Although women account for two-thirds of clothing sales around the world, it's men who occupy the top positions at fashion companies — both on the creative side and, perhaps less surprisingly, on the financial.
Of the 12 people on the executive committee of LVMH, fashion's biggest luxury conglomerate, only one is a woman — Chantal Gaemperle, head of human resources and synergies. And among its 15 fashion and leather goods houses — Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Berluti, Loewe, Fendi, Loro Piana, Celine, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Donna Karan, Thomas Pink, Marc Jacobs, Nicholas Kirkwood and Edun — only Donna Karan and Loewe have female CEOs.
LVMH's chief rival, Kering, has long been similarly positioned, although its recent endeavors to place more women in executive roles have borne fruit. At present, three of its nine fashion luxury brands have women as CEOs: Isabel Guichot, chief executive of Balenciaga since 2007; Francesca Bellettini, head of Yves Saint Laurent since 2013; and Sarah Crook, who became CEO of Christopher Kane in late 2014.
At U.S. fashion houses, the ratio is even worse.
Of course, the lack of female executive leadership is by no means a problem unique to fashion: Other industries that largely market to women, like beauty and what drugstores like to call "feminine hygiene products," have more men than women occupying the top jobs and board seats. As Columbia Business School Professor David Ross observed to The Huffington Post in a 2014 article on the topic, "Women have made great inroads into lower levels of management, but once you get up there near the top management team or the board, it's largely a male world, even today."
To highlight the achievements of those women who have made it to the top — and, we hope, inspire other women to do the same — we'd like to introduce you to 20 female chief executives working at some of fashion's largest and most celebrated brands. As you'll see, few of them took obvious paths to land their current roles: Maureen Chiquet, global CEO of Chanel, spent the bulk of her career at mass retailer Gap Inc., while Michèle Huiban, CEO of Lanvin, rose through the ranks in the media business. American Apparel CEO Paula Schneider, who graduated from California State University Chico with a secondary teaching degree in 1983, could have had little idea that, 32 years later, she'd be the chief executive of a publicly traded clothing brand. The list goes on.
Without further ado, here are 20 female CEOs in fashion to follow.
Maureen Chiquet, Global CEO, Chanel
Maureen Chiquet, a 52-year-old St. Louis native, was promoted to the role of global CEO of the privately owned Chanel in 2007, having served as the U.S. president and chief operating officer of its fragrance, beauty and jewelry division for four years prior. Unlike most CEOs of famous French fashion houses, Chiquet is neither French nor did she have much experience in luxury before taking the reins at Chanel, having worked at Gap Inc. for most of her career, where she helped build the Old Navy brand and served for a short time as president of Banana Republic. She got her start in the industry working in the marketing department of L'Oreal in Paris after graduating from Yale with a degree in film and literature. Chanel brought in $7.5 billion in sales and net income of $1.4 billion in 2014.
Sharen Jester Turney, CEO, Victoria's Secret
Sharen Jester Turney, 59, an Oklahoma native, has been CEO of Victoria's Secret since 2006. She had been with the company for six years as president and CEO of Victoria's Secret Direct, its catalog and e-commerce division, prior to taking on the top role. Before that, she was the executive vice president of merchandising, creative production, advertising and public relations, as well as senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Neiman Marcus. Turney graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in business education in 1979 and got her start in retail working in the men's department at the now-defunct Foley's department store in Houston. In 2005, Victorias' Secret generated sales of $4.5 billion; last year, that number hit $7.2 billion, netting Turney a total compensation of $10.6 million.
Grita Loebsack, CEO, Kering Luxury - Couture & Leather Goods' Emerging Brands
Grita Loebsack is a member of Kering's executive committee, overseeing Kering's portfolio of emerging brands, including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Brioni, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney and Tomas Maier. A German by birth, she was hired for the role in September from Unilever, where she served as executive vice president of global skin care for three years. With a bachelor's from the London School of Economics and an M.B.A. from INSEAD, she got her start as a strategy consultant with Oliver Wyman, working at L'Oreal in a variety of marketing and management positions from 1996 to 2010, and joining Vichy as global brand president for two years before decamping for Unilever.
Vera Wang, CEO and founder, Vera Wang
The daughter of well-to-do Chinese immigrants, Vera Wang, 66, grew up in New York and pursued a career as a figure skater before graduating from Sarah Lawrence and joining the staff of Vogue in 1971, where she worked for 15 years as a senior fashion editor. In 1987, Wang joined Ralph Lauren as design director for accessories, going on to open her own bridal boutique at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan in 1990 after being frustrated with the lack of options for her own wedding. Today her business spans ready-to-wear, fragrance, beauty, accessories and home. She has become a household name in the U.S. thanks to her large celebrity clientele, having designed Victoria Beckham's wedding dress for her marriage to David in 1999, and Jennifer Lopez's gown for her 2004 wedding to Marc Anthony. Forbes estimates Wang's net worth at $400 million.
Michèle Huiban, CEO, Lanvin
Michèle Huiban was promoted to the top role at Lanvin after Thierry Andretta's departure in 2013. She made headlines this fall for her part in ousting Creative Director Alber Elbaz after 14 years at the company. Huiban had been at Lanvin for five years before her promotion, formerly as the company's finance director and deputy general manager. Unusually, Huiban's background is in the media — not the fashion — industry. She holds an M.B.A. from ESSEC Business School.
Isabel Guichot, CEO, Balenciaga
Isabel Guichot has been president and CEO of Kering-owned Balenciaga since 2007, beginning with Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquiere (until 2012) and then hiring his next two successors, Alexander Wang (2012-2015), and then Demna Gvasalia in October. She graduated with an M.B.A. from HEC Paris in 1986 and held several leadership positions at accessories brands — including president and CEO of jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels from 1999 to 2005, and president and CEO of footwear label Sergio Rossi from 2005 to 2007 — before joining Balenciaga.
Pamela Baxter, CEO, LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics - North America, and President, Christian Dior Couture
Pamela Baxter, CEO of LVMH's Perfumes and Cosmetics segment in North America and president of Christian Dior Couture, spent the bulk of her career — 23 years of it — at Estée Lauder, working on licensing, acquisitions and brand building in a variety of roles. She joined Dior's U.S. fragrance division in 2004, and was promoted to her current roles three years later.
Caroline Brown, CEO, Donna Karan
Caroline Brown has been CEO of Donna Karan International for only a year — but with the installment of Public School's Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne at the helm of the newly revamped DKNY, followed by the departure of its namesake designer, what a year it was. Prior to joining the LVMH-owned brand, she was president of Carolina Herrera (2010-2014) and CEO of Akris's U.S. arm (2006-2009). She climbed the ranks from the marketing and communications side of the fashion biz, working in that division at Giorgio Armani for 13 years.
Francesca Bellettini, CEO, Yves Saint Laurent
Francesca Bellettini, a former investment banker, was appointed CEO of Yves Saint Laurent in 2013, replacing Paul Deneuve. Prior to joining the house — which has enjoyed double-digit sales growth since her arrival, largely attributed to the creative direction of Hedi Slimane — she served as executive director at another Kering-owned brand, Bottega Veneta, where she oversaw merchandising, visual display and communications. Before that, she held merchandising and operations roles at Gucci, Helmut Lang and Prada. She has a degree from Bocconi University in Milan.
Federica Marchionni, CEO, Land's End
Forty-three and Italian, with a background in luxury fashion, Federica Marchionni is not the person you'd imagine as CEO of Wisconsin-based clothier Land's End, which brought in nearly $1.6 billion in revenue in 2014. She joined the company as CEO in February 2015 from Dolce & Gabbana, where she worked for 14 years, most recently as its U.S. president. Prior to that, she worked in product marketing and sales at a number of technology and telecommunications companies, including Samsung, Phillips and Ericsson, as well as Ferrari. Machionni graduated from La Sapienza University of Rome with a master's in business administration.
Paula Schneider, CEO, American Apparel
Few women — or men, for that matter — have had a tougher job than Paula Schneider, who became CEO of American Apparel shortly after its founder, Dov Charney, was ousted in late 2014. With sliding sales and bankruptcy on the horizon, Schneider has also had to contend with a steady stream of lawsuits and worker protests. She graduated from California State University Chico with a degree in costume design and a teaching credential in 1983, going on to lead sales at BCBG Max Azria (where she worked for nearly a decade) and spearhead a turnaround as the CEO of leading swimwear brand Warnaco.
Trino Verkade, CEO, Mary Katrantzou
Trino Verkade, CEO of Mary Katrantzou, is a well-known figure in London's fashion scene — she was the very first hire Alexander McQueen made at his own brand, where she spent 18 years before joining Thom Browne as executive vice president from 2012 to the end of 2015. Shortly after winning the BFC/British Vogue Fashion Fund last year, Katrantzou hired Verkade to expand her seven-year-old business, which generated sales of $15 million in 2014. Verkade holds a B.A. in fashion and marketing from Northumbria University.
Sarah Crook, CEO, Christopher Kane
Sarah Crook became CEO of Christopher Kane in November 2014 following the British label's induction into the Kering Group, having consulted for the British Fashion Council and LVMH for two years prior. Her background is in retail: She worked in business development and distribution at the Club 21 chain of luxury stores from 1994 to 2004, leaving that role for Stella McCartney (which, like Kane, is owned by Kering), where she served first as merchandise and business development director, and then as vice president.
Wen Zhou, CEO, 3.1 Phillip Lim
Wen Zhou, 41, was born in China and moved to New York at age 12 with no knowledge of English, working alongside her mother at a sewing factory where she made seven cents a garment. After high school, Zhou put herself through the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, where she studied marketing and business, launching her own textile company at 21. Ten years later, in 2005, she launched 3.1 Phillip Lim with the eponymous designer, whose joint success has redefined the contemporary designer category. Within four years, the company was doing over $40 million in sales, and celebrated its 10th anniversary at New York Fashion Week in September.
Jan Singer, CEO, Spanx
Jan Singer joined Spanx, the company famous for its stretchy shapewear, in July 2014 from Nike, where she had served as global head of apparel. She spent the early part of her career in marketing and communications roles at companies like Chanel, Calvin Klein and Prada. Before joining Nike, she served as the vice president and general manager of Reebok' s women's business. She holds bachelor's degrees from Ithaca College in psychology and business.
Lisa Montague, CEO, Loewe
Lisa Montague has been CEO of LVMH-owned Spanish luxury brand Loewe since 2009, working first with Creative Director Stuart Vevers (now of Coach) and, since 2013, Jonathan Anderson. Prior to Loewe, the Brit worked for six years at Mulberry. Montague does not have a college degree; she dropped out to work at German manufacturer Hucke.
Carol Lim, CEO and co-founder, Opening Ceremony
Carol Lim, who holds a bachelor's in economics from UC Berkeley, worked in finance before launching the first Opening Ceremony store with Humberto Leon in 2002, and continues to serve as CEO of what is today an international fashion brand and network of six stores spanning the U.S., London and Tokyo. She has also served as co-creative director of LVMH-owned fashion label Kenzo since 2011.
Alessandra Carra, CEO, Agnona
Alessandra Carra became CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna Group-owned Agnona in May, working first with Creative Director Stefano Pilati and, as of last month, Simon Holloway from Hogan. Prior to joining Agnona, she spent thee years at LVMH as the CEO of Emilio Pucci, with earlier stints at Polo Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Trussardi and the Levi Strauss Group.
Suzy Biszantz, CEO, Joe's Jeans
Suzy Biszantz spent seven years as the CEO of high-end lingerie brand La Perla before becoming CEO of California-based Joe's Jeans in December. A graduate of the University of Arizona with a bachelor's in media arts, Biszantz held a variety of sales roles before becoming CEO of Reebok's golf division, Greg Norman Collection, from 2001 to 2008.
Carmela Acampora, CEO, Roksanda
Carmela Acampora became the very first CEO of London-based Roksanda in January 2015. Educated in Brazil — she holds a bachelor's in PR and marketing from Helio Alonso University in Rio de Janeiro — she worked in PepsiCo's PR department before spending 13 years at Burberry, where she ultimately became vice president and manager of emerging markets. In the fall of 2013, Acampora joined Aspinal of London as chief operating officer for a year.
Update: Every list of this kind ends up with some painfully obvious omissions. In addition to the 20 women featured above, we'd also like to note that Tory Burch is the co-founder and co-CEO (alongside Roger Farah) of her eponymous company; and that Karis Durmer, whom you can read about more extensively here, is the CEO of New York label Altuzarra.