Paris Fashion Week

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Sustainability at Paris Fashion Week

The very nature of such a short-lived, yet polished event, is distinctly unsustainable. 
by Hebe Street

Historically, Paris Fashion Week has been vilified for its promotion of a distinctly unsustainable way of showcasing fashion.  Alongside it’s sisters in London, Milan and New York, the famous four events have been consistently criticised by eco-conscious onlookers worldwide. Of course, the impact of these glossy events is marginal in comparison to the environmental footprint the fashion industry as a whole stamps into the earth day after day. However, what is more pressing, is the example they set and the ideas they promote that are distinctly diseased and corrupting. Fashion shows are inherently unsustainable. Writers, editors, photographers, models and a motley of celebs all file into plane upon plane, racking up millions of air-miles among them, and that is before we begin to factor in the taxis and cars that carry the posses back and forth, day after day. The sets are built and bought only to be torn down 10 days later, and the plethora of utterly redundant branded freebies that are gawked at before quickly tossed, will end up filling skip upon skip with plastic. The very nature of such a short-lived, yet polished event, is distinctly unsustainable.

However, this year we saw Gabriela Hearst for Chloé pioneering a drive for more sustainable attitudes to be adopted by the big, influential fashion houses. In the autumnal sunlight of Paris, 250 guests witnessed the launch of Chloé’s newest initiative, Chloe Craft. Hearst began this program with the idea of using the platform of Paris Fashion Week, and the fame and media attention her brand attracts, to showcase the creativity and skills of unknown individuals. Hearst collaborated with 7 not-for-profit organizations who make different accessories from hats, to shoes to bags. The idea of this runway collection was to bring into the spotlight the beauty of handcrafted garments, and showcase the incredible craftsmanship that exists in the fashion industry, encouraging the public to acknowledge and appreciate this type of garment work, over techniques that machines can be programmed to mimic. 

Hearst’s own designs and styling for Chloe also promoted a sustainable way of wearing and buying. Many of the looks used upcycled fabrics from previous seasons that had been repurposed and resewn into new outfits and garments, and many of the accessories were sourced from dead-stock jewellery collections form old Paris fashion houses. In an interview with NY Times, Hearst explained how she particularly loved the sentiment behind the initiative of using the old to create the new, and how this sort of repurposing brings authenticity and almost heritage to the new runway looks. The open-air venue, on the edge of the Seine, contrasted many of the more claustrophobic indoor venues of Paris Fashion Week, and thus in more ways than one, Chloé, and Hearst’s direction, appeared fresh and new alongside competitors. Chloe’s eco-conscious offering alone cannot change the parameters of the fashion industry and the way in which it functions. However, Hearst and her team are distinctly aware of the trickle-down effect of fashion culture, and thus, their high-end, craftsmanship-focused runways are actually targeted at you and me. They want us, the common public, to see this environmental ambitiousness being adopted in Paris, and be influenced by this when we make our next clothing purchase. 

This year at Paris Fashion Week approximately 1/3 of designers planned in-person shows, whilst the others chose to stick to a digital program. When thinking about how utterly unsustainable in-person fashion shows are, it therefore seems an odd choice for Hearst to choose to stage Chloe’s eco-conscious line as a live performance. Nevertheless, the fact that many brands are choosing to stick to a digital form of presentation, will significantly help to make fashion shows greener, by enabling people to access the content without travelling, and by minimising the amount of sets and scenery that needs to be constructed. In a way, by having digital presentations, the high-end world of fashion is also being somewhat democratised. The elite fashion houses are opening their doors to the mass public, allowing them to step inside these exclusive arenas and see the new and exciting designs that once would have been hidden from them, or at least only speculated about until they trickled down into the high street shops.  

From an artistic perspective, there is also the argument that digital presentations and fashion shows have added a new, modern, technological element to fashion weeks, and somewhat reinvigorated the creativity of designers and directors. In the 21st century our ability to create, immerse and involve is snowballing as our manipulation of technology becomes more sophisticated. It will certainly be interesting to see how the digital and in-person worlds of fashion collide over the coming years, and how different brands use these forms to compete with one another and conquer customer bases. It certainly leaves us pondering whether seeing clothing in the flesh is actually necessary, or whether digitisation can help our fashion world become more sustainable.


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