Photograph by Hilary Walsh. Published in Vogue, May 2009.
A New York Times headline in March read “The Green Movement in the Fashion World” and, that same month, the first article about the new environmental trend ran inVogue. Norma Kamali’s recent shows featured models in T-shirts bearing slogans like “Acid Rain Squad” and “Earth Children.” By summer, the British statement-maker Katharine Hamnett was speaking out against the eco-evils of fashion at the United Nations.
The year? 1990.
It was then, in the early nineties, that the seeds of sustainable fashion were sown and the concepts of recycling and environmentally friendly fabrics began to grow. In Paris, the Malian-born designer Lamine Kouyaté (better known as Xuly-Bet, the name of his label) was busy repurposing flea-market finds—plaids, Lycra dresses, old pantyhose—into new creations. The Antwerp wonder Martin Margiela was on the rise, furiously deconstructing—and reconstructing—his own artful bits and pieces, and in Milan, Giorgio Armani, the maestro of the suit, would begin experimenting with hemp, weaving it into his lines.
But real, lasting environmental change would be slow to take root. First and foremost, designers faced the formidable task of educating skeptical customers. The commercial challenges of greening the market were massive, too, and public demand, despite all the buzz, was weak. Another major issue was the style factor. While a far cry from their hippie hemp-sack origins, the garments, sold under the catchphrases eco fashion and green fashion,had yet to be equated with chic.
Give or take, it wasn’t until about the spring of 2002, when customers first got their hands on the much-ballyhooed new Stella McCartney label, that eco fashion began to look less like a gimmick and more like a serious business proposition. McCartney’s rock-chick, animal-friendly (no leather, no fur) designs and healthy-living ethos attracted celebrity pals—taking the granola crunch out of words like vegan and organic. In March 2005,Vogue spotlighted Edun, a socially and environmentally conscious label by Bono, the U2 front man, and his wife, Ali Hewson, and designed by Loomstate’s Rogan Gregory. (“We have this idea that we’re going to make people label-aware. . . . Where it was made, who made it, how it’s made,” Bono told the magazine.)
The deep-market sea change finally came around 2007, when A-list celebrities including Naomi Watts and Kate Bosworth began being seen regularly in cupro slips by Organic by John Patrick, say, or green denim from FIN. The nineties supermodel Shalom Harlow appeared in ads for Noir, a pioneering eco-ethical designer label out of Copenhagen; and Barneys New York rolled out its green carpet, spotlighting sustainable fashions—including the new Barneys Green label—on the sales floor and recycling themes in its famous holiday windows. “It’s not a trend,” Julie Gilhart, Barneys’s fashion director, told Women’s Wear Daily. “A trend is something that dies. It’s a movement.”
That spring, the designer Anya Hindmarch became a noteworthy arbiter of eco-cool when the English movie ingenue Keira Knightley was spotted carrying a cream-and-brown Hindmarch tote emblazoned with the slogan “I’m Not a Plastic Bag.” The retro-looking shopper sold out within hours in London and New York and triggered a stampede in Taiwan. The reusable-bag trend was launched. In the fall, the model Lauren Bush’s ethical FEED bag became the latest green status symbol.
At last, what many had feared would be just another passing trend had blossomed into a culture-wide lifestyle change (or at least a culture-wide urge to change). “Green is the new black” became the maxim of the moment. With the endorsement of eco-minded celebrities including Cameron Diaz and Gisele Bündchen, going green became the cool choice—on which many attempted to capitalize. In addition to all the by-then-familiar eco jargon (certified Organic, Fair Trade, sustainable, low-impact, local, ethical, artisanal, and repurposed) consumers became sadly aware of another term: greenwashing.less
First in VogueMarch
Related EntriesStella McCartney
Antwerp designer Martin Margiela’s first collection, for spring 1989, features a leather butcher’s apron repurposed into an evening gown. He will soon become known as the leader of the deconstructionist movement, and for his use of recycled materials in his collections.
Franco Moschino sends models down the runway in T-shirts pleading that consumers “Stop Using Our Oceans as a W.C.”
March: In “Natural Selection,” Vogue spotlights the new environmental trend in fashion. Models at Norma Kamali wear T-shirts bearing slogans like “Acid Rain Squad” and “Earth Children.” New York celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day with eco-themed events citywide. June: Members of the Fashion Group, including designer Katharine Hamnett, speak to the United Nations about the environmental impacts of the industry.
Xuly-Bet’s repurposed designs are the hot ticket in Paris, New York, and Milan.
Giorgio Armani begins using hemp in his Emporio Armani collection.
Tara Subkoff and Matthew Damhave bring resurrection chic to New York Fashion Week with their line of reworked thrift-shop castoffs, Imitation of Christ.
February: Natalie Chanin launches Project Alabama, employing sewing-circle artisans in her native Florence, Alabama. Her collection of 200 hand-sewn T-shirts wows at New York Fashion Week. October: Former Chloé designer Stella McCartney launches her own line, which becomes known for animal-friendly (no leather, no fur) policies.
Rogan Gregory and Scott Hahn launch Loomstate, the first designer organic-denim line. The first Ethical Fashion Show—a showcase of sustainable, artisanal design—is held in Paris.
February: Nonprofit environmental organization Earth Pledge holds its first eco-friendly fashion show. U2’s Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, collaborate with Rogan Gregory on Edun, an environmentally and socially conscious label. October: “Ethical Fabrics Gaining Popularity,” WWD reports. November:Project Alabama and eco-minded knitwear line Lutz & Patmos named CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists.
January: Former vice president Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth premieres at Sundance. April: On the eve of the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, Suzy Menkes pens a piece for the International Herald Tribune entitled “Eco-friendly: Why Green Is the New Black.” September: The British Fashion Council launches Estethica, an ethical-fashion showcase. The marquee designer is Katharine Hamnett, who launches a sustainable sportswear line.
February: WWD makes note of designers with fur-free policies, including McCartney, Comme des Garçons, and Calvin Klein. At Edun’s fall show actresses Zooey Deschanel and Rain Phoenix sing songs about global warming and gasoline. April: All 20,000 of designer Anya Hindmarch’s cream-and-brown shopping totes, emblazoned with the slogan “I’m Not a Plastic Bag,” sell out within an hour in London. May: In Vogue, Robert Sullivan explores the conscientious-clothing movement in “Earth to Fashion,” and Jane Herman reports on the challenges involved with making jeans green. Vanity Fair puts out its first green issue. October: Portland Fashion Week, in Oregon, stages the first all-green fashion week in the world. November:Sustainable-fashion guru Rogan Gregory takes the top prize at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards. Paris boutique Colette launches “Green Is In” promotion with organic tees by Katharine Hamnett and L.E.N.Y. benefiting Al Gore’s Climate Project.December: Models Shalom Harlow and Elettra Wiedemann and designers Diane von Furstenberg and John Patrick, of Organic, contribute to FutureFashion White Papers, a CFDA-backed book of essays on sustainability in the industry. Model Lauren Bush’s organic, fair-trade FEED bag, sold to benefit the UN World Food Programme, becomes the new green It bag.Vogue’s William Norwich explores this season’s conscientious-giving trend in “Season’s Greenings.” Following the success of its Barneys Green initiative, Barneys New York mounts an homage to recycling in its holiday windows.
January: The nonprofit organization Earth Pledge and Barneys New York team up for FutureFashion, a runway show featuring haute-green looks from top-tier names like Versace, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent. July: The Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation announces the creation of the new Sustainable Design Award. December: “Green is the new luxury” is the maxim on the table at the annual New York Fashion Conference,WWD reports.
March: Vogue introduces Style Ethics, a special section spotlighting the best in sustainable chic, edited by fashion director Tonne Goodman. Longtime eco-activist and model Angela Lindvall inaugurates the page in an Oeko-Tex-certified cupro slip and organic Japanese cotton seersucker suit, both by CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist John Patrick of Organic.June: Green is the theme for this month’s Vogue. September:Princess Charlotte Casiraghi cofounds EVER Manifesto, a print and Web magazine devoted to moving the sustainability movement.
February: New York Fashion Week goes green, with a new carbon-neutral policy involving the purchase of carbon credits to offset all CO2 emissions. Sustainable fabrics are widely seen, and water fountains installed in an effort to banish plastic bottles.April: Christian Cota’s Agua Cota line benefits eco-cause Wine to Water. May: The Museum at F.I.T. mounts “Eco-Fashion: Going Green,” an exhibit focused on the industry’s relationship with the environment. September: First official sustainable-fashion show staged at London Fashion Week. November:Model Sasha Pivovarova shines in “Naturally Refined,” an eco-fashion portfolio. The CFDA and Lexus announce the honorees of the new Eco Fashion Challenge award: Monique Péan, Costello Tagliapietra, and Maria Cornejo.
March: Vogue and Christie’s team with sustainable-fashion-awareness group Runway to Green for a show and live auction. Major brands and nonprofits come together to form the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. May: Eco-active model and United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen named Harvard’s 2011 Global Environmental Citizen in recognition of her eco-efforts. Lancôme ambassadress Elettra Wiedemann wears a recycled minidress by Prabal Gurung to the Met ball. July: Ethically conscious label Suno is named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist.