Milan and Paris. Paris and Milan.
When social media platforms are inundated with reels and snippets of the shows taking over the two fashion capitals, the focus usually seems to be on the painstaking work that goes into giving shape, scent, and form to these ideas. An art, and form of storytelling: to craft an entire world with the showcasing of a new collection at its core, delivering a fully sensorial, unforgettable experience.
A well-oiled, gilded machine, kept moving by different talents and visions colliding and informing each other. Business and art. Creativity and innovation. Many famous and less famous names eager to attend, flying over in their private planes with fully-charged phones ready to snap photos and capture moments to be shared with the rest of the world.
And also, consequently, a lot – a lot – of waste.
In 2020, Zero to Market went through the trouble of analysing the total travel carbon emissions of Fashion Week, which added up to a whooping 241,000 tCO2e a year.
And it's when sustainability enters the conversation - and it has been for a few years now – that the attention then shifts towards the use and overuse of resources, materials and, overall, the less glamorous side of some of the most glamorous fashion events of the year.
Thankfully, many luxury fashion houses have been undergoing rebranding processes and rethinking their business models – necessary steps in order to remain relevant and satisfy the greener appetites of today’s audiences. Including, also, delivering more sustainable and eco-friendly shows, addressing environmental issues as well as taking into account the people whose lives are impacted by the luxury machine and its thousands of gears. And amplifying the voices of those who are trying to make a difference.
As Riccardo Bellini, Chief Executive of French luxury brand Chloé, told UK Vogue, walking into a post-pandemic era led to “a reframing of the entire economic growth model and the relationship between company and society. We wanted to instil purpose into the company at every level.” Bellini was appointed Chief Director in 2019, and shortly after found himself thinking about the future and present of the brand, during, before and after a global pandemic. Luckily, he found a like-minded ally in Gabriela Hearst, who he chose as Creative Director.
For her first show, back in September, Hearst decided to use Chloé fabric scraps to make the cushions on which the guests would be seated, whilst Les Bâtisseuses, a construction company that trains women refugees, was put in charge of building the benches. Along with Acne Studios and Stella McCartney, Chloé also recently distinguished itself for bringing sustainability to Paris Fashion Week 2022, utilising eco-friendly materials such as recycled cashmere and deadstock fabrics. Furthermore, for the brand’s new footwear line, they chose to have all the soles made of upcycled flip-flops provided by Kenyan social enterprise Ocean Sole.
When it comes to leather, however, Hearst chooses traceability and careful hand-picking over vegan and alternative materials. “Leather is a by-product of the meat industry,” she told Vogue in a preview. “So, as long as you know where it’s coming from, and you have traceability and it’s done in a proper way, you’re using waste.”
Crossing the border, Milan Fashion Week also saw many fashion houses acknowledging and working to minimise and clean up their waste trails, with projects like White Sustainable Milan (WSM) being launched, and brands like Gucci at the forefront of this green revolution.
According to Eco Cult, Gucci is currently the most transparent luxury house in the industry, possibly a result of the brand’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and foster partnerships with non-profit organisations and social cooperatives. Noteworthy, for instance, the project Gucci-Up launched in 2018, a platform dedicated to the upcycling of discarded materials that otherwise would be considered as waste. More recently, these efforts also reflected in the Exquisite Gucci fashion show that took place at the Gucci Hub in Milan – as well as being carbon neutral, it also featured partnerships with circular resellers La Réserve des Arts and Spazio Meta, and the adoption of a circular approach to show production.
However, there’s also another solution to the dilemma of fashion week being unsustainable: in this day and age, brands don’t need to hold physical events at all. In some instances, this has even given them more freedom to experiment, and cross barriers that had not been crossed before.
When it comes to crossing barriers, somebody who has shook the pixelated hand of the Ghost of Fashion Future is, undoubtedly, Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia. ‘Clones’ (SS22) is the name of the exclusively-online fashion show that was broadcasted on Instagram last year, a CGI production that ended up leaving an indelible mark on fashion history. Arguably one of the most ground-breaking and thought-provoking shows of the decade, ‘Clones’ is perhaps also one of the most uncomfortable to watch: a disorienting and disconcerting journey through our appetites and desires, present and future, and inability to distinguish between real and fake.
With the advancement of technology, upcycling becoming more and more popular, and so many eco-friendly and ethically made fabrics and materials on the market, fashion houses should now be able to see several paths right outside their studios, snaking through seasons and leading towards a more creatively sustainable future. What’s crucial right now is to keep on carving new paths, with luxury brands seriously thinking about what the word ‘sustainable’ means for them, and how they can effectively incorporate it into their practices.
Particularly during one of the most hectic – energy and resource-consuming – times of the year