While female designers including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, the legendary Coco Chanel, and more recently Sue Stemp certainly occupy a place in the world of fashion, it is men; in particular, gay men, who really lead the way in fashion design. Do the reasons behind the dominance of gay men lie in a unique collective aesthetic approach to dressing women?
While it may be a generalisation that heterosexual men may seek to create a more obvious image of sex appeal (see Roberto Cavalli for example), or that female designers maybe constrained by a sense of grounded realism, it is true that homosexual designers, free from such subconscious bonds, are able to make creations more related to strength, independence and single-mindedness; the subtle ‘sexy’ images of idealized womanhood. Even the house of Chanel, famous in its day for liberating and empowering women, saw fit to appoint designer extraordinaire and homosexual Karl Lagerfeld as head creative director.
Could this be because when creating, homosexual men are able to design around an image not based on the here and now or the practical, but the future and its potential? The garments they design are born not out of base desire or reality but out of pure aesthetic appreciation, respect for feminine power and an idealised version of womanhood. In wearing such a design a woman becomes part of that ideal. So what impact do the creations of the top homosexual designers have on the high street?
Fashion operates on a filter down principle; designs from the catwalk of Milan are copied and appear in mainstream shops. The trends set by the elite are copied and replicated by the high street. The high street is immediate, the very definition of short term satisfaction, and this can be seen in its adaptation of the catwalk designs. The ideal is filtered down becoming diluted on its way. The designs on the high street represent a copy of the original aesthetic, it may look similar but it is not the real thing, a the false ideal, an imitation of the original. Whereas the original maybe subtle, powerful, and in many cases highly impractical, the journey to the high street and the need for instant satisfaction lead to compromise.
An example of high street fashion leading to a compromise in design can be seen in Jimmy Choo’s range for H&M. The designs are more obvious than their originals, more overtly sexy, more comfortable and more practical. Few people want a replica of a haute couture Galliano dress, because no-one in reality has the occasion to wear it, as the occasion like the dress is built upon an idealised image. Rather the high street shopper wants a copy; an imitation that hints at the original but also ticks all the boxes for the practical occasions firmly grounded in the reality of life.
But fashion, as we all do, strives for an ideal. Could that be the reason for the success of homosexual designers, who create and conjure up an unattainable ideal and express it through clothing? New collections are created and trends emerge as the ideal mutates, twisting and shifting with the environment around it, evolving as the designers’ vision evolves. Striving for the unattainable is what makes life interesting, challenging and exciting: people want to buy clothes that make them feel like they’re going to cocktail parties on boats or masked balls in stately homes, clothes that idealise them and their lives.