2011 in fashion: Women on the throne by Lana Richardson

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Image courtesy of: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe


Sarah Burton followed Kate Middleton into Westminster Abbey on 29th April 2011. She flattened down the bride’s ivory satin train and made the finishing touches without fuss. The designer stepped back and took a quiet moment to herself. She was beaming. When the wedding day was done, it would be Burton’s turn to be thrust into the spotlight and crowned queen of the fashion world.

In that moment, the earth shifted. Before, fashion had always been male dominated. Men held the keys to the biggest design houses, heading the world renowned brands. (Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin.)

However, 2011 saw men fall from grace. John Galliano hurled anti-semetic abuse, Christophe Decarnin left Balmain and Dolce and Gabbana faced tax evasion charges. The fashion world was stained with shame and sought redemption. So as the industry breathed Sarah Burton in, it breathed out a sigh of relief.

But it wasn’t just timing. After only one year as creative director for Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton has triumphed in her own right. This year she designed the most photographed wedding dress in history and the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition which attracted 661, 509 visitors. In November she took home the industry’s most prestigious accolade when she was named designer of the year at the British Fashion Awards.

She has constructed a more befitting global image of the fashion designer. Galliano’s flamboyant, shallow and indulgent tortured genius stereotype was no longer warranted. Burton as the hard-working designer, out of the spotlight and in the studio making both innovative and wearable clothes, paved the way for powerful women to mark their territory in the industry.

With this notion, Victoria Beckham was able to secure her status as a high-ranking business woman and pick up her own fashion Oscar. Her three year old label went against all odds to gain critical acclaim for its “focused growth strategy” and won designer brand of the year at the BFAs. Stella McCartney also rose to prominence, taking home the red carpet award and creating the year’s second most photographed dress; the sheer polka dot Lucia as seen on Kate Winslet and Liv Tyler.

But men are still behind the door of the biggest fashion houses. Of the 13 labels that took part in autumn/winter 2011 couture week, only two collections came from female designers. And these were the two lesser known labels (Anne Valerie Hash and Bouchra Jarrar) that hide underneath titles like Chanel, Valentino and Givenchy.

Almost one year on from Galliano’s dismissal, there is still a vacancy at Dior. Phoebe Philo had once been suggested as a suitable heiress to the couture throne, to become the brand’s first female designer. However, old trends always find a way of creeping back into fashion; recent reports say Raf Simons will be the successor.


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About Author

Lana Richardson is a trainee journalist currently undertaking the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course at Belfast Metropolitan College. Educated at Portadown College, Lana currently hosts her own fashion blog which was nominated for a 2011 Northern Ireland Social Media Award (http://www.thestylecave.info). Lana is multi-lingual and has contributed to various international online magazines.


  1. Edgefashionblog on

    I disagree with the viewpoint in this article that Sarah Burton is an extremely talented designer.  She was after all taught by Lee McQueen for over ten years, so has adopted and channeled his designs rather than becoming an independant designer in her own right.  The press attention due to Kate’s dress was always going to be enormous, because of who was getting married, the design itself is simply a modification of a fifites dress, it certainly cannot come close to Alexander McQueens designs, his collection Platos Atlantis for example will remain one of the most beautiful, otherworldly and innovative collections for many years to come, McQueen was the talent of the label, Burton is filling a post.  She won designer of the year at the BFA because of the dress in my opinion, there are more talented desigers out there who outshine her, Damir Doma and Haider Ackermann are two examples.

    Furthermore, although there are many male designers, you cannot lump Chanel in with it!! Even though there is a male designer at the helm it was Coco Chanel that founded the label!  There are numerous talented female designers, Alessandra Rich, Mary Katrantzou and Stella Mc Cartney are extremely popular, and consider the the most revered person in fashion, Anna Wintour.

    Finally lets not forget that Galliano and McQueen both played the role of tortured genius, competing for the same posts, even though McQueen won the post at Givenchy, Galliano’s skill and talent is ten times that of Burtons, even though his views are abhorent, that does not negate the years of work he has given the industry.

  2. I agree in many ways with you actually. Sarah Burton was by McQueen’s side for ten years but I think it’s very clear, through the last few collections, that she is her own woman. She has adopted some of his techniques and inspiration but has taken risks and added a much softer feminine edge to the label. Give her time and she will deliver her own Plato’s Atlantis. 

    Secondly, yes Coco Chanel did found the label, but Chanel revenue grew tenfold when Karl Lagerfeld joined 18 years ago. And also, you are right, there are an abundance of talented female designers- and Mary Katrantzou is one of my favorites, but, with the exception of Gucci and Versace, they fail to make their way to the big fashion houses. And yes I 100% agree that no one will replace John Galliano. In my opinion he shouldn’t have been fired. I even quite like that tortured genius image, but I’m merely remarking that it has underwent a shift recently.

    Thanks, I really appreciate your comment.