By Revekah Echols

Can fashion decrease its carbon footprint?

This spring, you can find the usual cast of characters: the clean, relaxed Hamptons prep in stripes and cable knit; the polished, nautical Amalfian in pressed suiting and flashes of jewel tones; and the Steinbeckian pastoral desperado in tiny dusty florals and gauzy, tiered skirts. But this spring, we find a new aesthetic visitor in the landscape. She is wearing neon ballgowns, cropped leather vests and exaggerated disco collars. She is not shy and insists that you not be either.

At the spring shows last September, whether it was tangerine orange secretary dresses with white floral applique at Marc Jacobs, pleated empire-waist ballgowns in grass green at Valentino or the bold tropical print hat, rain jacket and skirt set at Fendi, it was clear that fashion desired to undergo an image change of its own. Maybe it is because fashion’s traditional zeitgeist of luxury and excess increasingly clashes with the growing social pressure to “reuse and recycle.” Maybe with the world becoming smaller and smaller, there is a growing desire to become more accessible and connected with the world around. And lastly, maybe fashion has just become a little tired of taking itself so seriously.

No matter what we posit, the collections toned down the over-the-topness in both silhouette and attitude, adding injections of colors and interesting construction cues, which resulted in some of the very best that the designers have ever produced. Sarah Burton lightened her tone with hand-cut organza dresses and hand-milled linen damask jackets in her collection for Alexander McQueen. Two dresses were completely hand-embroidered by the entire McQueen staff, inspired by a desire to reconnect people through conversation and shared purpose.

American designer Gabriela Hearst had a first-ever “carbon neutral” show by offsetting the power usage in production with moderating other factors (for instance, the models’ hair was done without electricity). Even Louis Vuitton, as the most recognizable luxury label in the world, toned down its show production, using pine stadium seating, which it committed to repurposing after the show.

Whether designers sought to make these changes under the banner of climate change or aiming to simplify for the sake of fiscal responsibility, there was a clear message to the public that fashion accepted the challenge to balance luxury with responsibility.

Of course, the contradiction here is that a $4,000 lace paneled, bias-cut dress is completely out of reach for over 99% of the world’s population, so the do-gooder intentions may benefit a village in Ireland or Ethiopia, but fashion houses still stand to charge enormous amounts of money on things that no one needs. In addition, if we really aren’t going to make it past 2030 without seriously curbing carbon emissions, wouldn’t it seem unconscionable to fly from continent to continent, just to watch the debut of collections of clothing six months before they roll out into stores that serve this fraction of 1%? Does a hand-screened exotic bird print on shibori silk really signal an eco-consciousness, or is it just a hoax?

This illustrates the slippery slope that one is subject to once a step is taken out of the ivory tower. There used to be a certain insulated nature that fashion enjoyed, which has exempted it from “real world” problems (possibly because of its emotive, nonutilitarian nature, or possibly because of its audience). With fashion designers now desiring for their own images to be construed in socially conscious ways, they expose themselves to an even greater level of scrutiny, which some would say can never satiate the appetite of the public.

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