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A Sartorial Consciousness – Eugenie Dalland on ECO-FASHION: GOING GREEN

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Edun, evening gown, black and off-white organic Tunisian denim, 2007, USA, gift of EDUN – Photo courtesy: MFIT, 2010

Eugenie Dalland in conversation with Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill on ECO-FASHION: GOING GREEN, at the Museum @ FIT

Currently on display at the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at the Museum at FIT is Eco-Fashion: Going Green. An exhibition that focuses on the infectious “eco” trend that has exploded on the fashion front over the past several years, which aims to lessen the harmful effects of clothing production on the environment. Eco-Fashion explores this sartorial eco-consciousness by examining the complex relationship between fashion and the environment as it has existed over the past two hundred and fifty years.

The exhibition is curated by Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill, who cite the growing concern of both consumers and designers regarding the impact of fashion production on the environment as part of their inspiration. “We wanted to trace the eco-trend backwards since it’s such a big concern right now,” states Ms Farley, alluding also to the growing commercial demand for sustainable clothing.

The exhibition fills the darkened gallery, an intimate setting that offers the viewer a chance to quietly observe the garments up close without the noise and crowds of a larger space. Despite its small size, the Museum at FIT consistently delivers wonderful exhibitions that are informative, concise, and beautiful (Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out is a terrific example). Eco-Fashion is no less impressive in its array, and holds particular social significance for the attention it calls to an important concern that, despite its prevalence in the social sphere, is not necessarily explained or understood, even by those who choose to consume or partake in its philosophy. Each item (there are over one hundred) is explained within a framework of six major themes of the fashion-environment relationship, such as quality of craftsmanship, labor practices, and the repurposing and recycling of materials. A 1950 Claire McCardell evening dress of printed nylon, for example, is contextualized within the “manufacture of synthetics” theme, and is used to illustrate the highly chemical process of nylon production and the toxic gases that are consequently released into the atmosphere. The simple, thematic examination of each garment in relation to the environment is highly useful for the viewer, and reveals the complicated and multifaceted rapport between the clothes we wear and our environment.

Despite this focus on process and production, the design and aesthetic quality of the individual garments is not overshadowed by the attention to how they were made. A dress of polyester peau de soie from Costello Tagliapietra’s Fall/Winter 2010 collection is dyed using a minimal energy-usage process and is locally-manufactured and hand-made, but what is most prominent about it is the elegant draping of red ochre folds that adorn the front of the bodice. A dress by designer Linda Loudermilk features a print of undulating, cool colors that move with the lightweight silk chiffon material – created by conscientious fabric manufacturers dedicated to minimizing fashion’s environmental impact.

Xuly-Bët, dress and jacket ensemble, multicolor sweaters, brown wool plaid, red nylon, Fall 1994, France, gift of Xuly-Bët – Photo courtesy : MFIT, 2010

When asked about the potential difficulty of balancing the spotlight between the garments and the process by which they were constructed, curators Farley and Hill found little conflict in maintaining an equal emphasis on both the clothing and the manufacture: “Our exhibitions are always about the individual objects as much as the ‘big picture,’ but the label copy in this show was often focused on production methods and choice of materials. We wanted to give our viewers a clear picture of why a garment was included in the exhibition.” The curators also shed light on the movement itself – its nature, its incongruities, and its future.

Eugenie Dalland – Timeless, high quality pieces of clothing seem to be a staple definition for many eco/sustainable fashion labels, which illustrates eco-fashion’s rejection of seasonal fashion. However, several of the designers featured in the exhibition whose labels are dedicated to sustainable fashion such as Linda Loudermilk and Bodkin still show seasonally. Are runway/seasonal shows and sustainable fashion mutually exclusive?

Jennifer Farley & Colleen Hill – Not necessarily. To make a strong impact on the fashion industry, eco-designers must offer their clientele new, sustainable styles that will continue to pique interest. Perhaps in the future, when eco-fashion becomes more ubiquitous in the industry, further thought can be given to making changes in the fashion cycle as a whole.

E.D – Designer Eviana Hartman of Bodkin states that sustainability is about pieces that are “useful for a lot of people and that they want to keep for a long time.” Sustainable/eco-fashion seems to stress, more than anything, an appreciation for a garment’s functionality more so than for its aesthetic. Do you agree with this conclusion? What else does eco-fashion imply for consumer?

J.F & C.H – We feel that most eco-designers focus on both functionality and aesthetics. In order to succeed in a notoriously fickle industry, most eco-designers are aware that their clothes must look great, in addition to being sustainable. They understand that for most consumers, an organic cotton dress will not be appealing unless it’s also beautiful and stylish. Functionality adds another level of desirability.

Video courtesy Afingo

E.D – What is your final impression about eco-fashion after having curated this exhibition? Is it just a trend? How do you foresee it being incorporated into the fashion industry and, hopefully, mainstream clothing production?

J.F & C.H – We feel strongly that eco-fashion has a lasting place in the industry. Eco-Fashion: Going Green featured fully eco-labels – Edun and FIN, for example – but also included labels such as Costello Tagliapietra and Yeohlee. The latter designers do not necessarily consider themselves to be “eco,” but they are approaching aspects of design in unique, environmentally-conscientious ways. We feel that at the very least, more designers are becoming aware of the appeal of sustainable practices. In terms of mainstream fashion production, a few large corporations have already begun to use fabrics such as organic cotton in their clothing lines. With that sort of high-volume demand, we are positive that the eco-fashion movement will only pick up speed.

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