You could already hear the green/eco/sustainable hardcore semanticists baying for blood when Karl Lagerfeld uttered the words “a high fashion ecology” and made statements such as “sustainability is part of our expression of the times”. Back off you green washing evil high fashion corporation! You can’t hood wink us into thinking that Chanel’s haute couture S/S 16 collection was for real sustainable.
It of course wasn’t. The collection utilised some technically recyclable elements such as paper fibres and wooden components, elevating such materials to the highest of aesthetic levels they could possibly go, as well as some use of organic cotton, most notable in the finale wedding gown ensemble. The wabi sabi wooden house that was central to the zen-like set, apparently will be recycled in some capacity. But it’s the media rather than the house that grasped at these vaguely eco straws. “Chanel goes eco”, said Tim Blanks on Business of Fashion. SMCP describes the collection as “eco-luxe”. As Chanel have not yet put forth a formalised CSR agenda, it’s wise that the there’s been no preachy communication from the house that sets out any sustainable fashion credentials in regards to the collection.
I am revisiting this collection though on the occasion of Fashion Revolution Week (expanded from being just a day), which commenced yesterday with a special Fashion Question Time at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, hosted and chaired by the MP Mary Creagh and will continue on with people hashtaging #WhoMadeYourClothes as well as up-cycling workshops in London, which I will document. Because what’s important is that a house like Chanel even mildly touched on a subject that is only gaining pace and momentum within our consciousness – not just high falutin fashion types but consumers at large, who are eager to get involved, even if it’s with the “half-arsed” approach that the likes of me adopt. The amount of awareness that a Chanel haute couture collection brings to the words “eco” and “recycling” is indicative of the power of the house, even if the technicalities of the collection and the set are cloaked in a wishy-washy standpoint.
Place Chanel’s haute couture in isolation and particularly in tandem with the Paraffection companies, that come under their ownership, and the buzz words “sustainable” and “slow fashion” do apply. I say this having finally made the pilgrimage to Lesage and Lemarié as well as seeing the Chanel haute couture flou and tailleur ateliers at work. At all these establishments, you’ll find men and women of all ages in full-time employment, paid decent wages and working in good conditions, creating clothes and working at crafts that are definitely not going to be disposable, given that a singular piece of haute couture costs upwards of hundreds of thousands of euros. You’ll find people meticulously sorting and filing away threads, scraps of fabrics and loose beads, feathers and sequins because every bit of material is precious. You’ll see people making every sewn stitch and every cut of a fabric count because what they are making is a source of pride for them.
It’s a luxurious extremity of slow fashion and of course a bit of a lopsided utopia. Still, the significance of this particular Chanel haute couture collection with its wooden shavings and beads (can you spot some are even covered with newspaper), made-from-scratch naturalistic textiles and the elevation of eco-fashion stylistic “tropes” as it were, should be applauded on an aesthetic level but also for inadvertently sprinkling the vernacular of sustainable fashion on the consciousness of a mainstream fashion and luxury industry, that is still largely ignoring the real movements of tireless campaigners and creatives that are making the likes of Fashion Revolution Week a reality or propelling positive messaging through entirely sound entities such as People Tree or Patagonia. Chanel haven’t officially taken on the mantle of sustainable fashion through this collection, but when Lagerfeld speaks, evidently the media listens. You’d hope that his uttering of the words “eco” and “sustainable” ringing around don’t fall on deaf ears.
Just some stats on this curved-sleeved jacket and skirt – 2,500 hours spent embroidering 435,000 elements comprising oval wooden beads and three colours of glass beads and a trim of wooden baguettes, raffia and crystal beads
Made-from-scratch wooden sequins created to mimic the two-tone effect of tweed
A gilet of wooden textures made out of 1,700 square panels
Granite effect sequins embroidered by the Paraffection umbrella’s lesser-known embroidery house Montex
Concertina pleated organza created by pleat specialist Lognon
The most incredible wooden shavings, each individually hand-cut and hand painted on the edges with pastel hues and arranged on the neckline and the hem of the dress in a fish scale formation
Feathers cut to resemble bees – an animal that Coco Chanel herself related to as exemplified by this quote: “I am a bee, that is part of my sign, the Lion, the Sun. Women of this sign are hard-working, courageous, faithful, undaunted. That is my character. I am a bee born under the sign of the Lion.”
Floral embroidery contrasted with garlands of wooden disc pailettes
A dress featuring a lattice of white lace ribbon, cotton and jersey with wood chip embroidery with a hem of ribbon fringe and embroidered tweed strands
The tones of ecru, ivory, sand, dove, putty, taupe and mocha in the collection echo Coco Chanel’s fixation with beige. “I go back to beige because it’s natural.”
This series of photographs were taken in-house by Chanel and focus on the finale wedding gown ensemble of a hooded jacket and strapless dress with a long removeable train, made out of a geometric lace, decorated with crystal rhinestones, leather pieces, pearls, wooden and baguette beads.