29.03.2014 0

Can Haute Couture Sustain the Future?

This year’s Academy Awards once again brought out fashion’s cream of the crop. The likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Cate Blanchett not only scooped gilded statues but also the hearts of style mavens.

In this sea of dresses and tuxedos, the best-dressed were arguably Kellan Lutz and Olga Kurylenko. The Twilight star and Bond girl attended the March 2 ceremony as human mannequins for the Red Carpet Green Dress contest organised by James Cameron’s wife, Suzy Amis Cameron.

Now in its fifth year, Red Carpet Green Dress challenges designers to create the most sustainable, ethical, zero-cruelty haute couture for celebrities. If there were any doubts about such clothing’s aesthetic value, they were put to rest on Oscar night.

Lutz made history by wearing a design by winner Jomnarn Dul. Apparently, it is the first sustainable tuxedo at the Oscars. The jacket was made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified silk. The pants were made out of hemp dyed with logwood, while the waistcoat combined hemp with century-old Spitalfields silk dyed with marigold flowers.

Kurylenko cut a ravishing figure in her frock, the winning piece by Alice Elia. Made of GOTS-certified organic peace silk as well as GOTS-certified organic silk, the gown got its crimson colour from madder root and the fast-growing legume known as sappanwood. For good measure, Kurylenko wore a pair of Beyond Skin shoes completely crafted out of recycled bottle tops.

Scarcely lonely

Previous wearers of Red Carpet Green Dress designs include actress Naomie Harris and supermodel Aine Campbell-He.

Mrs. Cameron is hardly lonely in her endeavours, even in wasteful Hollywood. Since 2012, Livia Firth, wife of Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, has been holding a similar campaign. Called The Green Cut, it dares eight designers to craft low-impact, high-end outfits inspired by eight movies. Stella McCartney and Tom Ford, among other big names, have risen to the challenge.

Even brands accused of fast-fashion practices are moving high-fashion options toward sustainability. Last year, Helen Hunt walked the Oscars red carpet in a stunning blue gown from H&M’s aptly named Conscious Collection. Amanda Seyfried and Kristin Davis have also shown off pieces from the line.

Is Haute couture sustainable fashion?

Haute couture, by default, has more in keeping with sustainable dressing than fast fashion. It is never mass-produced, never cheap. One haute couture gown takes up to 400 hours to create and costs as much as a car. Tailors are paid commensurately.

To be categorised as sustainable, haute couture needs to be more discriminating than it already is in sourcing textiles. Haute couture houses invest in the finest, most expensive silks, linens, leather, cottons, wools, cashmeres, etc. Needless to say, ‘expensive’ and ‘fine’ do not ensure these textiles pass along an irreproachable value chain.

Animals, many endangered, are hunted for many red carpet-grade fabrics. Many designers still turn a blind eye to the suffering of creatures, parting with their skins and furs in the most gruesome ways imaginable.

Other fabrics are derived from crops that deplete natural resources and call for vast amounts of chemicals to protect them from disease and pests. These crops are converted into textiles with the intervention of more chemicals, polluting the soil and waterways and contributing to a carbon-laced atmosphere.

Such chemicals seep into the skin of the workers, who often must work long hours in condemned buildings. As insult to injury—and there are a lot of injuries—the workers are underpaid, reducing them to buying food on credit.

Resistance is not futile though. The world is seeing the rise of ‘rebel groups’ devoted to popularising ethical, eco-conscious fashion practices. Atelier Tammam is making waves in London for creating organic bridal gowns, for example. In Australia, High Tea with Mrs. Woo is committed to sustainability by reserving labour to locals, despite the relatively high cost.

All is not lost. The fashion industry has always existed with an awareness of celebrities’ power to set trends loose on the proletariat. Hollywood has taken the initiative by promising not to dye the carpet any redder with blood.

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