Mar 4, 2019
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A stitch in time: Fashion's new stars want to save the world

Mar 4, 2019

A new generation of rising fashion stars alarmed by the plight of the planet are designing in a radically different way to their elders.

Some of the most interesting shows of Paris fashion week -- once notorious for its decadence and waste -- have come from millennials and Generation Z creators rejecting the over-consumption they were brought up with.

Marine Serre - Fall-Winter2019 - Womenswear - Paris - © PixelFormula

Marine Serre, whose last catwalk show featured evening dresses made from old bedspreads, warned this time of "the war on the climate destroying civilisation as we know it" with a collection created from upcycled and repurposed materials.

The 27-year-old's brand is one of the fastest growing in France, with her sporty but fiercely feminine clothes and accessories snapped up as soon as they are made.

Sales have rocketed five-fold in a year.

For Serre, who won the top LVMH prize in 2017, there is no choice but to change. "It is an enormous challenge to develop sustainably.

"But the apocalypse can be positive if we use it to stimulate creation, using shells" or things that are already there "and cost nothing", she told AFP.

- Glamorous futurist -

Berlin-based Ottolinger share a similar ethos and aesthetic.

They recut existing clothes or surplus stock for their glamorous futurist evening and streetwear.

"There is so much overproduction and consumption, we cannot justify it any longer," said Cosima Gadient backstage after the duo's Paris show was cheered by critics.

"There is so much out there already in fashion, so much has already been done," said her partner Christa Bosch.

"To do something new we would take a garment apart and recut it, or put it back together in our way," she Bosch, who met Gadient in fashion school in Switzerland.

"We have been doing this since we were kids. You maybe have a favourite T-shirt or jacket and it is not working anymore, so you take it apart and you try to make something new."

- Mix of tech -

"You might discover amazing things, the lining and stitching that can give you ideas -- you can do so many things," she told AFP.

"You already have character, the ghost of the garment, and it can be built up into something rich."

Fellow Swiss designer Eliane Heutsch is following a similar line using tech and highly researched couture and revived ancestral techniques to reimagine existing clothing for her Savoar Fer label.

Established brands too are rejecting the throwaway clothes culture. Stella McCartney has built her fashion empire on ethical thinking and increasing use of recycled fabrics.

But fellow British designer Vivienne Westwood wants to go further, urging people to stop buying conventionally produced clothes altogether to shock both consumers and the industry into change.

Her Austrian-born husband Andreas Krontaller, who now designs their Paris shows, thinks fashion needs a reality check.

- 'Use up what we've got' -

"I like making enormous collections but I don't think it fits our times. We don't need all this stuff.

"I think twice now about buying another navy sweater and I think twice too about making things. I only make a piece if I really like it or it is going to be very interesting or new," he told AFP.

"What is truly sustainable is to repurpose what already exists, materials that are lying dormant or by-products that would normally be thrown away," he said.

Kronthaler said he mostly works from surplus high-quality fabrics gathering dust in the vast warehouses that supply the industry.

"Recycled materials will soon be our normal but I am for using up what we have got first," he said.

Putting the planet first is a given for this new generation of designers showing in Paris.

For that to happen consumers and creators need to rekindle their emotional connection with clothes, said Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, the Swedish couple behind CMMN SWDN, which in the running for this year's International Woolmark Prize.

That means learning to find "beauty and charm" in the worn and torn, the couple told AFP.

"Since we don't make with our hands anymore, clothes have lost their value and are easily replaced," Hedlund said.

"But we all have a favourite jacket, or a T-shirt or pair of jeans that we wish we could wear forever.

"We should take it a bit slower and consider what we are wearing and take care of your garments," she said. "Wear it, tear it and mend it and rewear it again."

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