Mars vs. Venus in women's fashion design

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Women know what other women want to wear, right? At least, you would expect so.

PARIS, March 9, 2007 (AFP) - Female fashion designers should naturally have a headstart on their male counterparts, armed with the advantage of insider knowledge of feminine curves and a woman's sartorial demands. After all, they have to wear the clothes too.

However, when it comes to glamour, men often seem to be showing the women how it's done.

Fashion industry professionals say women approach designing clothes for their own sex differently to male designers, both in terms of the clothes' aesthetics and purpose.

"There's a fundamental difference in the way they make the structure of their clothes. They can understand what will work," said Godfrey Deeny, senior critic and European editor for Fashion Wire Daily.

He said that in general, women designers such as Jil Sander, Miuccia Prada and Donna Karan rarely imposed rigid structures that would make clothes feel uncomfortable, and also brought a more feminine touch.

"You really don't get many warrior women on the runway," he added.

Practical, even mundane demands on fashionable women's clothing such as everyday comfort and the need for to be functional as well as feminine, may be a factor in the different approaches of male and female designers.

"Men don't, or not many men, bend down to fill washing machines, vacuum, clamber on to the tube with a baby and a buggy," said Hilary Alexander, fashion director of The Daily Telegraph

"Men don't do those kind of things so they don't understand when clothes don't work."

At Guy Laroche, 39 year-old designer Damian Yee said the fact that male designers did not wear the clothes could create a certain detachment but that was "not so bad," he said

But what about glamour? On that score, the male designers have it, according to Alexander.

Deeny agreed. "I think curiously the men designers understand glamour better," he said, adding that they generally knew how to create styles for women that men found sexy.

"They understand also when a thing is going to turn people's heads and make other women maybe a bit jealous."

At last week's Paris ready-to-wear shows for next autumn, legendary male Italian designer Valentino, known as the 'master of the dress,' offered ultra-feminine 1940s movie star glamour, as he marked 45 years at the top of the industry.

His mantra, he said, was simply for "a woman to look beautiful."

Britain's John Galliano for Christian Dior, French house Balmain's Christophe Decarnin and Lebanese designer Elie Saab also gave different takes on female glamour in the French capital.

Among women designers, there was down-to-earth practicality from Stella McCartney and Parisian elegance from Celine's Ivana Omazic, while Ece Ege of the label Dice Kayek displayed futuristic outfits, veteran designer Vivienne Westwood went for capes and corsets.

Collette Dinnigan, an Australian designer, said after her show during the eight-day pret-a-porter run, that she always visualized how she would like to see her designs worn and where that person would be.

"They should always stand out and feel good and confident, they shouldn't blend," she said backstage.

When trends swung towards androgyny, female designers still catered for hips and waists, she said, but "if it's very romantic and floaty and corseted, men designers actually understand to work with the female form."

About half of the designers on last week's Paris catwalk shows were female.

So, given the benefit of their insider knowledge, why are there not more women designers?

Dinnigan said she did not have the answer, but that a career as a designer was very demanding. "I think women are probably much more sensitive and emotional to the whole industry than perhaps men are."

As Hilary Alexander pointed out, the difference between male and female approaches to designing women's clothes was like the title of the relationship advice book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus."

Copyright AFP

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