Kering Faces Backlash for Lack of Diversity in Creative Leadership

The appointment of Seán McGirr as Alexander McQueen’s new creative director sparked a bigger conversation about diversity at Kering and by extension, the rest of the industry.

The fashion industry has been under scrutiny for its lack of diversity and inclusion for a long time. Despite the public pledges and initiatives by many brands and organizations to improve the representation of marginalized groups, the reality is far from ideal. One of the latest examples of this gap is the appointment of Seán McGirr as the new creative director of Alexander McQueen, following Sarah Burton’s departure after 13 years.

Kering Faces Backlash for Lack of Diversity in Creative Leadership
Kering Faces Backlash for Lack of Diversity in Creative Leadership

McGirr, who was previously the head of men’s at JW Anderson, is undoubtedly a talented designer with a strong vision. However, his hiring also means that Kering, the French luxury conglomerate that owns Alexander McQueen, now has a roster of creative directors composed entirely of Caucasian men. This has sparked criticism and outrage from industry insiders and fans alike, who have pointed out the lack of diversity and gender equality in Kering’s top creative choices.

Kering’s creative directors are all white men

Kering’s portfolio of fashion labels includes some of the most influential and prestigious names in the industry, such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Brioni and Boucheron. However, none of these brands have a woman or a person of color at the helm of their creative direction. The only exception is Stella McCartney, who left Kering in 2018 and now operates independently.

The current lineup of Kering’s creative directors are:

  • Sabato De Sarno at Gucci, who succeeded Alessandro Michele in 2023
  • Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, who joined in 2015
  • Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, who joined in 2016
  • Matthieu Blazy at Bottega Veneta, who joined in 2021
  • Norbert Stumpfl at Brioni, who joined in 2019
  • Seán McGirr at Alexander McQueen, who joined in 2023

All of these men are white and come from Europe or North America. They have been praised for their creativity and innovation, but they also represent a narrow and homogeneous perspective on fashion and culture.

The industry reacts to Kering’s lack of diversity

The announcement of McGirr’s appointment at Alexander McQueen was met with disappointment and frustration by many people in the industry, who expressed their views on social media and other platforms. One of the first to voice their opinion was 1Granary, a media account founded by Central Saint Martins graduate Olya Kuryshchuk, which gathered quotes from anonymous industry insiders on the topic.

One senior designer said: “I literally don’t know a single woman of my generation even approached for a job like this. All these women have given up everything to service men paid 10x their salary. It is insulting to every woman working in the industry- not him being appointed but having a full portfolio headed by men. I think so many women just give up because the route is so impossible. This appointment proved it.”

Another designer said: “It’s not about him being appointed but about how it reflects on an industry that claims to be progressive but is actually very conservative and backwards. It’s about how it affects young designers who aspire to work in fashion but don’t see themselves represented or valued.”

The criticism was also echoed by Diet Prada, a popular Instagram account that exposes the dark side of fashion, which reposted 1Granary’s observation and added: “Kering must do better.” The post received over 100,000 likes and thousands of comments from fashion fans who agreed with the sentiment and called for more diversity and inclusion in the industry.

Some of the comments were:

  • “While I’m happy for Sean McGirr’s achievements (he’s undeniably talented), I can’t help but find this image to be a rather bleak and backward vision for the fashion industry’s future.”
  • “This is so disappointing. Sarah Burton was such an inspiration for so many women in fashion. She deserved better than this.”
  • “How can they claim to be champions of diversity when they don’t practice what they preach? This is unacceptable and hypocritical.”
  • “This is not only a problem with Kering but with the whole fashion system. There are so many talented women and people of color who deserve recognition and opportunities. We need to change this.”

The need for more diversity and inclusion in fashion

The situation at Kering highlights an industry-wide issue that has been plaguing fashion for decades. Despite the increasing awareness and activism around diversity and inclusion, there is still a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality. According to a report by The Fashion Spot , only 15% of the 223 designers helming the major fashion houses in 2020 were women, and only 11% were people of color. The report also found that the representation of models of color, plus-size models, transgender and non-binary models, and models over 50 on the runways and in ad campaigns was still far from proportional to the global population.

The lack of diversity and inclusion in fashion has serious consequences for the industry and society at large. It not only limits the creativity and innovation of fashion, but also reinforces stereotypes, biases, and discrimination. It also alienates and excludes a large segment of consumers who do not see themselves reflected or respected by the brands they love. As one commenter on Diet Prada’s post said: “Fashion is supposed to be for everyone, not just for white men.”

The fashion industry has the power and the responsibility to shape culture and influence change. It is time for the industry to take action and embrace diversity and inclusion as a core value and a strategic priority. This means not only hiring more women and people of color in leadership positions, but also creating a culture of inclusion that values different perspectives, experiences, and identities. It also means listening to and engaging with diverse communities and stakeholders, and addressing the systemic barriers and challenges that prevent them from accessing opportunities and resources.

The fashion industry has the potential to be a force for good, but it needs to do better. Kering’s lack of diversity is a wake-up call for the industry to rethink its practices and policies, and to commit to making fashion more diverse, inclusive, and equitable for everyone.

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