A large bulk of the fashion industry is feeling pretty smug with itself. The just-gone G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a meeting of the world’s largest economies, saw French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, and Deputy Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Brune Poirson, launch the ‘Fashion Pact’. An initiative to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the Fashion Pact, signed by various fashion companies and brands, made numerous commitments regarding sustainability, renewable energy and biodiversity.
Left - Tall glass of Pinault?! The 'Fashion Pact' launch at the recent G7 summit
Making plenty of noise, and, while anything in the right direction, particularly while the Amazon rainforest is burning, is welcome, it’s worth looking at some of the detail.
Thirty two companies representing around 150 brands and roughly 30% of the fashion industry committed to:
“100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”
“Protect the oceans: by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.”
“Restore biodiversity: by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.”
“Stop global warming: by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.”
These all feel like the least they can do. Words like ‘gradually’ and ‘ambition’ make most of this wishful thinking. But, waiting until 2050 to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. Most of the signatories will be dead by then. It’s 31 years away!!! Who’s to say any of these companies will still be in business?
We live in a very stressful and confusing time. Environmental paralysis is understandable amongst consumers not sure exactly what they can do to combat climate change. But, waiting until 2050 to ‘possibly’ make that new handbag zero carbon emissions ain’t one of them. Green lip service is becoming increasingly frustrating and brands are going to have to give definite and distinct decisions while updating consumers on progress and fact based information much faster than this. People want to see something.
The brands involved include adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holding Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc, Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermès, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney and Tapestry.
In April 2019, ahead of the G7 meeting, Emmanuel Macron gave François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering, a mission to bring together the leading players in fashion and textile, with the aim of setting practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact of their industry. And the Fashion Pact was born.
This goes someway to explain the most noticable luxury absentee from the list, the LVMH group. LVMH, Kering's main luxury competition, announced in May that it was partnering with Unesco on a five-year deal, allowing the fashion houses in the group access to “a network of experts at the regional level and in different disciplines to drive the development and success of their initiatives to protect biodiversity” and secure transparent supply chains. They’ve also recently cemented a tie-up with British designer Stella McCartney to lead their charge in sustainable luxury.
The majority of these brands don’t know what the eco-future looks like, but they know they need to start making the right noises yet want to continue to generate billions of dollars in yearly turnovers. Signing up to things like the ‘Fashion Pact’ focuses minds, but the time frame makes it a case of we’ll start tomorrow, which goes against the current urgent 'Climate Emergency' feeling felt within the wider population.
Kering issued a statement saying, “Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet. With the Fashion Pact, some leading players in the fashion and textile sector are joining forces for the first time to launch an unprecedented movement. A collective endeavour by its nature, the Fashion Pact is open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry, and to meet the environmental challenges of our century.”
If these luxury companies worked as quickly as they did when chucking money at Notre-Dame, after its fire, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Pinault found €100m (£90m) down the back of the sofa and the Arnault family stumped up €200m within hours of the flames being put out.
Governments will need to bring in legislation much sooner to force these companies to do more. We’re going to look back at this period of history and wonder how we got through it sanely, but what we know is, we have to start today.
Seeing is believing, so in the case of toxic air it can be hard for many people to be motivated enough to protect themselves. Despite appalling figures for air quality in many UK cities, this invisible killer, which speeds up the end of life for many thousands of people each year, doesn’t feel like it is getting the attention it deserves.
Things are starting to change though with awareness growing and cities introducing steps to reduce air pollution. Fashion brands too are seeing an opportunity to tap into this desire for people to protect themselves, both inside and outside, from this silent killer.
During the famous London smogs of the 1950s, people could see how polluted their air was, today, things are very different with micro particles from traffic pollution being sucked into our lungs and causing long term damage.
The death rate for a lifetime of exposure to microscopic PM2.5 particles created by diesel engines, coal burning power stations, wood fires, agriculture and building sites is rising in almost three quarters of London boroughs. Scientists say that tiny particulate pollution is especially dangerous as the specks of dirt can be absorbed deep into the lungs, then seep into the bloodstream contributing to heart and lung disease, cancer and aggravating asthma. London’s air pollution is estimated to be responsible for 9,000 early deaths each year.
Left - Airinum - Urban Air Mask 2.0 - £55
In 2017, the worst locations in the UK for nitrogen dioxide pollution was Kensington and Chelsea, followed by Leeds and Doncaster. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. It also estimates that seven million people die each year from exposure to such pollution with the majority in low and middle income countries in Asia and Africa, with India being one of the worst culprits.
When Alexander Hjertstrom visited India he was inspired to start his own company to tackle air pollution. ‘Airinum’ founded in 2015 and based in Sweden, specialises in stylish protective face masks. The name is a merger between ‘air’ and ‘inum’, taken from platinum, to signify the highest quality of pure air.
When Hjertstrom moved from Sweden to India his long-gone asthma had started to come back. He realised he was becoming another victim of air pollution. After searching for a means to protect himself, Alex found that wearing an anti-pollution breathing mask was the most effective way. To his surprise, the majority of the masks on the market were very basic and far from perfect in their construction. Their designs were primitive, reminiscent of the masks worn by dentists or miners. Not something you would want to wear everyday.
“The reason the topic has gained interest lately is due to increase knowledge and awareness fuelled by media highlighting some recent studies showing the detrimental impact that poor quality air has on health.” says Hjertstrom, CEO of Airinum.
“WHO listed air pollution as one of the largest health risks we face today, killing more people than Malaria and HIV combined. Once the public start to realise that this is a ticking health bomb, similar to the effect of when people realised the impact of smoking, new measures will be taken.” he says.
“The ‘Airinum Urban Air Mask’ is a high-quality mask designed to effectively clean the air for the wearer. The key thing is our masks offer very high filtration efficiency and thus protection, high comfort with dual exhalation valves and fully face-adjustable straps for a snug fit, and durable & high-quality design with washable & anti-bacterial treated skin and replaceable filters.” says Hjertstrom.
People in Asia, most notably Japan, have been wearing personal pollution masks for many years, but, will Airinum be able to get the rest of the world to?
“The rest of the world is slowly but steadily getting convinced.” says Hjertstrom. “We sell to NY, Paris, Milan and even Stockholm, today.” he says. “As the product become less ‘must use personal protection equipment’ and more of an lifestyle accessory (or necessity), the barrier gets lower and the acceptance level increases. With celebrities around the world using the Airinum masks of course helps, as it destigmatised the mask from ‘weird’ to something cool instead.”
Right - Airinum - 3 additional filters cost - £12 - The working life of a filter depends on many factors such as the pollution level in your surroundings. On average Airinum filters last 100 hours but they advise to change every second week for hygienic reasons
The Mayor of London has recently introduced his ULEZ - Ultra Low Emission Zone - clean air zone in Central London and the British government has put off the majority of urban drivers from buying diesel cars, but what can we do as individuals and will pollution masks become the latest fashion accessory?
“Recently catwalks in Tokyo, Seoul and Paris all had models wearing masks. This shows how this item is slowly becoming part of the everyday fashion outfit, just like a pair of sunglasses.” says Hjertstrom.
When Stella McCartney unveiled her new flagship Bond Street store, last year, it was the first to offer its customers and staff cleaned air. The first indoor commercial space to do so, the ‘Airlabs’ filter is designed to protect both shoppers and store workers from gas pollutants present inside and outside of the store, in particular nitrogen dioxide from diesel fumes on busy Bond Street.
A unique installation of custom-made filters into the store’s ventilation system cleans more than 1800 m3/h of air with very low energy consumption due to the filter’s innovative structure. it removes 95 per cent of the air pollutants and harmful gases and particulate matter inside through a hidden ventilation system with a nano carbon filter.
Sophie Power co-founded Airlabs in 2014 after realising the dangers of air pollution posed to babies and children when she was pregnant with her first child. Sophie became acutely aware of the fact that in the UK, especially in cities, we breathe high levels of nitrogen dioxide, primarily from diesel fumes, as well as other harmful pollutants. The levels we breathe here cause stunted growth of lungs in our children – a study in East London of 8 and 9 year olds showed their lungs were 5-10% permanently smaller when exposed to poor quality air. The younger the child, the more they are affected and most affected are those in the womb.
More than 2 million Londoners live in areas that exceed legal limits for NO2, including more than 400,000 children under the age of 18. More than 50 per cent of London’s toxic air is caused by vehicles. On realising the extent of pollution in London, Sophie left her job in finance to co-found Airlabs together with Professor Matthew Johnson, a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.
Today, Airlabs is comprised of a team of atmospheric chemists, airflow engineers and sensor developers based in London and Copenhagen dedicated to clean air solutions. They say better air quality can significantly increase workplace productivity as well as health outcomes, offering potentially revolutionary opportunities for hospitals, schools, office buildings, professional drivers and shops.
"Science is catching up with the reality, which is that the impact of air pollution on people's health is much worse than previously thought. Epidemiological studies take many years, in particular for health effects that develop over many years of exposure. More and more results from these studies are becoming available, feeding into the media news cycle. This has led to a growing public awareness of the issue. A challenge remains how to find out when you are exposed and at what level." says Marc Ottolini, CEO Airlabs.
"That's why we are working on small but highly accurate air quality sensors, with the aim of having one on every corner of the street. When you buy food, a label will tell you what's in it. We need something similar for the air that we breathe. People have the right to know.” says Ottolini.
"Our technology is generating a lot of interest within the retail sector and we have been approached by a number of retailers from shopping centres to stores looking for a clean air solution." he says.
Things are getting worse before they get better. The risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s polluted air has risen for a second year running. The rate of fatalities linked to breathing in killer particles went up from 6.4 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2017 according to computer modelled estimates from government body Public Health England. That followed a jump from 5.6 per cent the previous year.
The facts seem to be clearer than the majority of air most of us are forced to breathe in on a daily basis. There’s a helpless feeling of not knowing exactly what we are breathing in and when, and while we could wait for others to sort it out, it seems that we should be taking things into our own hands. Could anti-pollution masks become as common place as SPF and cycle helmets? People in Asia have been wearing masks for many years and we’ve often looked at them skeptically, but now it’s making more sense to follow their lead. If a brand or designer can make this a desirable and ‘cool’ trend, we could start to see many more masks on our streets.
“Hopefully, the more people that start masking up, the sooner our politicians can wake up and create policies that can speed up the cleaning of our air and ultimately our planet as a whole.” says Hjertstrom.
Below - Airlabs technology inside London's famous taxis
Since Stella McCartney launched her menswear nearly 3 years ago, it hasn’t exactly set the world alight - See more from TheChicGeek archive here - But, newly independent, she just bought the majority of her company back from Kering, it feels like it has new impetus.
You know I love a Beatle, especially anything psychedelic or related to the Yellow Submarine, and when your father is Paul McCartney, there won’t be any problem with gaining permission to use whatever you like.
Her new ‘All Together Now’ collection follows the film’s timeless message of peace, love and togetherness. This coat reminds me of something the artist Peter Blake would wear. He loves a badge and was also the designer of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artwork. He is also friends with Stella McCartney.
While crazy expensive - you could get a similar effect by buying lots of old badges from eBay - I haven’t seen this many since I left the Cub Scouts!
Left & Below - Stella McCartney - Arthur Coat - £ 4550
While the majority of UK cities are struggling to deal with the implosion of their high-streets, London is a juggernaut that keeps people spending. Thanks to tourist dollars and and an increasingly high-spending visitor, Bond Street, arguably London’s premier luxury shopping street, has seen a raft of new openings hoping to tap into London as the global retail destination. From Alexander McQueen to Loewe, this historical street has seen glorious new retail spaces tailored to this exclusive location open to entice more money from shoppers.
Left - Alexander McQueen's new three storey store
The Office for National Statistics has just released the final International Passenger Survey (IPS) results covering 2018 and it’s still looking good for London. While the number of visits to the UK in 2018 fell slightly (-3%) - 2017 was a record - to 37.9 million, the data from the last 10 months shows visitors spending huge amounts and are visiting Bond Street, in particular.
Data from Global Blue, a tourism shopping tax refund company headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland, shows that the average spend on Bond Street among international visitors increased by 4% year-on-year from January to October 2018. International shoppers spent a huge average of £1,341 per transaction during this time.
Global Blue has also just opened its first VIP Globe Shopper Lounge on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, just a stone’s throw from Bond Street. According to their figures, the top spenders were visitors from the UAE, Qatar and Hong Kong. UAE shoppers spent £2,074 per transaction, up 19% year-on-year. Qatari shoppers spent £1,964 per transaction (up 7%), while Hong Kong shoppers spent £1,837 per transaction (up 15%).
Interestingly, the biggest increase was seen amongst Indonesian visitors, averaging £1,551 per transaction, up 20% compared to 2017.
Right - Staircase in the new Celine menswear store
Paris is London’s closest luxury shopping competition and the 'yellow vests’ or Gilet Jaunes protests have been affecting its attractiveness and is putting off visitors. "We lost between one and two growth points in 2018 due to the yellow vests," said Mathieu Grac, Global Blue's vice president of intelligence strategy.
The weakness of the pound is making shopping in London more attractive and better value for money. The Chinese, in particular, have always chosen Paris over London, but this could be starting to change with new stats show record breaking results for the end of 2018 for London. Visits to the UK from China in this period were up 52% to 94,000 – the 9th consecutive record quarter for visits. These visitors spent £160 million in the UK between October and December 2018 – 30% up compared to the same period in 2017. In total there were a record 391,000 visits from China to the UK in 2018, up 16% on 2017.
Overall, UK visitor spend in 2019 is forecast to be £24.9B, up 7.8%, on a forecast of 38.8m visitors.
While many designer brands are closing stores and trimming their global retail network, others are realising that in order to stay ahead, you need to invest heavily in the world’s finest locations. The days of copy-cat, identikit stores are over and brands know they need to make something unique for its location.
Proving this point is the new ‘Casa Loewe’. The Spanish brand, Loewe, owned by LVMH, and famous for its puzzle bags, has opened a three storey boutique designed in the vision of creative director, Jonathan Anderson. Like an art gallery with clothes, but with a personality and warmth, the London store features work by a selection of internationally renowned artists, including three oak sculptures by Ernst Gamperl (winner of the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize in 2017) alongside 15 photographs by Alair Gomes, the ‘Vulcano Table’ by Anthea Hamilton, a long- standing LOEWE collaborator, William Turnbull’s 1956 sculpture ‘Idol 4’ and Grayson Perry’s ‘Mum and Dad’ vase.
Left - Casa Loewe showing Anthea Hamilton's 'Vulcano Table'
It feels a very creative space and is one of the few luxury boutiques on Bond Street to give you this full idea of a lifestyle. The sales assistant I spoke to said Anderson was often in the store talking to them through the product and also making sure things were working correctly. She also said they had a great many Chinese customers.
Further down Bond Street is the new Celine menswear boutique. The first time Celine has done menswear under new creative head, Hedi Slimane, it feels very déjà vu in the Saint Laurent mould and looks like all those other marbled minimal retail palaces from brands such as Neil Barrett or End Clothing in Soho. On the corner of New Bond Street and Grafton street, in the old Boucheron store, it is exactly what fans of Slimane will want and the quality of the clothes do look good. Downstairs is a compact tailoring area and while none of the extra skinny clothes had a price tag on, the raised front doors are automatic, just in-case those super-skinny rockstars don’t have enough strength to open them. Disappointly, this concept will look the same the world over.
Into Old Bond Street, Alexander McQueen has amalgamated all three of their London stores into the large, former DKNY outlet. The three storey boutique is a beautiful, sweeping space by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, his first retail project. It truly flows with giant glass tubes linking the floors and acres of matt walnut covering every surface including the two spiral staircases.
The ground floor is home to womenswear and the first floor to menswear. The top floor is like a museum, probably hoping to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Savage Beauty’, it illustrates the artistry of the current collections while being dotted with archive pieces. This area will also be used to host a programme of exhibitions and talks aimed specifically at inspiring students. It left me with a renewed respect of the work of the brand which I’ve often dismissed since McQueen’s death. There was a men’s coat, hand embroidered with silver graffiti, on sale for £100,000.
Stella McCartney has moved her store from the Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby designed Bruton Street to Old Bond Street. A difficult space, it is linked by a huge metal staircase reminiscent of the tanks at Tate Modern. More concrete and terrazzo, the front ground floor is peppered by giant boulders and moss. A small glade of silver birches decorate a roof garden and 'Airlabs' technology makes this the first indoor commercial space in London with the cleanest air possible.
The store carries all the brand’s collections including women’s and menswear ready-to-wear, accessories, lingerie, swimwear, kids, eyewear, fragrance and adidas by Stella McCartney. Stella McCartney said, “Old Bond street, it’s probably one of the most prestigious retail locations in the world. And for me being born and bred in London and having our business headquarters there and design studio, it’s an incredible honour for us. This store really tells the story of the World of Stella McCartney; incorporating sustainability, fashion and luxury.” Louis Vuitton’s giant Bond Street store is also being refurbished and will hopefully offer something bespoke to this prestigious location.
Right - Stella McCartney's ground floor showing boulders running through the centre
What this group of shops show is the huge investment still going into physical retail. If you’re going to entice those shoppers, you'll need to offer something original, something they'll want to investigate and explore and ultimately an experience of buying something truly great and memorable. By working and competing as a group, it gives more incentive to brands and people to make this the greatest destination and a positive cycle of openings and continued openings will keep this firmly as one of the most thriving luxury retail destinations in the world.
It was while watching the Alexander McQueen documentary at the beginning of the summer - Read TheChicGeek Review here - when I wondered where the subsequent crop of young designer brands were.
The British based designers who were the generation after McQueen and showed so much promise - Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katranzhou, J.W. Anderson etc. - and despite some investment, just haven’t been able to scale up their brands in the same way McQueen and Stella McCartney were able to.
Left - Christopher Kane's only permanent store on London's Mount Street
I realised that this was a signifier of how the luxury market has changed and the days of nurturing fledgling brands into ‘Mega Brands’ are over. It illustrates the saturation in the market and it’s all about making big brands even bigger, today. “If you’re not going to be a billion dollar brand, then it’s probably not worth our time", is the new attitude. It probably explains the reason why Michael Kors recently bought Versace. Read more ChicGeek Comment here
David Watts, Founder, Watts What Magazine, says, “I suspect that this is more to do with the parent company realising that these businesses are not scaleable - or to the extent of other portfolio brands and cutting their losses.”
“In the current very challenging retail market and designer wholesale model not being as robust as it used to be, brands need to shore up cash and also give themselves a buffer,” says Watts.
“For the larger groups though, bigger really is better,” says Sandra Halliday, Editor-in-chief (UK), Fashionnetwork.com. “When they take on a brand, they want it to have billion dollar potential, or at least to occupy a strong niche that will guarantee high profit margins. The stakes these days are too high to do anything else,” she says.
When the Gucci Group invested in McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga in 2001, it signalled the moment the luxury fashion industry was in full expansion mode and opening stores all over the globe. Following that, there was a raft of investment in the generation after, with Kering - formally Gucci Group - investing in Christopher Kane in 2013 and LVMH investing in Nicholas Kirkwood and J.W. Anderson in the same year. Everybody was billed “as the next…” but it just hasn’t materialised. Well, not in consumers’ heads anyway.
Now, brands are going into reverse; fashion’s answer to “Conscious Uncoupling”. Stella McCartney just bought back the 50 per cent she didn’t own from Kering and rumour has it, Christopher Kane, is in talks to buy back the 51 percent stake from the French group after a 5-year partnership.
Right - J.W. Anderson single store in East London
Halliday says, “I think in Stella McCartney’s case there was a genuine desire to run her own show and given the strength of her brand, that’s understandable.”
“For Christopher Kane it’s probably more about Kering focusing its resources and its time on its big winners, and that makes sense with Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga doing so well and Bottega Veneta needing lots of TLC,” she says.
“It give them a certain freedom and with the knowledge and experience learned (hopefully) as being part of a large group that they know how to be more careful with finances and astute with merchandising and keeping overheads down,” says Watts.
“Staying small, focussed and niche with a direct to consumer model could work for some brands, but it’s also very tough to make serious money at that scale,” says Watts. “Of course, there are possibly different and extenuating circumstances for why these brands find themselves in their current predicament. What does it tell you that LVMH and Kering cannot make Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Edun and Tomas Maier work…..gonna be tough for them as independents however the chips may fall,” he says.
Announced this year, LVMH has severed ties with Edun, Bono’s ethical fashion brand, and Kering has closed Tomas Maier, previously the Creative Director at their other brand, Bottega Veneta. These brands will have to regress back to start-up mode and think small again if they are to survive.
“In many ways, the future prospects of small designers hoping to break into the big time are quite depressing as the barriers to doing that are very high.” says Halliday. “But, on another level, the internet offers opportunities that didn’t exist just 20 years ago. The combination of a well-run e-store and a physical flagship can actually be a very cost-effective way of reaching the maximum number of consumers.” she says.
“Even if smaller labels can build profitable businesses, the chances are that the end result will be a hoped-for takeover by a bigger group, or by private equity investors, as that’s the kind of investment that’s really needed to make the transition into bona fide big-name brand,” says Halliday. “And all of that doesn’t even factor in what might happen if the luxury boom runs out of steam at any point,” she says.
Those brands fitting somewhere between these smaller designers and the giant groups are making their play for their futures too. Versace has already taken shelter in a bigger American group and other Italian family brands are sensing this shift and deciding on which side of the billion dollar divide they aspire to be on. Missoni opened its ownership up to Italian state-backed investment fund FSI for a cash injection of €70 million, in exchange for a 41.5 percent stake and rumours continually circle around Ferragamo suggesting they are looking for investment or a new owner.
Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, recently sold a majority stake in his eponymous fashion brand to Spanish cosmetics group Puig.
“Dries Van Noten is 60 and after 30 years if he keeps creative control and remains chairman of his brand, then cashing in a huge stake gives him financial security, and also Puig brings cosmetics, beauty and fragrance know-how,” says Watts. “It could be huge for a brand such as Dries Van Noten - it’s a win win for him on paper.”
“Most people who are outside of the fashion (production) industry really have no idea both how complicated it as and how hard it is to make money,” says Watts. “Fashion wholesale is broken and fashion retail is in freefall,” he says.
Disappointingly, the focus has moved away from talent to bankability. Young designers who were previously given a leg-up with investment look too high a risk and expensive for today’s investors. It seems that only those brands breaking that billon dollar turnover ceiling are worth focussing on. You can increase profit margins by making less, but in larger volumes and become a more dominant force. It is more of a risk having fewer brands, but you can win bigger and Kering is clearly taking pole position right now.
Read more ChicGeek Comments - here
Fashion, in its nature, isn’t logical. Before things are broken or unusable we move onto consuming the next item all under the umbrella of ‘fashion’. It’s a huge, global business which basically comes down to us buying more things than we need and, also, new things before our existing things are redundant or can no longer fulfil their purpose.
It’s also very creative and what makes us human beings.
Left - Northern European fields full of flax
It’s therefore not in the fashion business’ interest to get us, as consumers, to buy or use less. So, what we’ve seen over the latest few years is many retailers using the term ‘sustainable’ to give our consumption the gloss of being better or even good for the environment while continuing to encourage us to buy even larger amounts.
It’s difficult for retailers and brands to tell us to buy less or not at all. They want us to feel good while we are shopping, but can ‘fashion’ ever be sustainable and what does ‘sustainable’ even mean?
Bruce Montgomery, Course leader BA hons Fashion UCA Epsom/Menswear Consultant, says, “While it’s a mammoth task, fashion needs to become sustainable. The industry is over producing, this is leading to excessive consumption with 300,000 tons of clothing being dumped on landfill either by both retailers and consumers rather than recycled. Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign and Stella McCartney’s fashion campaign shot with models lying in landfill tried to raise awareness to the problem, but much more industry commitment is needed.”
“Brands have understood its positive to be seen as ‘sustainable’. This has led to many jumping on the marketing bandwagon without any commitment and just greenwashing the surface of the topic. The word unfortunately is in danger of being watered down in the same way the word ‘luxury’ is now applied to fast fashion products. Why should consumers believe brands when they discover there is no substance behind a brand’s sustainable stance or strategy?” says Montgomery.
Niche brands with stringent green credentials are really trying to separate themselves from the mainstream ‘sustainable’ bandwagon. Swedish, independent outdoor clothing brand, Houdini, aims to “become fully circular in sustainability - and setting the standard for sustainable fashion and its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status”. Ninety one percent of their product is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign - it eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production - certified fabrics.
Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear, says, "We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition. To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact. Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it.”
Can fashion ever be ‘sustainable’? “With the knowledge and available technologies of today fashion (as in apparel) could and should be way closer to sustainable than what is currently the case. The trouble is best technologies and best practices are seldom implemented by retailers and brands, or some are implemented for one specific product or product group rather than for the big bulk. This is true not only for environmental factors, but for social and ethical factors as well.” says Karlsson.
“There are numerous reasons for this. Lack of guts and willpower to change, lack of knowledge, lack of time in an ever speedier fast fashion market. On the systemic level hinders are built into the system – buyers and sustainability managers are often working in their separate silos, the pricing structures of today work against the transition to sustainable business practices and regulations are poor.” she says.
Is the future buying differently then? The Victoria & Albert Museum recently held an exhibition entitled ‘Fashioned From Nature’ looking at the materials and inspiration the fashion industry has taken from nature. It was sponsored by CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp and they used the exhibition to highlight and promote this natural fibre - linen.
Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, Director, CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, says, “Not many people know – almost nobody – that three countries in Europe are the worldwide leader in flax production: France, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 80 per cent of worldwide production comes from these three. And the quality from here is far superior to elsewhere, because the climate and conditions are perfect, and the knowledge and expertise are far superior. So, linen production is very local – you can see the fields from the Eurostar.”
Right - Flax - linen - grows naturally with no irrigation
“And there is no irrigation – no water needed, no GMO, no waste, no poison going into the water system, which is vital when you consider the demand for water in the future. Plus, linen is a good local employer: it takes five times more labour than wheat, because flax is a very technical crop. More technical than corn or wheat or other agricultural products that might occupy the fields. Then, the process of transferring the plant to the fibre is purely mechanical, involving no chemistry. Linen is natural, and entirely sustainable.” says Belzung.
Compared to cotton, which uses enormous amounts of pesticides and water, linen is a local European crop and is underused in fashion with many associating it with seasonal summer shirts and suits.
“Linen’s continued popularity is thanks to innovation. In the last ten years, linen the textile has enjoyed two major innovations. Knitted fabric has developed thanks to innovation on the yarn. Knitted linen overturns one stereotype: it is linen that does not wrinkle. Second is washed linen, which gives the fabric some pep and so seduces a new generation of consumers. Makes linen soft and chic.” says Belzung.
“In our special project with Chelsea College of Arts the concept of linen as a sports fabric – natural moisture management, naturally hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial – was one of the strongest ideas. Of course, blending anything with petro-chemicals diminishes the sustainability argument. Flax fibres are also being combined with eco-plastics to create, for example, car interiors, speakers and sporting equipment such as skis.” she says.
Linen is a perfect example of how consumers can swap one fabric for another. If consumers have a choice between a white cotton shirt and a white linen shirt, with this knowledge, they can make a more educated decision with less environmental impact.
Montgomery says, “We are consuming more cotton than we are growing, so materials like flax will need to be used more by designers in the future. An education programme will be needed because, while brands continue to use cotton, consumers will buy it instead of alternatives such as flax because they are familiar with it. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit has been very successful in getting high profile leaders from academia and industry together to discuss sustainability, but it is still only covering the converted. The loop from producer to consumer needs to be joined up.”
Right - Raw linen on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature’
“We need the whole industry to understand that sustainability needs to be applied to all aspects of the fashion business. Starting from yarns to fabric, manufacture, producing less through better range planning, making more locally, as well as recycling. Technology is being used to resolve the issue and their are new developments coming through such as polymer recycling, but this will take time. A lot more can be done in the short term simply by every brand making a sustainable commitment. The Kering group for example have been very pro active in enforcing their sustainable strategy across the group, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is researching new ways to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a better future through a circular economy.” he says.
“If the industry would let go of business as usual and decide on making the transition without compromise it could do so today. With emerging technology it could reach even further, becoming truly sustainable, restorative and even regenerative.” says Karlsson.
I don’t think it’s realistic to ask people to buy less. It’s even more patronising to ask people with less money not to buy cheaper clothes. We need people to buy differently while we wait for technology and economics to close the circle on fashion items.
In the future, I can see us recycling our clothes like we do with other recyclables. Putting them into piles according to their fibre make up. This will satisfy the speed of fashion and also the in-built disposabiltiy.
Things need to go around and around and around. It’s not enough for something to be made out of plastic bottles once. It, itself, needs to be recyclable and then into something else and then something else. We need to close the loop. That is sustainable.
Male Daisy Dukes
Putting the duke into Daisy Duke, okay, so they're usually denim, but these shorts are seriously short.
Top Left - Prada, Dior Homme, Fendi, Hermès
From Left - SS World Corp, Maison Margiela, Jacquemus, Prada
More Bad Denim
Is there any other type of denim these days? It keeps on getting worse and it ain't going away.
Above - Prada, Alyx, Balmain, CMMN SWDN, Off-White
Left - Valentino, Versace
Burnt neck? Don’t worry the summer roll-neck's got you. These were made for a British summer.
Left - Both - Prada
Brown Art Suit
I just love this. Simples.
Left - Dries van Noten
Verner Panton was the inspiration at Dries (left) and this carried over to Prada and Raf.
Left - Prada, Raf Simons
If you've seen more untucking than Rupaul's Drag Race, it's now time to let those French cuffs hangout. Goodbye cufflinks!
Below Both - Alexander McQueen
Caping was once massive eyeroll at fashion week, but, now, you can put your shoulders in!
From Left - Alexander McQueen, CMMN SWDN, Maison Margiela
The Scarf With Coat Attached
Trust Raf Simons do give us something we didn't know we needed. It won't blow away!
Below - Raf Simons, Raf Simons
How many green coats do you own? Exactly. Nothing welcomes spring like the Green Man. May Day alert!
Left - Dries van Noten, Raf Simons, Comme des Garcons
Left - Dunhill, Dolce & Gabbana, Thom Browne, Versace
Yellow hasn't mellowed, in fashion terms, it's just got brighter.
From Left - Raf Simons, Dior Homme, Ermenegildo Zegna
Left - Hermès, Thom Browne, Jacquemus, Versace
Don't be a dummy, get a bucket hat with the baby ties.
From Left - Ami, Fendi, Stella McCartney
The Longer DB
This season saw the beginnings of something more grown-up and less novelty. It starts with the double-breasted, longer jacket.
Above From Left - Ami, Dior Homme, CMMN SWDN, Dunhill, Versace
Below - Left - Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Thom Browne
We've had latex and leather trousers, now, it's time for the shiny, plastic looking shirt.
From Left - CMMN SWDN, Wooyoungmi, Dior Homme
Half & Half
Yin & Yang your look. It's as clear as night and day.
From Left - Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen
You won't find this in any army surplus shop, but it makes you want to get in the big outdoors.
Below From Left - DSquared2, Neil Barrett
Just say 'Auntie Donatella knitted it for me, daarling!'.
From Left - Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Versace
When I started in this business summer shoe options consisted of cheap flimsy flip-flops or jelly-sandals for those pebbled British beaches. There was little or no choice and there certainly wasn’t any style - even though jelly sandals are kind of bad cool ATM FYI!
Anyway, let me introduce ‘CASABLANCA 1942’ who are making some of the nicest and most beautifully crafted hot weather shoes I’ve seen. Started in May 2014 by Gabriela Ligenza, and inspired by the classic film and the year it was released, the shtick is raffia.
Left - Cesare
The uppers are made from breathable natural raffia woven in Mogador, Morocco, and then construction takes place in Italy using the finest sustainable leather from French and Italian tanneries.
Right - The raffia comes from the raffia palm tree in Madagascar
The raffia fiber is obtained from the raffia palm tree, commonly found in Madagascar. The leaves of this little tree are cut into parallel lines resulting in the long fibers used in the weaving of the shoes. Unlike straw, raffia is stronger, hard-wearing and will mould to the feet when worn.
Polish-born Gabriela trained as an architect and interior designer at Fine Art Academy in Warsaw. She also designed hats before this venture. Based between London and her design studio south of Florence, Italy, she travels extensively for her inspirations and research. Gabriela has collaborated for the last 20 years with leading accessories and shoe designers for global brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Martin Margiela, Missoni, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney to develop hand woven raffia shoes produced using entirely traditional hand weaving techniques, but combining the craft with Italian know how and quality materials.
The idea for Casablanca 1942 was conceived whilst sitting on a beach under the stars watching the film, Casablanca, with the background sound of the Atlantic and thinking “what would Rick wear in this intense and sweltering city?”
Each pair takes at least a day to make so the shoes are made in limited editions. After all, "true luxury should be not about the price, but in the uniqueness of the product," she says.
Left - Lace Up Trainers £260
Gabriela believes that helping local cooperatives to incorporate external developments and training improves the marketability of the local skills and products, respecting its identity, distinctiveness and preserving sustainability on a grass roots level.
Gabriela says the shoe styles are inspired by “trying to design the perfect summer shoe for my husband so he can get inspired to go on holidays more!”
There are a few thing to know to get the best out of your pair. You may find that the shoes are a bit tight when you wear them the first time, but they will soon give as they moulds to your feet. You might want to wear them with socks for the first time for your own comfort, but they are designed to be worn bare foot in very hot weather.
Right - Woven Loafers - £228
If you feel that it rubs a bit too much on a certain area, it is recommended that you apply a wet cloth on this part of the shoe while it is on your foot, in order for the raffia to mould to your foot more quickly.
Raffia, being a natural fiber, will feel very comfortable without socks as the fiber will keep your feet fresh and naturally ventilated. As they become yours, “they are even more special even when they start wearing in and fraying a bit,” says Gabriela.
These are really elegant and artisanal summer shoes and I don't think the photographs do them enough justice after seeing them in person at the recent Pitti Uomo show in Florence.
Available at Harrods in the UK
Damien Paul, Head of Menswear, MATCHESFASHION.COM
“High concept streetwear label Cottweiler specialises in covetable sportswear pieces crafted from lightweight technical fabrics. This dark green track jacket with contrasting black and grape panels is the ultimate athleisure statement.”
Left - Cottweiler - Contrast-Panel Track Jacket - £406
“Stella McCartney’s burgeoning menswear offering has gone from strength to strength since its debut last season. For Autumn Winter 17, its knitwear that is a real highlight – this yellow sweater is loop-knitted for a tactile finish and fits to an oversized, relaxed shape – a key trend in knitwear for Autumn Winter 2017.”
Right - Stella McCartney - Crew-Neck Loop-Knit Sweater - £585
“For Autumn Winter 17, Brunello Cucinelli have capitalised on the corduroy trend led, most notably, by Prada. This tobacco-brown pair are impeccably crafted with refined sartorial detailing complete with front and back leg creases – a house-typical tailoring feature.”
Left - Brunello Cucinelli - Slim-Leg Corduroy Trousers - £530
“An unlikely trend to make a comeback is the 90’s belt bag – traditionally worn around the waist the latest iterations are designed to be worn ‘cross body’ front or back. This version by Porter-Yoshida & Co combines Japanese functionality with its multiple internal zip pockets with a refined minimal style on the exterior.”
Right - Porter-Yoshida & Co - Beat Cotton-Canvas Belt Bag - £210
"MATCHESFASHION.COM have partnered with LANVIN to launch a 10 piece exclusive collection for Autumn Winter 17. My pick is this contrast tartan and check long sleeve shirt – the ‘collage’ effect of the two clashing prints is a key tailoring trend this season - making this luxe version the perfect statement piece.”
Below - Lanvin - Contrast-Sleeve Checked Brushed-Cotton Shirt - £495
The first ever UK exhibition on the Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his continuing influence on modern fashion opens at the V&A. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.
Left - The man himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga
TheChicGeek says, “While I love the V&A’s Fashion Gallery, the big exhibition space, where Pink Floyd currently is, is usually larger and something to get more excited about. But, this exhibition feels less cramped than previous exhibitions in the space - see Underwear here - and upstairs has a nice, spacious flow.
Balenciaga, as a designer, was serious. Those black voluminous gowns seem to sum up his lack of fun. He feels strict in that Spanish Catholic way, manifesting itself in his designs using lace and the Spanish Mantilla. You don’t get much feel for the man or his personality, but I think that’s how he liked it. He only gave one interview in his life, and that was just before he died.
Left - Known for his elegant volumes, Balenciaga was one of the great couturiers of the 20th century
The name disappeared into the history books when he closed his house and only came back into common culture with its revival around 20 year's ago when Gucci’s parent company, Kering, bought it alongside Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Downstairs is a collection of pieces, mostly coats and dresses, from his most prolific period the 1960s. These are sculptural clothes for pictures and striking as they are, when they become practical, to enter the real world, particularly the commissions by the rich Americans, they look dated and frumpy. His volumes work on their own, but on people they add bulk and often swallow the wearer. These aren't easy wearing pieces.
Some of his pieces aren’t practical either. The wearer couldn’t sit down or go to the toilet in 'Envelope' dress, for example, but this doesn't detract from its beauty.
This was the golden age of 20th century of couture and while he produced ready-to-wear with his 'Eisa' range, his heart was in his exacting standards and the fine fabrics he used.
Left - The 'Envelope' dress, 1967, a design you couldn't sit down or go to the toilet in
Balenciaga is more a collection of one-off greatest hits than themed seasons in the vain of Saint Laurent. These weren’t particularly well documented, even though they were huge, between 150 to 200 looks, as the press weren’t allowed into his shows, so the main imagery is striking black and white shoots in the magazines at the time which have entered in the common psyche of 20th century fashion images.
Upstairs is a large display with a varied selection of designers, both old and new, paying homage to the volumes that Balenciaga pioneered. There are a couple of men’s pieces by JW Anderson and Rory Parnell-Mooney to illustrate that his influence isn’t restricted solely to womenswear.
Left - JW Anderson paying homage to Balenciaga with his tulip trousers
There are a couple of pieces from the new Balenciaga, under Demna Gvasalia, who is producing great things and referencing the house while making it feel contemporary. Unfortunately, there isn't a blue Ikea bag in sight!
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion until 18th February 2018. Admission £12