Real Sustainable Answers. Chloé Pre-Fall 2022

It’s nearly a year since Gabriela Hearst took Chloé under her wings, and it’s quite unbelievable how many sustainability goals the designer has already achieved. And those aren’t just words – numbers and statistics don’t lie. “To give you the exact facts, 70% of the product offer since I came in became lower impact. Compared to my first collection, (what) we did is up 40%”, she summed up. Women who are living under a cloud of post-COP26 anxiety might take some cheer from how openly Hearst is tackling the environmental and social problems inflicted by the workings of the fashion industry. The way she speaks of it, implementing the changes that lie within her power is as much her purpose as the mission to dress women in Chloé clothes. “Empathy, collaboration, lower impact – the right values need to come to the forefront. Collectively we at Chloé are working toward weaving that into the DNA of the company.” The clarity of style she’s brought to the house has become completely visible four seasons in. It’s streamlined and slick, a grown-up boho look infused with classic Chloé-isms and her own handcrafted, macraméd, whipstitched energy. She’s carefully corralled all the legacies that women designers have imprinted on the brand for decades: the reputation for a boot-cut, ’70s-ish pantsuit that Stella McCartney laid down; the balloon-y broderie anglaise sleeves that Phoebe Philo played with; and Chloé founder Gaby Aghion’s scalloped edges and taste for pinkish orange, the color of the Egyptian desert of her childhood. Meanwhile Chloé’s horsey heritage is a natural for Hearst, who brings her own Uruguayan ranch upbringing to her feeling for caped coats, French-style riding boots, and the thick leather girth strap she’s turned into a belt. “I love this buckle that I found in the archive from Hannah MacGibbon’s time,” she said. “We oversized it.” It all looks a lot like Hearst herself: tall, strong silhouettes; a practical modern vigor; a touch of the hippie sophisticate. Yet the main imprint she’s stamping on Chloé is in becoming one of the very few luxury fashion creative directors who are making it impossible to detach the conversation about pretty clothes from talking about what’s in them and how they are made. Moving rapidly along the vectors of transparent reporting, partnerships with women’s employment projects, environmental certifications, Chloé’s freshly acquired B Corp status, and new membership in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (which champions circularity) – and shining a light onto the multitude of fashion’s hidden processes – is a business that continually brings up more questions.

Hearst is happy to point to several achievements in this collection. Botanical dyes are part of it—like the shade of Gaby Aghion pinkish orange in the merino wool skirt-and-sweater set. There’s also biodegradable denim, which Hearst cut into a pair of high-waist flares and a matching jacket. “This is the third season we’ve been working with Adriano Goldschmied [the legendary denim expert] on this project to resolve circular denim, following the Jeans Redesign Guidelines published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,” she said. The production of the new Chloé jeans eliminates rivets, which never break down, and the fabric is a mix of 70% recycled cotton and 30% hemp, “which is grown in France. Hemp and linen cultivation emit less greenhouse gases and require less water compared to cotton,” she noted. But to vegan and vegetarian customers – and anyone who’s read recent reports about fashion’s links with cattle farming and deforestation in Brazil – the noticeable amount of leather in the collection will raise eyebrows. “From the point of view of sustainability, I have a very specific position about leather,” argues Hearst. “Leather is biowaste of the meat industry. I am very against industrialization of meat – I’m really against the way livestock is being industrialized. I don’t think we can afford eating a high-meat-protein diet, and definitely don’t recommend it.” But while she accepts that moving toward plant-based diets “is better for the environment,” from her perspective, “the truth is nobody’s killing the animal for the leather. The price of leather is going down and people are wasting it.” That in itself creates an environmental disposal situation. “What are we going to do with the leather, other than just use it?

The Chloé press release states how the sourcing of the Chloé leathers is certified by the Leather Working Group, which is “an international organization made up of stakeholders across the leather supply chain, working to promote environmental best practice within leather manufacturing and related industries.” The organization looks into the operations of tanneries, “meaning that the leather process is done properly, meaning not wasting water and not using harsh chemicals,” as Hearst puts it. Around 75% of the leather handbag offering is sourced from Leather Working Group–certified tanneries. Nevertheless, there is always further to look into. A report in The Guardian on November 29 spotlighted research by Stand.earth, a supply-chain research company partnered by the Slow Factory and Model Activist, showing that the Leather Working Group’s remit stops at capturing what happens in tanneries and slaughterhouses. Its visibility doesn’t reach back to what happens at the farm level, and therefore “does not ascertain whether hides are linked to deforestation.” Under normal practice, hides come into tanneries from multiple sources and are often mixed up, meaning that fashion brands – across luxury and mass manufacturing alike – are “at risk” of unknowingly buying into the destruction of the Amazon rain forest with the finished product. “As many Amazon leaders have warned,” the Slow Factory writes on its Instagram page, “this is a human rights/climate/biodiversity/public health crisis with consequences for the entire world.” That’s a much vaster issue than Chloé. It spreads across the entire industry and puts question marks over every leather bag, shoe, and coat we buy (it’s also an issue in the auto industry, which is the second-largest user of leather after fashion.) Only diligent and widespread normalization of tracing and labeling, and the development of sounder alternatives, can solve this. Knowing Gabriela Hearst, she’ll be among the first to step up to working on finding those answers.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Near The Seine, Close To Nature. Chloé SS22

In her second season at Chloé, Gabriela Hearst convinces the Paris crowd that her take on the maison is truly worth observing and buying into. The show’s guests sat by the Seine, watching the inclusive model casting walk along the Quai de la Tournelle in brilliant sunshine. An accidental audience of Parisian passersbies and a packed riverboat made the IRL event feel even more… real. Somehow, this all felt like a very Gabriela Hearst moment, because the practice of sharing and openness is her all over. “As cheesy as it sounds, this collection is about love,” she said in a preview. “It’s really about the love of so many things: the love of craft, the love of friendship, the love of fellow humans. I literally have to memorize the many different NGOs, because I am working with so many this season.” You get the free-flowing, unforced boho spirit of what Hearst is doing with Chloé from the 31 pictures of the show. What with its summer-holiday caftans, ponchos, lacy dresses, and smattering of boyish pantsuits, the collection is fully in the tradition of the free-spirited Chloé girl brand identity that has been passed down from hand to hand by a succession of women designers, from Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo onward. What’s very different with Hearst is, first of all, the reduced number of looks in the shows: down to 31 from sometimes more than 50. And second, the meticulous and quite formidable way she’s bringing in changes in sourcing, the supply chain, traceability, and environmental and social responsibility to a major Paris fashion brand.

All the information is documented in a Chloé press release and on its website: progress toward what all fashion houses ought to look like internally in this age of climate emergency. At points – when you consider how many women’s organizations and communities Chloé is benefiting through buying strategies around the world – it almost begins to seem possible that this work could even be marking a shift in the entire purpose of a luxury brand’s existence. One step in that direction is that the most exclusive level of Chloé luxury is now being launched as Chloé Craft – a group of products with a spiral logo, denoting, as Hearst puts it, “that only a human hand can make those pieces.” In the spring collection, those hand skills were evidenced in pieces like the petal-pattern crocheted dress and the intricately knotted streamer-harnesses made of strips of leftover fabric from seasons before – techniques created by Akanjo, a social enterprise organization in Madagascar. The chunky seashell and macramé necklaces, as well as baskets that come labeled with the name of the person who wove them, also bear the spiral branding. Shifting the needle toward causing less environmental harm primarily comes in Hearst’s creditable insistence on fabric switching. For example, there’s more linen and less cotton involved in this collection. It’s used to chic effect in the cream pieces, including a generous, Hearst-signature trench coat with a cool heft and whipstitched leather edging. And, more surprisingly, in a great indigo blue pantsuit that at first sight seemed to be denim, but was in fact a beautifully soft, supple linen. Underfoot, as well as the eco-friendly Nama trainers launched this year, a new and delightfully multicolored deep-soled Chloé flip-flop was treading the Parisian riverside quai. In fact, all the pretty pastel layers pressed into the soles were once other flip-flops. “They’re from Ocean Sole, which I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time!” Hearst declared. “It’s a Kenyan nonprofit that collects flip-flops from the ocean.” All the applause from the people of Paris, boat-trippers and fashion audience alike, was well deserved for the progress she’s pushing through.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Fichu Pour Fichu. Marine Serre SS22

For the spring-summer 2022 collection entitled Fichu pour Fichu (“We are doomed”), Marine Serre pushes further her eco-conscious approach to fashion. Inspired by the ongoing state of flux the world is experiencing, the line-up focuses on reconnecting with others and our surroundings, and leading a life without the feeling of loneliness that comes with isolation. Accompanying the sustainable pieces, this season Serre delved even deeper into the power of film with Ostal24, a 13-minute short that transports us through interior and exterior worlds that could be situated somewhere in the past, present, or future. The title Ostal24, which means “house” in Occitan – a historical language spoken in Serre’s native region – grew from her belief that through sincere engagement with our primal instincts, we can create a sense of home wherever life takes us. “The most important thing for me is what people feel when they see Ostal24 rather than what they think,” Serre says. “I want people to feel the beauty and the simplicity of being together and finding joy in cooking, eating, dancing, yoga. And at the same time recognize that everyday we make choices that have an impact, so how can we be more responsible in the decisions we make? Fashion is about more than draping fabric and making a profit, it can be a place where we are free to take meaningful action.” And yes – those looks are made of upcycled towels and discloth!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Wild Flower. Gabriela hearst SS22

While Gabriela Hearst‘s organically beautiful vision at Chloé gradually starts to thrive in Paris, back home in New York, she does what she does best. In the crowd at spring-summer 2022 show were Naiomi Glasses and TahNibaa Naataanii. Members of the Navajo Nation, they collaborated with Hearst on the woven swatches that were inset into the bodice of a sleeveless dress and the shoulders of a trench. Glasses organized the arrangement (she’s a graduate of the Creative Futures Collective, which is dedicated to empowering creatives from disenfranchised communities), and Naataanii, who is a sheepherder and a weaver, did the hand work, with the help of her mother and daughter. At a preview, Hearst said, “I like to make sure that what we do is good for more people than just us.” Her press notes put it this way: “Being able to create beautiful pieces that are desirable and at the same time that empower others is probably one of the most satisfying personal experiences.” She also worked with Manos del Uruguay and a Bolivian collective, Madres & Artesanas Tex. The former are responsible for a couple of gorgeous chunky runas, and the latter for pieces in a finer gauge multicolor crochet based on a swirling, abstract painting Hearst made with her children. The non-profits are her regular collaborators, but she also talked about helping a close friend through a mental health crisis, and incorporating the art her friend made during her crisis into the spring collection. The flower print pieces that are the result of that process didn’t make it into the show, but in the studio they looked bright and lively. On the runway, Hearst’s verve is sometimes smoothed out in favor of concision and clarity, a certain fashionable decorum. But those who know Hearst, or even just follow her Instagram, are familiar with her irreverence, her inner wild child. She makes a dignified suit, but she’s also a woman who loves dip-dye.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Sustainable Thinking. Chloé Resort 2022

Gabriela Hearst delves deeper into the sustainable achievements of her Chloé residency, and it looks beautiful. Although I was not in love with Gabriela Hearst’s debut collection for Chloé, her next steps at the Parisian maison are promising. First, the direction of the brand’s Instagram, which is all about Zoë Ghertner’s raw, yet sensual photos of nature and female bodies – no aggressive product placement, no logo rebrandings, just idyllic visuals featuring poetic musings in the captions. Second, the resort 2022, which is a far better image of what Hearst vision for the brand really is. “We’re here on a mission,” she told Vogue, listing the impressive measures the house is taking to make its collections sustainable. If you came for the romantic mood boards and the classic tales of trips to the archive, this wasn’t it. “I haven’t gone to the archive,” Hearst said. “I feel like I’ve loved Chloé for so long and I have this idea of what it looks like. It’s not that I don’t respect what’s been done in its history, but I want the representation of what Chloé means to me to come out first.” Instead, the collection was an accelerated exercise in what we might discover to be our post-pandemic fashion mindset: What you wear is only as good as its social and environmental footprint. “We can’t deny what we went through on a global scale. Things are going to be different,” she said, referring to a cataclysmic year that shifted our understanding of environmental impact and made companies like Chloé – already on a sustainable path before her arrival – look to eco-conscious figureheads like Hearst. “Each collection is an opportunity to do it better,” she said. “I already did the least sustainable thing you can do, which is to have three kids.” In spirit, her proposal was geared toward those kids: the next-generation mentality Hearst says can’t come quickly enough. “We need to move out of the way and let them take over. They’re wired in a different way. They have a different perception.” In design, the collection’s Chloé-revering bohemian pragmatism reached out to generations somewhat older. Puritan-ish dresses were constructed in circular deadstock denim – with no metal, laser treatment instead of water, and recycled wood buttons – scalloped leather, and deadstock broderie anglaise. Linen trench coats trimmed with embroidered white edges demonstrated how Hearst might see a classic wardrobe staple through the instinctive Chloé lens she talks about. Blanket coats and fringed hand-spun dresses riffed on the hippie-esque references we historically relate to an eco-friendly wardrobe – not one for a cliché, Hearst likened them to techno dance parties. “Rave against the machine,” she punned, showing off a matching multi-color debut Chloé sneaker defined by its great, big stitches, every component created from recycled material. “I’m really attracted to product that feels handmade. I want to feel like a human worked on it.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.