Suzy Menkes at New York Fashion Week ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020
11th Sep 2019
This year’s focus is fresh designers, curated by Tom Ford
A puff of tulle in vivid green, yellow, purple, pink – and more – twirled around the walls of the Marc Jacobs pop-up store.
The sky might have been black, lashed with the wind and rain of a vicious hurricane’s tail end, but Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi brought a colourful display of fashion madness. A model with a hair-do rising vertically upwards and layers of feather-light fabric gave a dollop of madness. Let us forget that Madison Avenue is peppered with empty stores and that New York fashion week is in need of an urgent push to keep the event both dynamic and relevant.
By the time that Tom Ford, in his new role as CFDA chair, hosted a downtown dinner at Indochine restaurant to introduce fresh designers and rising American stars, there was a genuine buzz of excitement.
“It is about getting people together,” said Ford, who was backed by ’s Anna Wintour and, crucially, by the varied designers.
And the downtown event was not alone. There was action up at Fifth Avenue’s Bergdorf Goodman, the mighty and historic store around the corner from where a beleaguered Barney’s is trying to stave off insolvency.
Linda Fargo, dynamic director of Bergdorf’s vast women’s fashion offering, pulled together emerging and effective young designers, including Sies Marjan, whose sorbet colours have made an impact on simple clothes. She had also selected – among many others – the French duo Coperni, formerly at Courrèges.
“I am kind of jazzed about the new kids and New York is very encouraging about new talent,” the executive said, admitting that while Italy was slow to produce a fresh band of fashion designers, America was buoyant.
The new brood can at least try to fill the gap left by the departure of recognised young American designers such as Joseph Altuzarra to show in Paris, leaving a gap of talent in their home city.
Even the well-known American brands with international businesses are underscoring the need for change. Coach has re-dressed its Madison Avenue store focusing on its history and originality – with a twist. Bags to rent? Really? Designer Stuart Vevers has launched the concept of borrowing a bag at a low price – and then allowing the customer to turn it in or pay the price for eternal love. A sales gimmick? Maybe. But it is accompanied by other ideas of personalisation, craft and mending, which all offer the concept that a Coach purchase is to treasure – hopefully for ever.
Jeremy Scott from the west coast showed his latest line of fashion craziness, although there was a sense that the Los Angeles designer was coasting this season with his own line, while his work for the Italian Moschino brand, to be shown later in Milan, carries a strong energy.
After a passionate and political show last season, deploring the gender conflicts encouraged by President Trump, the Jeremy Scott show was back to abnormal. Vivid, sexy, showgirl (and mad men) designs in bright colours seemed almost too easy a collection to toss down the runway. But the Jeremy Scott look is unique, from its colourful wigs to its body-conscious patterned dresses and thigh-high boots.
Consistency, diversity and a sense of fun are important characteristics of American fashion identity. And the new regime, headed by Tom Ford as an experienced designer, suggests a dynamic new story line in New York city.
Jeremy Scott ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Ralph Lauren bids for an experience
“I wanted people to go out, to enjoy themselves for a special evening,” said Ralph Lauren, dapper in a white tuxedo, as he climbed the stairway in a speakeasy-style nightclub – made over from a Wall Street bank.
It was a far cry from one year ago, when the Ralph Lauren empire celebrated with deep emotion its 50th anniversary uptown in Central Park. But the fashion world itself has changed: sharper, more demanding of attention and in a constant sales battle between online and physical stores.
“Everyone wants an experience – and here it is,” said Patrice Louvet, CEO and president of the company since 2017. He was among the family coterie with Ralph’s wife Ricky Lauren wearing a sleek tailored pants suit, as were many of the in-laws.
You don’t get to 51 years in fashion without knowing a thing or two – and Ralph Lauren pulled off perfectly a corny idea that he made into a sophisticated collection.
The concept was to give a mannish look a glaze of glamour by adding a thread of glitter to a tailored coat or a quirky touch to the classic tuxedo. There were subtle embellishments and even a little joke – the famous Polo Bear with a martini glass moved from ad land to become a sophisticated decoration.
The lushness of the fabrics and sensual, body-conscious shaping, brought a freshness to the very familiar concept that women look seductive with a sharp, masculine cut on a curving body. Add a black tie as soft embellishment, show the formal stiff bodice against bare skin and that cheeky, slightly timeworn, look seemed stylish and modern.
Other textural play came with feather trimmings, colourful velvet cuffs and even a faux fur decoration – fluffy like an Easter chic against black velvet. Otherwise, there were a few jewel-like explosions of colour from ruby red to diamond yellow. And also, actual jewels in the form of slim, swinging earrings.
But the audience was offered more than just the fashion collection. A live band, 1930s style, and the powerful voice and dancing antics of singer Janelle Monáe, turned the event into an experience. And that word became the leitmotif of the show as Cate Blanchett, in what looked like a tuxedo all-in-one, joined in the dancing.
With model sisters Bella and Gigi Hadid giving a sophisticated, modern edge to a familiar fashion story, the show had a streamlined and even witty glamour. There was none of the edgy sexuality of the iconic 1975 Helmut Newton image of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo jacket – one of the first fashion looks to challenge conventional gender stereotypes. Nor was there any reference to the often ugly and angry current play on gender appropriation. The Ralph Lauren show did not go much further than reflecting the glamorous aura of 1930s nightlife under the light of a chandelier.
But within the limits of the conventional concept, the show was exceedingly well done. And with all that is currently going on in our beleaguered world, it might be the best idea to face the music – and dance.
Ralph Lauren ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: courtesy of Ralph Lauren
Tory Burch channelling Diana – before she was a princess
Innocence was the story behind a show that touched a nerve. Tory Burch, known for fresh femininity in her designs, a dynamic business attitude and for her philanthropy, stepped where no one has dared to tread since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
But the decent dresses with floral patterns, the puff sleeves channelling the 1980s, the tidy raincoats or simple tie waists suggested subtly the early look of “Shy Di”. The garden of her ancestral home was echoed by the greenery planted in the central area of Brooklyn museum to make a quiet fashion statement – and a subtle comment about Diana. This was before the then future queen used the language of clothes to send distinct messages about her troubled life.
“I wanted to step lightly because Diana is clearly a style icon, but it was not that I was inspired by: it’s about her humanity, her fearlessness – and her legacies,” said Tory, whose belief in the power of women goes way beyond her fashion creations to cover her philanthropic work.
Tory described the silhouettes as “blouson shapes, with balloon sleeves, cinched waists and bold bows,” although she herself wore a more grown-up style of navy sweater over a light white skirt with a few tidy embroideries. That was in contrast to Natalia Vodianova opening the show in a flower-strewn white dress worn with something that Diana, the supposed future Queen of England, would never have worn: sneakers.
The Tory Burch empire has spread subtly with pretty table china and other home accessories added to the spread of fashion outfits.
Did the designer get away with Diana as her fashion influencer – especially with Meghan Markle currently getting a great deal of trivial news attention? Tory was respectful and original with her choice, and it would be hard to fault her gentle reference, far away from any current royal wardrobe.
Tory Burch ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak sees colour as a state of mind
So why would Sander Lak, creative director of the Sies Marjan brand, have chosen to show in the historic 1899 New York courthouse – a symbol of justice in the city?Was it a statement about fashion as wicked and evil? No! It was surely the warm-as-toast colour of the carved wood staircase that served as a runway!
Sander Lak is crazy for colour and has the ability to play with it like a painter daubing on a palette.
“The collection is a rejection of irony, bad taste, satire, reality TV and kitsch,” announced the designer. “It celebrates the beauty of having the time and freedom to create and consider your choices – the antithesis of rushing.”
The Sies Marjan coloration that dominated the show was about choice – not the subtle mix often seen from artists. The clean-cut coat in cherry red, with a candy-pink blouse was typical of the bold strokes – although pants and blouse with a matching belt with crocodile effects bucked the trend, bringing a scattering of painterly colours.
Mixing shades of blue, yellow, green and more – not to mention the lipsticks – was the only new story. But it was also a good one: a tale of strong colour on clean-cut clothes.
With the models balanced on the broad stairway for the finale, the colours looked enticing and appealing. Although it is hard to see where the designer will move forward from here – maybe he will opt for low-key clothes to offset the vivid colours.
Or as he put it: “I have a desire for the beauty of wealth and time, but never in excess,” the designer said. “Strolling over running. And quality over quantity.”
Sies Marjan ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Tommy Hilfiger’s Harlem serenade
It was joyful, funky, funny – a glorious mix of Harlem in its Jazz Age and Disco heyday and its current, cross-cultural vibe.
At the back of the restored Apollo Theatre, the birthplace of so much musical talent, was the recreation of a Harlem street corner, complete with a long, lean car with fins that snaked its way into the sandy square. Here the painted set depicted a row of brownstone houses that might have been built along with the theatre a century ago.
With another back-to-the-Seventies car parked on the set, appropriated by a team of joyous singers, the show was a blast even before the models of all shapes, sizes and skin tones danced their way past the audience, which included people from the neighbourhood. Such was the general enthusiasm that even hardened fashion folk tapped their dusty feet to the music.
Inside the theatre, where the stalls served as a backstage make-up room, Tommy Hilfiger explained that it had taken a year “to figure this whole thing out” with actress, activist and singer Zendaya, his culture guru and guest designer for this and last season.
“Zendaya wanted to do Seventies style and we were looking at all the different inspirations,” Tommy explained. “It’s my era, which was fantastic, so I said, ‘I love it! Let’s just do it!’ And she said, ‘We think about Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin, so we’re set: Let’s do the show at the Apollo!’“
The Hadid sisters, Bella and Gigi, added to the glamour as they sat front row, watching the vibrant parade of predominantly African-American models in boldly patterned outfits swagger by.
But what about ‘cultural appropriation’ – the two words that light a firestorm of criticism when other designers dare to burnish fashion concepts plucked from past or present identities?
Hilfiger is not new to black culture – he embraced it from his early fashion hip-hop days in the Eighties. In this show, with his mixing of tailored coats and jackets, often with larger-than-life checks or polka dots, he proved that the velvet underground of skinny trousers, mixed with giant sweater dresses or python-print suits – as worn by Zendaya herself – can be comfortably contemporary.
Whether or not the show was a cultural statement, the joyful rollicking was indisputably a lot of fun.
Tommy Hilfiger ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Carolina Herrera in “Super Bloom”
Wes Gordon had surrounded himself with flowers: rich, orange bouquets dotted about his work studio; and the same splash of sunshine in the new Carolina Herrera boutique as his concept store on Madison Avenue. The theme of dots and summer blooms for Spring/Summer 2020 was presented during New York Fashion Week in a transparent bubble of a tent in the garden of Battery Park downtown.
“I love this collection – I remember it as a day in June or July that was in super bloom,” he said. “It was happening all around California and I wanted to create a spring collection that felt a bit the same way – an eruption and explosion of colour and flowers. There are several iterations of that in the collection – the big, bold gestures or fabric done in cotton; the big roses. Here’s a shirtdress in beautiful cotton; there’s navy gabardine with a rose appliquéd; and if it’s linen, then there are white roses.”
The show itself started with white shirts worn with colourful floral skirts – the essence of the original Carolina Herrera look. No wonder that the founder designer, was beaming in the front row.
“I’m in heaven because I have someone perfect in Wes,” said the Venezuelan aristocrat, now 80, who retired last year after dressing a litany of First Ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Michelle Obama, and building a powerful fragrance empire with the Spanish beauty group, Puig.
What strengthened the freshness of the new show was Wes Gordon’s vision of dots and checks, where angular and circular shapes gave a sharp edge to the sweet flowers. There is often a feeling with these generational takeovers in fashion that a fresh designer still wants to have the approval of the mother client, as well as her daughter. And why not?
Instead of fighting the founder’s visual history, the young designer is aiming to follow it, but in a more youthful way. “I feel that is the spectrum of our house is the beautiful cotton shirt; that big, gorgeous, easy skirt; and then the polka dots – mixed with the fabulousness of Mrs Herrera’s Eighties glam,” he said.
The show was divided into definite categories, but the designs were shown sprinkled around as in a well-planned garden, rather than in blocks of colour or shape. A fine example was a blue dress smothered with tiny flowers, giving the effect of a starry night sky.
Wes Gordon explained his “youth pattern”: “The first thought every season is colour – that’s my number-one thing,” he said. “My mission for Herrera is just beautiful colours, and I know that’s a subjective thing to say, but to me it’s pigment-rich. They are clear colours; they’re not chalky, they’re not muddy; not dirty, sad, or serious. It’s a beautiful blue, a sunshine yellow, or a fabulous pink. It’s the colours of energy. So creating a palette is always the first thing that I do.“
He continued by defining the essence of the floral energy. “I was really just thinking of not just flowers, but flowers in the most exuberant sense,” he said. “That’s why the ‘Super Bloom’ was really interesting. It has a lot to do with global warming, but it actually happened because of the drought in California. All these wild flowers – from lilies to poppies – in an effort to sustain their species, overproduced seeds in the hope that 5% of them would make it. And because now our climate is like this, the next year in California there was crazy flooding and rain, so instead of just a few of those seeds flowering, 99% of them sprouted! So from this kind of desolate area, all of a sudden you had just an absolute eruption of powerful colour. Flowers and blooms and joy! That’s what we always think about in fittings. We want to feel joyful.”
Arid lands in California may seem a long way from New York’s chic Upper East Side. But there was indeed something joyous about the freshly planted designer and his fashion development at Herrera.
Carolina Herrera ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Tom Ford takes the subway
The moment I heard that Tom Ford’s show would be held in the dusty underground of an abandoned Manhattan subway, my memory went into overdrive.
There we fashion folk were, in Paris in the early Nineties, scuttling down the creepy and empty Saint Martin train station, lit only by a thousand candles flickering on the stairway. In those far-off days, when fashion shows were only for a privileged few – or in this case, dedicated enthusiasts – Martin Margiela’s ultra-original story was striking and decisive.
After the gaudy, garish, go-go outfits of the Eighties, there was the Belgian designer offering a different take on fashion. Instead of vast-shouldered, flashy looks, there were soft objects, wrapped over the body and made up like a patchwork from silk scarves and fabric remnants – all reconstructed from found pieces. If those clothes from the spring/summer 1992 collection were shown again today, they would seem extraordinarily relevant to current make-over attitudes – especially to the Millennial generation.
So it was with bated breath that I found the shabby door to Manhattan’s disused Bowery station and made my way down the iron steps to where a few subway guards in fluorescent outfits were standing on the abandoned rails.
Since I only received Tom Ford’s collection statement for spring/summer 2020 after the show, I did not know his fashion story as the first sporty tops with dynamically draped skirts came out under a deep purple light. The message was strong, athletic and sexy, with the upper and lower scale melded when a racing cap topped the liquid folds of a pleated dress. Bright orange or turquoise stood out against the designer’s much-loved black.
With hindsight of the Tom Ford words, my vision skewed into what he was thinking: a high-low mix that leaned – in spite of the subterranean venue – towards glamour.
His inspiration had been “the shot of Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick coming out of a manhole cover in New York City in 1965” (by photographer Burt Glinn).
“Manhole, underground, subway… That was the thought process here; so completely ‘New York’ – or is it?” the designer wondered, referring to other movie images with the metro as backdrop, including Isabelle Adjani and Christophe Lambert in Luc Besson’s Subway.
Then there were the hard-edged, shiny metal bras – as worn by Edie Sedgwick in silver in the Sixties and Ursula Andress in The Tenth Victim – and inspiration from the Yves Saint Laurent-Claude Lalanne breastplates for autumn/winter 1969. To this, add a reference to Jeff Koons’ polished steel bunny sculpture, “Rabbit”. Ford pointed out that that particular artwork recently sold at Sotheby’s for US$91 million.
The effect of all these references to the past was to have a sharply tailored, buttercup-yellow jacket worn with softer brown silk shorts, to which was added the so-called sophistication of high heeled shoes (in silver) – rather than sneakers. The female models had bras as accessories – even moulded across the breasts – while the male models had smart suits.
So it was fashion business as usual for the designer who, as well as being in the movie business, has taken on a third role this season as Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). That has led to a welcome compact calendar for the fashion crowd – even if the events are still held all over the city and beyond in Brooklyn.
Over all, the Tom Ford show had a strong, clear vision, with desirable clothes and sophisticated sexy mixes. But none of it reflected the global stirring of rage from the millennial and younger generations about the price – in many different senses – of fashion.
Tom Ford ready-to-wear spring/summer 2020. Image credit: GoRunway.com
Gabriela Hearst: New York’s first carbon neutral fashion show
With original colours taken from Nature’s geodes and exceptional handcraft worked on white fabrics, Gabriela Hearst offered a striking show – her most powerful yet.
It ended with cheers from the audience for the way she handled the macramé and merino knits – the genesis of her work, inspired by her Uruguayan family heritage – and her super-sophisticated mixes of leather and cashmere. It was also evident that she was thinking beyond herself as her only role model.
The general vision was long and lean, following her personal body shape and style. But there was an impressive attention to detail in each outfit, from a geode-buckled belt cinching a shapely trouser suit to a patchwork of different linens bringing together an apparently simple white dress.
Other supposedly simple pieces included artistically worked handbags and thong sandals, made from twisted rope, as a continuation of the macramé dresses. Add those geodes worked as jewels into the neckline and there was a feeling that the designer was stretching her imagination and leaping forward.
That is certainly true, since Gabriela Hearst stores are opening up across continents, the most recent in London’s Brook Street. It is near Claridge’s, following the designer’s concept of opening near smart hotels, with her bold Madison Avenue space in Manhattan beside the Carlisle.
Hearst, who founded her label just four years ago after working in design for eleven years, displayed fine examples of inventive fabrics and sophisticated decoration. Yet that was only the surface vision of the tentacles of imagination behind her work.
She claimed a fashion-industry first for spring/summer 2020 by working on every aspect of the show, from production to design and installation, to be carbon neutral – with an indicative price offset by her company.
As a final touch of charm – with a cause – the thoughtful designer’s takeaway was a small twill scarf printed with insects that have recently become extinct due to urbanisation and climate change.
I spoke to Gabriela Hearst about her determination to make her work good for women, and helpful for slowing down harm to the planet.
Suzy: “I just love your colours.”
Gabriela Hearst: “Yes, there’s quite a bit of brightness. But if I have to narrow down what the collection is about, I would say it’s about courage – daily courage and extraordinary courage. And we’ve used different examples of courage – historical, present day, mythological.
For mythological, we have Athena, who was the goddess of war and intellect, but also I learned she was the patron and protector of craftsmanship. This has been the most hand-crafted collection we have made, so it’s good that we invoke her.”
S: “Where did this idea to have such powerful women come from? Were you reading something about them?”
GH: “I am drawn to women who are warriors, or warriors in their own realm. Athena is their symbol, and then we have Josephine Baker. Josephine was a freedom fighter, she fought for the Resistance in the Second World War, and a lot of people have forgotten that or don’t know that she was the woman who spoke before Martin Luther King in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. So we have Josephine Baker in her Resistance uniform and her war medals. She was a war hero.”
S: “Which other strong women are on your mood board?”
GH: “We have Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the first entomologists, who moved from Germany to Holland in the Dutch Golden Age and was one of the first to actually paint and describe what metamorphosis was, because many people thought that insects just appeared. She had to paint them in watercolours because woman weren’t in the artist’s guild, so she couldn’t use oil. In 1699 she went to Suriname by herself, an unaccompanied woman, for two years to collect specimens. Can you imagine her in Suriname in her huge dresses, collecting insects? That takes a lot of courage.
And in the present day, symbols of courage are the Kurdish warriors. Their exact number is not known, but it is believed that thirty to forty per cent of the Kurdish military force is made up of women. They have their own female battalion, and they also have one that’s mixed. They are intrinsic to the battles with Isis in Northern Syria.”
S: “And how do you turn this into a collection without making things look very aggressive?”
GH: “With Merian, for example, we did a print of the most recently extinct insect species. We recruited an artist in Uruguay to do a hand illustration, just as she would have done it. So we did our own version of her work.”
S: “Sad to know they are extinct.”
GH: “We made scarves for all our guests and we are making a donation in the name of our guests for our children’s trust. So it’s not only about telling you the bad news; we also want to do something about it. I was showing Lauren Hutton the collection and she collects insects and said, “Oh my god, these guys used to be everywhere.” We also have some military-inspired pieces in the collection. Coloured scarves are very prominent in some war attire.”
S: “How do you offset your collection?”
GH: “We are working with a company called Eco Act to collect all the data of all our different processes, from appliances to food, how things are carried, everything that goes towards one of our events. Then we see how much of a carbon footprint was used. Then, when we get the final number, it is offset. There are different ways you can offset your carbon footprint, but we chose a not-for-profit in Kenya that provides communities with more efficient stoves. This affects women and children, because the stoves that they use make so much smoke it’s like smoking two packets of cigarettes a day, and it’s usually women and children around the stove. So that’s how we offset. It has to be with not-for-profit or endeavours that are certified by the Gold Standard, which is the number-one certification for offsetting carbon footprints. So that’s how we have a carbon-neutral show.”
S: “How do ordinary people actually know about this?”
GH: “For us it’s more of an internal exercise. It’s not about this show, it’s about how we continue. This is a first step, but we have to do it for every show. We cannot lower our carbon footprint if we don’t know what it is. So we started with this event, where we get a lot of attention, but the idea is to do it for every other show that we do and then we will start doing it in different parts of our company.”
S: “It’s very good.”
GH: “We have to find ways of doing what we love, and I’m always trying to find a way to move forward. It’s like, how can you make beautiful things without waste? It’s like ‘cooking with leftovers’.”
S: “Is reducing waste one of the major things you care about, along with the carbon footprint?”
GH: “I think my major goal right now is to solve how to stop using virgin materials. How can we take the least possible natural resources from this planet? I think we have taken so many, and we consume in a way that would fill an endless bottomless pit. We need to go back to thinking like we did after the Second World War. We really need to start consuming with awareness.”
S: “With all the travelling you do and your own rather interesting journey, do you find very different attitudes in different countries? I mean, a lot of people in European fashion are working very hard [for the environment] and you are one of the people starting it in America, but if you go to South American countries, have people been taught to think about it or not?”
GH: “The problem is, it’s a socio-economic issue, because if you are in a country where the number one priority is not the environment…”
S: “Yes, the priority is keeping alive and having enough food and looking after your family.”
GH: “Look what just happened with Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas; last year it was Puerto Rico; and I saw it with my own eyes when I was in Africa. Climate change is affecting first the people who have the least. We are in these false security nets in urban areas like London and New York, but it’s real and it’s happening now. It will affect us all. So I think that those of us who have the privilege of not fighting for our lives right now, who know that our children are secure and that we have enough food on our table, and a roof over our head, then we have the duty to do something. And I take that very personally. I’m privileged and I have to do something. My daughter is eleven and tells me, “Mum, I‘m eleven years old, and I can’t do anything.” So they know that I try my frigging best!”
S: “All these things are complex and it’s not a criticism, but a lot of people, particularly young people, say that the whole business of using animal skins is a disgrace in the year 2019, and that it ought to be stopped. You are in a situation where you continue to make these very beautiful bags, and have a background of living with animals. How do you treat that situation? Do you say, I look after a lot of other things but this is part of my heritage, part of my life? And I want to continue doing it but in the best way possible?”
GH: “First of all, if there was an alternative to leather right now that was biodegradable and could be used in production, then I would be using it right now. I’ve looked at lab-grown mushroom leather, but it’s still in research and development. I think there will be an opportunity to do this in a few years but it’s not ready right now. From the meat eating, ranching background that I have, this is what my family has done for seven generations. We are organic and grass fed. The reality is we cannot feed protein to the whole world. But industrial farming is very difficult. We also do need protein in our diets, so it’s about the scale of things. And I can tell you this as a matter of fact: when an animal is killed, 99% of the animal is used. Nothing goes to waste. It’s even used for medical instruments. In our case, because we are organic and grass-fed, we do not separate mothers from their calves. We care for these animals and they have the same bloodlines that my family has! We have been breeding these animals for a long time. I could find an alternative to leather but with vegan leather the issue for me is that it’s petroleum based. It’s a super-toxic, non-biodegradable material. In 2050 there’s going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish. So for me, the number one thing is biodegradability.”
S: “I agree with you.”
GH: “I am extremely open to a new alternative to leather, I just haven’t found it.”
S: “I’ve heard this from a lot of people.”
GH: “We use no chrome. We instruct our clients to understand that “This is a veg-tanned boot, it will have discolouration because it is naturally dyed, but you are not toxifying the planet.” We have to do our re-education but it’s all about quantity and dimension. We shouldn’t be eating meat ten times a week. That’s not good for your health. It’s not about rationing. PETA once sent me a lot of materials, but they were polyester.”
S: “It’s very complex.”
GH: “Yes, but we have to start somewhere. In America there are a lot of companies that have 20,000 employees. If you tell your employees to just do one thing – no more plastic bottles, just have filtered water, get everybody a reusable bottle – then just do that. It’s enough. We all have to do our part and sometimes I think people are scared because it’s messy; because you have to go back to the drawing board. It’s also important to check the science. I’ve been really committed to this for several years, since we launched. I was talking to our director of environment and telling her we are doing biodegradable packaging, which took us a year and a half. We use a lot of linen – most of the collection is linen versus cotton, because it absorbs less water and the fibre of the linen can be eaten, so there’s more purpose to linen than cotton per se. And for all our different initiatives, she looked at me and said, “Yes, but if you are shipping everything by plane you may as well do non-organic T-shirts in China and ship them by boat.” So, back to the drawing board. Now we are starting to scale down our virgin materials usage so we can save those eight to twelve weeks from the mill so we can ship by boat. Each season and each year I need to augment our percentage of product that’s shipped by boat.”
S: “That’s extraordinary, you are very thoughtful. If you solve one problem, you then have another one.”
GH: “Yes, but you can’t give up! If you fall down, it’s about how many times you stand up again. I tell people how my parents would say, consume knowing if you want to have that thing for the rest of your life. Use that shampoo all the way to the end, be conscious.”
S: “How are we going to understand a lot of the things that you’ve done for this collection?”
GH: “The show is in Soho; we purposely chose a location that is easy to access because that is important for the carbon footprint. Everybody will get a handkerchief with the extinct insect print, and by explaining what it is and what we are doing about it, I think that you will see beauty first and then see the design, and see that we can create from a mindful perspective. At the end of the day it has to attract you through the eyes. All the good intentions don’t matter otherwise. I am very aware that our clients are buying first of all because of desire, but this other aspect is going to matter more and more.”
S: “When it comes to the handbags, they are coming out from the shadows into the open air. Do the accessories make you feel excited?”
GH: “Yes, because we waited a long time. We had our own shops to do, which takes time. It was a theory; we didn’t even know if this was going to be a reality and we are super-pleased. In the New York store we sell 65% ready-to-wear and the rest is bags. We are a brand for the physical world. We are not as photogenic, let’s put it that way. For us it’s all about the texture, the materials, and the construction, and a lot of that you cannot see in a photo.”
S: “Are there more stores planned?”
GH: “Hong Kong is planned for next year. Also Norman Foster signed up, and this is a very interesting story because my husband knew him and we emailed him asking him if he could refer us to a young architect in London who had a sustainable perspective and was passionate, and he was like, why not me?! To have such a prestigious architect do our little 1,000 square-feet store was like… The senior partner in the project told me the other day, “I cannot wait to go back to skyscrapers.” Because they are not used to the timelines that we have. They spend years on a project. And this was done in three months.”
S: “Good for you is what I say. Anything else?”
GH: No. “We have ideas of where next, but we are not sure yet. But I don’t see this as a brand that will have more than seven stores worldwide. For me, each store is like my home and has to be in a place where I want to grow, so there can’t be that many homes. Say we have a client who shops in Harrods. We’ve noticed that she also shops online and on Madison Avenue, so we don’t need too many stores.”
S: “One last question, then I’ll leave you in peace. The award that you won for knitwear, the Woolmark. Was that useful to you?”
GH: “Yes, it was extremely useful for me. That international exposure to new retail clients that we didn’t have before… It was a challenging thing, it took us a whole year to do it because you have to win here and then win internationally, but for sure it was something that pushed the brand to the next level.”
S: “Do you feel that you are a fashion warrior too? Fighting for what you want?”
GH: “Because my team and I do this together, we have a platform and because creative people tend to be very aware and sensitive, I think I’m very connected to what’s going on. We have these platforms and we have to use them for good rather than just benefitting ourselves. I think there has to be another purpose than just us.”
S: “I ask because it’s not exactly aggressive but your mood board is very strong on women; I don’t see any strong men there or maybe they are hidden.”
GH: “No, they’re not there! I think that if women have to go to war, they go to war. And being the sensitive beings that we are, I think it’s how we are made. Imagine the courage of being a spy. Josephine Baker’s assistant was a spy and they were travelling from Germany with blueprints in their scarves. That’s some chutzpah. I’m not in these situations of risk or danger. So I draw so much strength from it. From looking at people that have that courage. There’s this line that I like a lot, which people say: “It’s not our darkness that we fear, it’s our light.” I think that people fear being the best of themselves and I think that that’s the part that we need to find: our humanity.”
S: “You are very inspiring to talk to.”
GH: “Thank you Suzy! You inspire me.”
S: “Sometimes I speak to designers who talk about what percentage they should sell online and so on, and I think, “I don’t want to hear this; I want you to tell me, ‘I’m a designer and I believe what I’ve done is completely different from anything I’ve ever seen.’ I’m crazy about colour; I love texture more than anything else. I want that energy. I’m very pleased when people tell me about growing their businesses, but if you don’t do it with passion, how will you get anywhere?”
GH: “I went on a retreat in August. It was my only holiday. The Hoffman project – no phones, a lot of psychological introspective work, and you’re not allowed to say what you do. People don’t talk about what they do and you only go by your nickname or your first name. Nobody knew what other people do, and we were forty strangers. People said, ‘You work in fashion, right?’ I do not look like a neurosurgeon! I know I love what I do. People have asked me what would you do if you were not doing this, but I love this. It’s so complete in all its forms. For me it’s a completely fulfilling profession, but we have to figure out a way of doing it without being harmful.”
S: “Do you ever talk to upcoming designers? What’s the impression you get?”
GH: “I think internationally there’s more awareness. I met a young guy from Lebanon, maybe 23 years old, a designer from the Arabian Trust where I was supposed to be a mentor, and he’s doing all this craftsmanship and I was like, ‘I’m supposed to be mentoring you? I think it’s going to be the other way around for the next hour and a half!’ There are really bright people out there. Here in America sometimes things get clouded.”
S: “I’m not criticising, I’m just saying that if I could talk to somebody who knows and writes about fashion I would want to impress about them why my work is different and why I’m so passionate about it. Not to learn that if you do sweaters that sell beyond $270 retail that you have fewer customers, blah, blah, blah.”
GH: “I think there’s two things. One, this whole celebrity thing; people forget that we are basically glorified seamstresses, we are providing a service. That’s why I like to be next to hotels, so everybody remembers. This is high service, what we are doing. We are like a chef who comes out of the private kitchen to work in restaurants and then he’s a celebrity, but he’s still a chef, a cook. I am still a seamstress. There’s a service to what we do. So that’s number one. And then there’s this other perspective, which is West versus East. In the West there’s always been this idea of the identification of the individual. So you have Rembrandt, Salvador Dali, Picasso. For all the artists it was about the cult of personality. But in the East it’s all about the craftsmanship. The artist is still there but it is about collective creativity. I’m from the belief system that you don’t own creativity. Creativity passes through you. I have no idea where my ideas comes from. A trench coat made by hand? I don’t know where that came from. I don’t take ownership of it. It just came. But then I have my crazy team who think this is a good idea too and we make it together because this is collective work. The weeks somebody spent knotting this. Nobody is going to notice this is hand-knotted. It’s ridiculous! That’s what is inspiring, the collective work, somebody doing the pin-tucks on chiffon. All these leather trims that have been hand-knotted. The blanket stitch. Everything is here because it has something to be. Nothing is here because it is.”
S: “It’s very inspiring talking to you.”
GH: “Thank you Suzy, it makes me feel good, not crazy!”
S: “It’s good to be crazy.”
GH: “Look at the macramé geodes. This is the most artisanal, and it’s hard when you do an artisanal collection because you want to make sure it’s refined as well. This will be on cashmere gauze. In Italy they were very passionate when the women were doing this knotting.”
S: “Exceptional. How beautiful.”
GH: “Even these dresses, they look like simple crinkle dresses but they have all the blanket stitching, the ruching, smocking. One more before you go. This is a most grandiose structure but it’s in a very humble fabric.”
S: “It’s a rose!!”
GH: “Yes, and it’s in linen. Now I let you go!”
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