The Fashion World Gets Involved
Ecology, inclusivity, feminism, anti-racism — more than ever, luxury is doing the work. From Vivienne Westwood to Gucci, along with houses like Prada, Balenciaga, and Capri Holdings (Versace's parent company), the fashion world is placing itself on the right side of history by joining the social movements of our time. The beginning of a new era?
Luxury is seeking to move beyond its role as a class signifier. Over the last few decades, a rise in consumption and industrialization has favored the democratization of luxury products, along with the emergence of a new clientele that's younger, more connected, and better-informed. Karl Lagerfeld's "mass elitism," which he estimated would be the "path into modernity," seems to be coming into view. The tendency is accompanied by a reinvention of the industry as it leaves its insulated bubble to take part in the world more largely, moved by a commitment to proximity and inclusion. "We're seeing a kind of humanization of brands," explains Bénédicte Fabien, Director of Strategic Planning for Leherpeur Paris, a trend forecasting agency specialized in luxury and fashion. After having been held accountable for its tone-deafness over the last few years, luxury is ready to scrub its image clean with better communications.
Climate change and pollution have become a top priority for many brands. Following Vivienne Westwood, celebrated for her eco-activism, the Prada group took out a loan of 90 million euros in February 2021 — the third of its kind — in order to accelerate its ecological transition with an eye to sustainability. On the docket: a reduction in carbon emissions, better waste management and recycling systems, and the installation of solar panels to convert ateliers and storage spaces to green energy. "Today, sustainability is a value that's recognized and shared universally," emphasized Alessandra Cozzani, Chief Financial Officer at Prada. It's a position that's shared by Burberry, also in the process of drastically reducing their plastic usage — by 2025 all of the brand's packaging should be re-useable or compostable.
In early February, Versace's parent company Capri Holdings created The Capri Holdings Foundation for the Advancement of Diversity in Fashion, a foundation that will work with schools and universities to promote diversity and inclusivity in an industry whose power-players are still largely white men. A few days earlier, the Prada group announced its partnership with The Valuable 500 organization, seeking to improve representation and inclusion of handicapped people in the fashion industry.
Inclusivity is also changing catwalks and campaigns alike, where it's become increasingly important for brands like Gucci. Since his arrival at the Italian house in 2015, Alessandro Michele has promoted diversity in his choice of models, allowing the brand to attract a larger clientele, led by millennials — a generation that represents the future of luxury, but one that's also historically been skeptical of the sector's credulity and attainability.
Current trends point towards consumers seeking escape through fashion and luxury, with today's global citizens also hoping to find echoes of their values in the products they consume. "I believe that beauty without goodness isn't beauty at all," says Maeva Bessis, General Director of La Caserne, a space dedicated to eco-friendly style. At a whopping 3000 square meters, its doors will open in June 2021 in Paris. "Information on the impacts of industry have become more visible and opened our eyes. Fashion is often prescriptive — it follows big changes in society. The responsibility lies with each business, and the industry as a whole needs to set an example and change quickly."At a conference organized by Who's Next in January 2020 Pierre-François Le Louët, president of the French Federation of Women's Ready to Wear, stated that "over the last few years, fashion has rediscovered its political and social dimensions."
Towards sustainable luxury
Balenciaga also took on a series of commitments in favor of gender parity, diversity, and the environment in 2019. For its Spring-Summer 2020 show, held at the Cité du Cinéma, the house aimed to create the most eco-friendly fashion show possible, imagining a space draped with 500 square meters of entirely recycled blue velvet. By reducing the ecological costs of the show, the Parisian company was also taking part in one of fashion's latest initiatives: finding sustainable and responsible alternatives to Fashion Weeks and the way in which collections are presented, all without impinging on creativity. It's a decision that's paid off, literally, in the brand's growing popularity since the arrival of its current Artistic Director, Demna Gvasalia, in 2015.
The industry has also taken up other causes. The recent Black Lives Matter movement has given brands an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a global fight against racism. While Kering (Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, etc.) announced concrete measures — "because words do not suffice" — the conglomerate also made two donations to the NAACP, an association that strives to remove the barriers of racial discrimination in the US, as well as to Campaign Zero, aiming to put an end to police violence.
"In the end, it's up to the consumer to be attentive and to take the time to inform themselves on the brands they consume," says Maeva Bessis. Luxury and fashion, for their part, have resolved to lead by example. As major cultural references, their place in society and the collective imagination renders them important inspirations for younger generations, who hold a special place in their hearts for ethics, inclusivity, and ecology.