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The future's vert: why green is the new black in Paris

Lida Hujić

21st February, 2012

Paris is famous for its chic spin on glamour but also for its fur, its waste and its excess. But with green designers slowly making inroads, things could be about to change, says Lida Hujić

‘Thank goodness for the English on this Earth!’ Perhaps, not the most obvious opening line for a piece on Parisian eco chic or to be more precise, lack of, but for once, it appears the British have the edge. And it’s not, for once, in the sense of trends that cross from ‘street’ to ‘chic’. Westwood, Galliano, McQueen and, more recently, Gareth Pugh have all followed this path from London’s alternative clubs into the highest echelons of fashion. This time though, the UK has taken the lead on green issues and in this respect, Paris doesn’t come close. The British Fashion Council has given a place to eco fashion on a par with other industry categories. Esthetica showcases eco designers just like any other while, at the same time, doing many ancillary activities. That sort of endorsement was a milestone and it helped combat the ‘hippy’ image that eco fashion used to suffer from. In fact, it’s fair to say that in the UK, that stereotype no longer resonates.

In contrast, the Parisian fashion establishment has not yet overcome the image issue. Paris-based designer Eva Zingoni, a pioneer of eco chic, explains: ‘Parisian eco chic doesn’t exist yet. I think that’s precisely because Paris is very attached to its past and its couture tradition. They are less open to new things than London or even Milan. From my experience, eco fashion is not well perceived in the high fashion milieu. It is still seen as being a bit naff’. This is why Zingoni hails the English who are more ‘militant’. She mentions Stella McCartney and Livia Firth as inspirational women, who have embraced the eco fashion cause and used their public profile and connections to generate more publicity for it.

It was a bold move, then, to leave a glamorous job at Balenciaga, which involved looking after bespoke designs for VIP clients such as Tilda Swinton and Catherine Deneuve, to set up her own label. In 2009, Zingoni decided to pursue her dream of making luxury green fashion. Her couture background had taught her the art of making tailor-made garments. But, at the same time, she witnessed shortcomings. The predicament of artisans whose jobs are increasingly sparse as they’re outsourced from France in favour of cheaper options was one and the amount of fabric wasted another. Both made her want to do things differently. The resulting designs are unique, of premium quality and, importantly for her, made in France but are still more affordable than designer labels.

Happily, Zingoni is not the only dreamer who is turning her eco fantasies into reality. Around the same time Eva left her day job, Clélia Moretton decided to do the same. The brains behind Paris’ first eco concept store, Dalia and Rose, Moretton is working to turn around the archaic French attitude to eco fashion. She wanted to be able to operate in a universe she was passionate about and work with ‘beautiful’ products. ‘Beautiful’ is as much an aesthetic reference as it is a description of the store’s sustainable ethos.

Operating just outside the high fashion milieu, Dalia and Rose is a hub for emerging eco designers. No matter what the establishment thinks, ‘naff’ it is not, judging from the popularity of pieces by LeAF and Les Racines du Ciel and the wonderful jewellery by Ombre Claire. The store attracts a diverse clientele – women who want to be elegant but don’t feel the need to conform to the diktats of seasonal high street trends. They are more concerned about the provenance of products and the quality of fabrics – and they are prepared to pay that little bit more for it. Paying more goes a long way as clothes were built to last. And because the designers are still niche, no one runs the risk of being démodé any time soon.

Just a short walk away from Dalia and Rose is the mother of all concept stores, colette. For those unfamiliar, colette is the ultimate taste-maker. It’s a temple of cool that has successfully married luxury with street style and it has done as much to rejuvenate couture as it has to promote new talent. It is under the patronage of colette that you will find what consensus says doesn't exist - French eco chic. It’s just not labelled that way. In fact, it is quite hard to pigeonhole. How do you convey the Andréa Crews mystique to someone who hasn’t experienced it? Created by a collective under the leadership of Maroussia Rebecq, like Maison Martin Margiela, this is one label where the dynamic of exchange is more important than the individual. Sustainable development is what they stand for and the label operate under the banner of ‘fashion/art/activism’ around the world.

When it comes to fashion, Andréa Crews are undeniably ‘eco’ in the sense that they recycle used clothes as well as spread the idea through workshops. And they are chic, because the mainline are one-off hand-made pieces. Recently, they focused on reworking vintage clothes from high-end labels. They wouldn’t touch ‘T shirt de merde’ [read high street] as Rebecq eloquently put it. All is done in their Parisian atelier. Anti-establishment and proud, Andréa Crews will be showing their new collection during Paris Fashion Week but under the umbrella of a London initiative called On/Off. On/Off has been part of London’s street fashion zeitgeist for the past decade. From DIY, it matured into a platform that showcases the sort of designers who combine street styling with a luxury ethic, as well as leading lights from the eco fashion pantheon.

But whether they’re categorised as eco, chic, cool or all three, it’s visionaries such as Rebecq, Zingoni and Moretton who are helping to make French fashion a little bit more sustainable. Eco chic might not taken off across the Channel as yet but it’s only a matter of time. Soon, the French will wake up to the fact the future is vert.

Lida Hujić is the author of The First to Know: How Hipsters and Mavericks Shape the Zeitgeist (www.thefirsttoknow.info), premiered at colette, available through Amazon and independent outlets including Rough Trade, Artwords, The People’s Supermarket, the ICA in London; The Hive in Norwich (UK’s best independent bookshop 2011); Pro QM (Berlin); Corso Como (Milan).

 

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