Fashion Week fails at environmentalism

Issey Miyake was a highlight of the show, but Dior’s environmental efforts fell flat. Courtesy of Vogue Magazine via Instagram

Paris Fashion Week, in an apparent attempt to shed its stuck-up, exclusionary reputation, is extending its accessibility through Virtual Reality (VR) technology and the power of social media. Continuously evolving in today’s world of high-tech, smartphones are now able to “sit in” at runway shows, working like a pair of eyes wandering 360 degrees across the venue. Furthermore, keeping up with “Vogue First Look” on Instagram allows me, a college student eating scrambled eggs with ketchup in the Deece, to get first peeks of designer collections before they even hit the runway. As technology expands the audience base of the fashion lexicon, I can now see the industry attempting to incorporate contemporary issues, such as sustainability and functionality, into their designs.

The most recent Fashion Week during October featured experimental clothing, materials and sets. Japanese designer brand Issey Miyake abandoned the four-inch heels and resting-bitch faces, opting instead to celebrate the joy of moving in their clothes—all while demonstrating the fluidity of their textiles. To paint a picture, the runway had no formal “way” to it; models paced to the rhythm of music in groups, some swiftly dashing on skateboards, others gracefully levitating on their tiptoes. All movements were possible and comfortable in Miyake’s versatile designs.

The climax of the show commenced as dresses were pulleyed down from the ceiling, and, in one swift motion, slipped onto the bodies of the models anticipating them. The show continued with the models bouncing to the music in their brand new dresses. The audiences irresistibly tapped their toes to the catchy beats while being caught in awe with the “signature Miyake springiness” (“SPRING 2020 READY-TO-WEAR Issey Miyake,” Vogue, 10.12.2019). Miyake’s designs seek freedom of movement in their outfits, and the variety of bright colors boosted the show’s energy and lit up the venue. The arrangement was original but not chaotic, empowering but not daunting. I think Issey Miyake’s showcase in Paris was the epitome of conveying comfort, enjoyability and practicality through clothing.

While many designs in this season’s Fashion Week were absolutely genius, there were also admittedly a few that had questionable intentions.

Paris also tackled the issue of sustainability. The fashion industry is a major polluter, yet brands like Dior and Stella McCartney used the runways to express their dedication to the sustainability movement. The day after Greta Thunberg’s appearance in the UN Climate Action Summit, Dior’s runway show explicitly demanded attention to climate change through their installation of 164 trees (which would be replanted to the suburbs in France) and a promise to recycle all of their runway props. Dior’s designs centered around “gardening chic,” featuring flowers woven on linen, straw sandals and “accessories [that] followed a ‘gardening tools, but make it fashion’ aesthetic” (Independent, “Dior to replant 164 trees used in Paris fashion week show,” 09.25.2019). However, how much of that leafy, green runway is actually for activism instead of a perfectly timed PR strategy?

Dior’s shows have been a nod to nature, one ultimately rooted in a 10-minute fantasy which does almost nothing to help the environment. Fashion critic Angelo Flaccavento argued that “Sustainability, whatever that actually means, should be about taking action, not sending press releases. And yet, in today’s mediated world, the announcement is already the accomplishment” (Business of Fashion, “The Verdict on Paris Fashion Week,” 2019). While the interior of the theater was all flora and fauna, outside, gas-guzzling cars were lined up and guests were given plastic ponchos to stay dry in the unanticipated Parisian rain. And to top it all off, Dior never publicly announced the sources and production of their materials—so what does having a botanical wardrobe have to do with sustainability anyways?

On a surface level, it’s understandable why Dior’s timely call for sustainability garnered attention and applause from runway-goers and the media alike. As climate activism gains traction, and Europe (particularly Paris) experiences record-breaking heat waves, “environmentally conscious” is becoming a brand in and of itself. Sustainability has become the trendiest of selling points, and Dior is hoping to expand their customer base by crossing the pantheon into a “responsible brand.”

Well, at least the half-hearted attempts at social consciousness were staged fabulously—and hopefully the rain in Paris smelled like perfume.

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