a lot to do with the female fashion designers rising in the ranks of their industry. However, is that then suggesting that women are less artistic? What becomes of high fashion if everything is dumbed-down and marketed at the masses for consumption by just anyone?

Of the two dozen women in the industry we spoke to, most of them agreed with Tara Subkoff’s statement. Those who didn’t agree, just didn’t agree fully, they had their own interpretation of the profession, that they, too, regarded as more open to gay men. If all these people are agreeing, then why was Subkoff so ridiculed at the time by her fellow fashionistas? Was that a prime example of the cattiness in the industry?

As someone who worked in the fashion industry, I can confirm that cattiness in that profession is not a myth. Often our office, which was a huge SoHo loft, was used for photo shoots. When the models, who were far younger and thinner than the female agents would arrive, the childish behavior on the part of the agents would start. There was no end to the exaggerated facial expressions, snide comments and frankly, jealousy from the end of the agents. The models, on the other hand, were either oblivious or had learned to turn their back on the situation from past experience.

Diaz shared this run-in with designer Ann Demeulmeester:

“[She] was a bit creepy to me for absolutely no reason at all, we go to her showroom and Marc [Bagutta] introduces me to her as his girlfriend and then he mentions how I am helping him with the buying (taking all the notes and shit). And she suddenly busts out with ‘Yes, you have to put them to work, otherwise they just spend all your money.’”

And then at this year’s New York Fashion Week, Subkoff herself was reported as being catty at her own show when model Lydia Hearst showed up late for the Imitation show. It was less than a half hour before show time, when an enraged Subkoff “barged” into the makeup room yelling:

“I don’t know why you showed up two hours late, but you have to go NOW! I hope last night was worth it!”

Apparently, Subkoff had the inside scoop on Hearst’s evening before or maybe she was just so stressed out that she couldn’t help unleash her wrath on Hearst. Either way, her behavior was caught by many fashion writers and has been added to the long list of Subkoff being Subkoff moments.

What it comes down to is that no industry is perfect, and honestly, cattiness comes with any territory where women are pitted against each other — even if not deliberately — especially when the importance of looks and youth are involved. As for it being a gay man’s profession, yes, Subkoff was right to a degree, but if amazing fashion is coming out of it, should there really be any “whining?” Subkoff has made a name for herself with her past collection and with the new one, Imitation, that showed yesterday and was received quite well.

However, as WWD pointed out in the article, the tides are changing and more female designers are on the rise. And as long as the direction of fashion keeps going in the direction of appealing to the masses, then that female practicality will pay off. Perhaps, you can’t wear a full-length McQueen flower gown to the grocery store, but be honest: don’t you sort of want to, ladies?


You can reach this post's author, Amanda Chatel, on twitter.
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    • Evelyn Bryan

      Has it crossed anyone’s mind that we are more practical because we have to wear that crap, move around in that crap and NOT just be a plastic Barbie doll one can feel free to dress and undress without thought to what is comfortable!?!

    • Joasia Zajac

      i don’t think so that Fashion industry is “A Gay Man’s World” because everyone join profession according to their interest.