March 9, 2010, - 2:53 pm

Paris Fashion Week’s Lesson: No, Women Can’t Have it All (Someone Pays the Price)

By Debbie Schlussel

It’s Paris Fashion Week, where all the top high class designers show their stuff on the runways of France’s fashion center.  And on the “Marketplace” front page of today’s Wall Street Journal, there’s a story about LVMH, the haute couture investment company that owns Louis Vitton, Moet, and Hennessy brands, among other names synonymous with expensive taste.   LVMH also owns the French fashion design house, Celine, and the story is about LVMH’s turnaround of the financially troubled brand.


Pregnant Designer Phoebe Philo Left Investors Holding the Bag

But that story isn’t important.  What’s important–and what struck me–is the brief reference to the new fashion designer, Phoebe Philo, whom LVMH hired to turn the Celine brand around.  Philo is the symbol of why and how feminism doesn’t work.  She’s the spokesmodel for “no, women, you cannot have it all, but if you insist on it, someone will pay the price.”  In this case, those paying the price are investors in Chloe, the French fashion label for which Ms. Philo previously designed.

For five years, the British Phoebe Philo designed clothing for Chloe, another expensive brand whose price tags say only the very rich need try the clothes on.  As head designer at Chloe, she created a popular purse, the Paddington bag and developed a huge following, more than doubling its sales.  But all of this took place only via huge investment from Chloe’s financiers, who’ve since lost out.  You see, Ms. Philo decided to quit suddenly, taking two years off to focus on raising her family.  And this week, Fashion Week, the company is on its third head designer since Philo quit.  It’s not working out.

That Philo picked her kids over her job is laudable, but then, that’s also the problem with women in the workplace.  They knew they wanted a family, and yet they entered the workforce anyway.  Ultimately, the women will either do the right thing and leave to raise their kids–leaving an employer and investors holding the bag after shelling out money and other resources to train them and invest in their careers.  Or the women will continue to work and leave the raising of their kids to daycare centers, as greedy and selfish Obama U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barbara McQuade, does.  Either way someone suffers–the employer or the kids.  Never the woman who, inevitably, put one of them in this position.

With Ms. Philo, she’s decided to return, not to the company that invested much money and resources into promoting her and her fashion designs, but to a new company, which will now make even more accomodations so this mother can work.  LVMH agreed to build a design studio in London, where she lives.  And it is making other concessions.  Still, her kids will suffer.  Being a high-powered fashion designer is a lot of work, a lot of long hours.  Either her kids will be neglected or her fashions.

And that’s the story even with a highly-paid executive (which is, ultimately, what a head designer is).  The case is even worse with the average mom seeking a job.  She won’t–and shouldn’t get (if a company wants to survive with a decent bottom line)–these luxuriant concessions.  And what happens when Philo, again, leaves to raise her kids (they couldn’t possibly have grown to adulthood in two short years)?  Well, the company will suffer and lose its investment in her.

Sorry, women, you cannot have it all.  And if you insist on it, someone other than you ultimately loses.  Your family or your employer.

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26 Responses

I am SO glad a woman had the nerve to post this. I have employed several women attorneys over the years. Most have been dedicated and very professional, but when they have children a choice has to be made. Either the kids will suffer or the law firm will suffer. Trying to have it both ways does not work in the private sector. Imagine a job applicant who says: “oh by the way, over the next 10 years, I may or may not have 1-3 major medical events which will require 6 weeks off at your expense. After each major medical event I may return to work, I may not. Or maybe I’ll come back part time. I’ll let you know after each one and I reserve my right to change my mind on that whenever I want. But don’t you dare pay me a penny less than someone who won’t have the same major medical events and is fully committed to this career.”

Kaiser Sozay on March 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Riiiiiiight. This is a “woman can’t have it all” issue. Not.

Debbie–this is a people living in 2010 issue. You said she doubled their sales. I’d say she did her job. Is she required to choose her job over her kids? Is she not allowed to change her mind? This is still America and people do what they want to do–even if it means changing their minds occasionally. It would be different if she signed a contract for a set amount of time.

And do you think this sort of thing is isolated to some hoity-toity fashion industry? You’re missing the biggest bunch of self-important mind changers in the world, professional athletes. In days past, a player would stay with one team for their entire career. Now they jump ship as soon as someone is ready to write the big check. Made your career in Texas, by all means, go to the Yankees for your retirement paycheck.

What happens if the star recruit out of college doesn’t perform up to their new team’s lofty expectations on the field? They get benched or sent to the minors. Is that fair? It’s called doing what’s right for ones self at the time and both the team (investors) and players (Philo) know how that game is played.

Greed is the new loyalty in 2010.

We all do it every single day. It looks like you’re just upset because in this instance the woman used her kids an excuse to bail out.

Joe Schmo on March 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    That was a rambling mess. Did you actually have a point to make, other than it is alright to be a crappy employee and bail when you feel like it? I pity anyone who has or will employ you. Perhaps, we should forward your comments as a reference to your next employer? It seems that they deserve fair warning about you.

    Worry01 on March 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

We have come so far from true mothering and a strong family unit. When I look around at society & it’s continuous spiraling downward on human decency, it makes me wonder how much longer we’ll have a chance to save it. There are so many ramifications from the true breakdown of the family, this being the tip of the iceberg. Thanks again, Debbie, for focusing on the most important issues of our lives.

esther on March 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Debbie didn’t mention it, but if a working woman is married, the husband is also the loser in the relationship. There is no way a couple can maintain it if they see each other only around the weekends. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for emotional and physical intimacy. And we wonder why 50% of all marriages end in divorce. The truth is marriage and feminism don’t really mix well.

NormanF on March 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm


Your comment also forgets that if a man is working, he is not home spending every moment with his wife. Often times, when both parents work, they work during the same hours, so they do get to see each other.

Do you think it better when women had no choice in their husband, and entered into an arranged marriage? Was it better when women were kept ignorant, and unable to develop their minds? If you believe that, then please explain why it is that you read the column of a woman’s, one Debbie Schlussel, who has been privileged to get a law degree and become a professional.

More ignorance.

Wendy Allison on March 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm


    Can we at least agree that Debbie is not PRIVILEGED to have a law degree and work as a professional lawyer and journalist? She EARNED it! And, I suspect, that she made other sacrifices in her life to achieve the educational and professional goals she set for herself. I don’t know much about her personal life, but I doubt that Debbie has a couple of little children running around her law office while she tries to work.

    As someone who CHOSE to postpone marriage and motherhood until I achieved my desired level of education and professional success, I speak with some authority that yes, a woman can “have it all,” just not all at the same time. And frankly, any mother who thinks that being a part-time mom (evenings and weekends) is doing what’s best for her children, doesn’t deserve the children. The children suffer from not having at least one parent they can count on all the time. And if you’re working full-time and run off your job at the drop of a hat to attend to your child’s needs, you’re not a very good employee either.

    Children need TWO parents who are committed to their family. I have no problem with a stay-at-home Dad, but somebody needs to be there for the kids.

    DG in GA on March 9, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for that inane comment Betty Friedan. Is this a contest in which you set up as many strawmen(or strawwomen)as you can to knock down? Who is advocating arranged marriages here? The point is personal responsibility, which is all too often ignored. Pointing out the real trade-offs between have a family and pursuing a career is not a demonstration of ignorance, but a willingness to examine one’s life. Being mentally constipated with a stale 60’s feminist ideology is not a virtue, but a self-righteous form of selfishness. In short, it is all about me, and eveyone else can get used to it or rot. Thanks once again for your contribution Veruca Salt.

    Worry01 on March 9, 2010 at 7:01 pm

The people actually that are hurt by this ARE RANK AND FILE MEN. Because of FEMALE HIGH TUNROVER RATES men get lower salaries for this. A company can’t so favorites so after having women leave to raise a family they lower salaries for both men and women so men get a female wage. They lower men’s wage to that of female’s rather then raise a female salary to men which would be from a business perspective impossible to do. That is typical forced equality. Lowest common denominator. And then women are forced to work because men don’t make enough and feminist policies increase taxes and increase lawsuits all not good for business and especially those in the lower and middle end men who are the most hurt by this.

It is funny how before forced equality women on AVERAGE got about 60% the men salary which the bible itself in Leviticus 27. This has nothing to do with intenal worth. And a woman in her prime is worth more then an elderly man. This was AVERAGE worth if you didn’t know your value so obviously some individual woman would be worth more in the supply and demand world then men but it worked out before all these feminist laws were in place that women on average made about 60% of what men did and the biblical worth of the AVERAGE GUY was 50 in his prime 20-60 and the AVERAGE WOMAN was 30 in her prime 20-60.

But at the end of the day it is actually younger men who are starting out who are the most hurt as beginning salaries are lower to take into account WOMEN’S HIGHER TURNOVER RATES which they aren’t allowed to say. Men are being punished for women leaving a job with lower starting salries. Similar in the military where they make a job needing 3 or 4 people instead of 2 because maybe one of them is a woman and this is factored in.

adam on March 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm


To be fair you sound ignorant. Most men in the past were not living an easy life. They had to work in factories for long hours and they had their own menial duties before we had much of the technology and other utilities we have today.

Feminism has never worked and it isn’t working now. Western countries are overtaxed and have low birth rates. There are many reason’s but feminism is certainly one of them.

adam on March 9, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Hi Wendy,

Not to pick on you, but I am sure that almost everyone on this board believe that a woman has the right to do anything that she wants with her life.

The big question is that when you CHOOSE to have children, then the children must come first. If you are going to have a child and then after 6 weeks put them in a daycare center (where let’s be honest they get nothing beyond basic care), then why bother having the kid ??

The myth of “women can have it all” is a big lie. You can’t !! You can either have a big successful career or you can be a successful parent. If you try to do both, then you will half-a** both.

Oh and this applies to men to a degree as well. When you have kids, you can’t spend the weekends playing golf with your buddies, you have to go and spend time with and raise your kids.

jimmyPx on March 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I’m a professional woman – I made my choice. And if I had a nickel for every time I have to pick up after some other female “worker” who talks on the phone about their kids, has to go home early b/c of their kids, has to take extra days off because of their kids … well, I’d be rich.

As far as I’m concerned, women should have to choose – professional life or home life. And I think we’d ALL be a lot happier – I have nothing in common with these “minimum-effort” women, and I don’t enjoy their company … any more than they enjoy mine, I’m sure.

AG on March 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    They have no choice today because of the punitive high tax rates imposed on anyone that’s not on welfare or food-stamps. I Back in the day, women could afford to stay home and raise the kids because the US dollar could by much more, and the income tax rates, although much higher than today, were offset by all the allowable tax deductions making the effective rate almost zero. Soon we will all be taxed for breathing, then not only will the wife have to work to make ends meet, your kids will have to work also!

    Who cares? on March 10, 2010 at 11:26 am

The women’s libbers always have argued against the assertion that “biology is woman’s destiny”. Unfortunately it is impossible to get around the fact that biology is, indeed, woman’s destiny as this example shows. Women and their allies dream up all kinds of ways to get around this; the idiotic rants about the ‘glass ceiling’, the ‘comparable worth’ arguments, etc. What employer wold give important responsibilities a woman who is likely to go on pregnancy leave, especially with this economy when they can hire more reliable people?

So giving women ‘rights’ on the job to circumvent sound hiring decisions is just another blow against the free market and against economic efficiency, just like the environmental wackos and their policies attack the free market, or the global warming numbskulls attack the free market intentionally or unintentionally. The whole logic of women’s rights is against the free market, and, whether all of these women are conscious of it or not, their actions and slogans, to the extent implemented, carry us away from a market economy and towards a socialist/communist economy.

Little Al on March 9, 2010 at 9:08 pm

If you are in an at-will employment situation, then either the company or the employee can initiate a separation at anytime. If Phoebe can command a high salary and perks, that’s the risk the business takes with a reasonable understanding that she’s going to deliver. Corporations will cut anyone loose in an instant, so loyalty beyond deliverables in the current or next quarter or based on the company’s investment in an employee is a thing of the past. Employees are only as valuable as their last completed project, and vice-versa with employers. This is more a statement on mercenary trends in 21st century corporate culture than feminism.

And on feminism, as a woman whose raised two sons while I worked a combination of full-time, part-time, some-time, and no-time, both as a married woman and single, then married again, I am now home schooling my 13 year old daughter. In addition to a classical education, I plan to teach her how to run her home, raise her children, and give her skills to run a business from home which she can take full time to the market place if/when she chooses. I think most women should cultivate jobs/career skills as a side venture while raising their kids, being sure their kids are morally sound and that all educational bases are covered. I’m seeing far too many 20 somethings who lacked the full benefit of nurturing, encouraging, and yes demanding mothers (who weren’t sure about their mothering skills or their career commitments) flounder around on unsure footing in relationships and getting established in any area of adulthood. Counter to its claims, feminism never took into consideration the full-breadth of the essential attributes women impart to the human race. A great woman isn’t measured by her skill & accomplishments, but by her character and progeny.

Nat Brown on March 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    “If you are in an at-will employment situation, then either the company or the employee can initiate a separation at anytime.”

    For one thing, an at-will contract would not even be an issue. Louis Vuitton is a French Company, and “at-will” contracts are not even permitted in that country unless you work on a temporary or part-time basis. Also, even if she were not in France, Phoebe Philo was not some middle or front line manager, but a top designer who would have insisted upon an employment contract in any event. Phoebe took advantaqe of her gender to bail out of her obligation. Do you see any men out there using the “family focus” card to dump a job they no longer want?

    Also, to some of the people here who think it is alright to screw over an employer, I would remind them of one thing. If you show no consideration or loyalty to an employer, why should they treat you any differently? You get what you deserve if that is your attitude.

    Worry01 on March 10, 2010 at 12:40 am

While it is generally true that employment is ‘at-will’ on both sides, my guess is still that most employment seekers, especially those with advanced degrees, take expected job security into consideration somewhat when looking for their first or their second job. The fact that employment is more unstable than in the past does not mean that seekers have stopped aspiring for security, especially in these economic times, which I believe will last to some extent or another for a generation. I’m sure many look at implied promises of security while seeking jobs.

Just as an applicant probably hasn’t stopped considering security, the employer, too, is within their rights to consider the likelihood that an employee will stick around, even while knowing that they have the (legal) right to leave at will. Why hire and invest in someone likely to become pregnant when they don’t have to? Yes, the business takes a risk in hiring Phoebe, but as the post says, why shouldn’t a business do what it can to minimize that risk? If you know that a certain segment of the population, i.e. young women, is more likely to behave in a certain way, i.e. getting pregnant and leaving than another segment, it is fair to take that into consideration.

And yes, when financiers and management make a huge investment in you, there is usually an implied promise that you will act like a professional, and not shaft them. The fact such promises are often broken is almost like saying “if I didn’t shaft them, somebody else would have”.

Little Al on March 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Wow, Debbie

This post was harsh even by your standards.

I love you and your writing but I cannot agree to this. It’s not the woman’s fault that the firm can’t find someone as talented as her. She was a commited professional when she worked for them and it was also her right to leave when she wanted, for whatever reason. If the employer can’t find someone to fill her shoes… too bad.

Luis on March 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    “You see, Ms. Philo decided to quit suddenly, taking two years off to focus on raising her family. And this week, Fashion Week, the company is on its third head designer since Philo quit. It’s not working out.”

    This was not an unanticipated absence, as you can see from this quote. Also, if the employer tried to anticipate this absence by either reducing Phoebe’s role or paying her less, there would have been a sexual discrimination suit filed. Phoebe is in a heads I win and tails you lose situation.

    Worry01 on March 10, 2010 at 12:28 am

Firstly, the idea of ‘having it all’ is media created. If you’re searching for this, you must be an idiot.

I’m sure women who take maternity leave to have children are aware that it is inpolitically correctly adversely affecting their careers. In fact, surely it would be all the more difficult to take time out if a person’s career had been extremely important before pregnancy.

The fact that you are displaying so much resentment is disappointing. It is a biological fact that women are the ones who give birth but when they DO give birth, it is not plausible to just quit a job to ‘do the right thing’ and be left with no income to raise said child.

Are you suggesting that all mothers who are not rich enough to live a life of luxury should live on benefits? That would be more of a strain on the economy than maternity leave pay!

As for the children, if a mother wants to return to work, she should be allowed to return to work. Are there any studies to suggest that a mother is any less productive in her role?…even if the hours ARE part time.

You say that the children will suffer, again, quite a sweeping statement to make. Work, for most people, doesnt involve 80 hour weeks and no time for family – they can fit around one another. Otherwise we would have a nation of children needing psychiatrists, seeing as both parents have commonly been working for some time now and you claim that going to work is bad for the children.

I’m pretty sure the children would appreciate their parents being able to pay for an education, put clothes on their back and provide a nice home. A parent can still provide love and attention and also be a strong, hard working role model to their children, again, another positive side.

You seem to have got your teeth into a non-issue. Female employees and childbirth are a fact and just a current strain on women and their partners.

Susan A on March 10, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Susan Wrote:
    Otherwise we would have a nation of children needing psychiatrists, seeing as both parents have commonly been working for some time now and you claim that going to work is bad for the children.

    Ummm Susan…guess what… we DO have a nation of children needing psychiatrists especially 20 somethings.

    These “kids” have never been taught discipline or hard work and are totally unprepared for the real world. Their parents instead of parenting them, gave them whatever they wanted.
    They are now spoiled brats and most of them moved right back home with Mommy when the economy turned bad.

    We as a country are reaping what we have sown.

    jimmyPx on March 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

Of course part-timers are less productive. Two part-times aren’t equal to one full-timer.

Little Al on March 10, 2010 at 6:48 am

Worry01 – using the term “at-will contract” reveals you don’t know what you’re talking about. In at-will employment, no one signs a contract! If Phoebe broke a contract, Chloe has recourse and this commentary on feminism would be entirely moot (its mostly moot anyway). And yes, I see men dumping jobs with the “family focus” card or any other card for a move that progresses their personal/professional goals. Men just don’t get slammed for it, as Phoebe is here.
Littl Al – Take a stand! Follow my use of your mishmoshy words in the next sentence. GENERALLY, the use of GUESSING, ASPIRING, SEEKING, IMPLYING, CONSIDERING, LIKELY,& USUALLY as an ends to SECURITY often lead to quite the opposite – insecurity. If there is NO contract, there is no right to a feeling of security, by either party. Even the most scaramental arrangement in which trust is the fundamental pillar, marriage, is a contract with legal rights for a disenfranchised party. You’re dreaming of an world where people could hope & trust each other’s word on a handshake, that never really existed anyway. The only way to mitigate risk is to lock it down in writing whether we’re talking men, women, or a company. The funny thing is, people with the most aversion to risk will be the least likely to demand contracts, giving them a greater likelihood of disappointment or worse.

Nat Brown on March 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Huh? “Mishmoshy words” — now there’s a precise term. Anyone who makes absolute statements about social phenomena which are seldom if ever absolute or susceptible to measurement is a fool, ignoring complexity, and the subtle nuances that temper these incredibly complex trends. But speaking of Mishmoshy words, what about your phrase: “its (sic) mostly moot anyway”.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about”. Now there is a clear, non-mishmoshy phrase. The only trouble is that such a phrase is usually uttered by grade-school kids, who lacking maturity, do think in absolute terms such as the statement leading the present paragraph. Maybe they’re drunk with the illegal alien Absolut vodka.

No; words like “likely” and “usually” need to be taken at face value. They mean exactly that: “likely” and “usually”, i.e most of the time, but not always. You’re not in the schoolroom now, and have to defend your “ideas” on equal terms and take responsibility for what you write. The helter-skelter associations of deconstructionism won’t work here.

Duuhh, and what is it I said? That both sides are looking for security? How does that translate into the assertion that I’m dreaming of an (sic) world where people can trust each other’s word on a handshake? Post-modernism gone amok.I was suggesting the exact opposite, i.e. that people have to take precautions in the absence of (ideal) contracts.

But I shouldn’t be surprised; this resembles the dialectical analysis by the Marxists, where everything turns into its opposite. And by deconstructing my language, and making it say what you want it to say instead of what it means at face value, you can really make it say anything you want it to say, without regard to the face-value meaning of what I was saying.

ACtually, I never said or implied I was against contracts, just stating that there are implied contracts on both sides (don’t forget about the employers in your ardor). But your whole methodology and imputation of things I never suggested shows the peril of absolute statements.

Duuhh, I said business should do what it can to minimize the risk — one excellent way of doing that is signing contracts, but I guess in your case the wish is father (or is it ‘mother’) to the thought. And if applicants are looking for security, as I suggested, isn’t a contract such a way of accomplishing this?

Truly intelligent people, scientists, good MDs, top professors, etc. are extremely wary of statements such as yours that are completely inflexible. But post-modernists have never been distinguished by their reading comprehension “skills”.

Wow! Phoebe gets slammed by Debbie. Poor thing. Much worse to be slammed by Debbie than by the employer. Making the culprit into the victim; she tossed her employer into the garbage heap, but the boss is not really the victim! Poor thing, Phoebe got slammed by D-e-b-b-i-e. so she is a terrible victim because her attack on this blog transcends everything else. What a sense of proportion.

Little Al on March 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm

I still haven’t heard a good response to the point that was made earlier, that the economy is not what it used to be and many, many families cannot get by on a single income. Are we not addressing that, or…?

H: Whether or not that’s the case, how does that change the solid fact that if a woman who has kids works, one party suffers–employer or the kids? But since you brought it up, many families simply don’t want to make the sacrifices needed to get by on one income–giving up cable TV, expensive video games and clothes, etc. And many women simply are too selfish to stay home from the workplace. They care more about a career than kids. Sarah Palin is a great example of that. DS

hellcat on March 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

It doesn’t. But it makes it kind of a pointless point to make. It’s like saying “when a person gets cancer, it’s hard on them.” Of course it is – but sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. And while I’m sure there are cases where people just don’t want to give up luxuries, there are also situations where there really isn’t a lot of wiggle room – I know that when I was first living on my own, my fiance and I were on one income, no car, no cable, no internet, doing laundry at my mom’s house, no going out or anything unless it was free, and we were still barely scraping by without any kids. Not the case for everyone – and certainly not the case for this designer – but there are definitely cases where the choice is work or welfare. And in case the next point is that people in that situation shouldn’t have kids, sometimes those things come up AFTER the kids are born. What do you tell those women? Because I doubt you’re advocating welfare.

hellcat on March 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm

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