Who says all eco-fashion follows the same aesthetic? Certainly not the designers who showed at The GreenShows during New York Fashion Week. With collections that were as diverse as they were innovative, this group of conscious designers proved once and for all that eco and ethical does not mean that style nor individuality need to be sacrificed.
Sending “real people models” down the runway, Bright Young Things, a label that started with one little black dress, showed an expanded collection of eight pieces, all very simple, minimalist and wearable, but with a certain something that makes them stand out in a crowd. There were shorts, skorts, dresses, pants and wrap tops, all in a simple, but elegant, color scheme of black, beige, purple, rust and khaki. The original black dress — designed for The Uniform Project where Sheena Matheiken wore it every day for a year, styled with vintage accessories — received plenty of runway love as well. Differently styled, and now available in beige as well, it proved again to be one of the most versatile pieces of clothing out there.
The GreenShows opened with a decidedly “real” show, by New York artist and designer Susan Cianciolo. Each piece was custom made and recycled in some way. When you are done with it you can bring it back to the designer and she will make something new for you (brilliant!). I would call the style Urban Renewal, partly because of the statement the patchwork of mixed materials make about life in the city but also because, despite the sweet details like butterfly appliques and “LOVE” embroideries, these clothes belong on the streets of a city.
Also showing on opening night was Luis Valenzuela from Miami, also an artist/designer who used recycled materials in his collection. Valenzuela’s approach is far more opulent, with large billowing skirts and shoes covered in pleated fabric from old lampshades. Accessories included bags by Ecoist, made from soda can tops. What I loved most about this collection was the way the designer had draped old men’s dress pants to form the most beautiful necklines. Gorgeous! These dresses belong less on the street and more at a cocktail party — and they would be sure to start a conversation.
The GreenShows ended with a beautiful presentation by Brooklyn-based designer Samantha Pleet. Her models looked like gorgeous dolls, with beautiful side-swept hair and flawless bronzed skin. Her collection had a bit of a retro/50s vibe, with floppy hats, high-waisted bikinis, pretty dresses and dressy shorts. Details like cutouts, oversized jackets and tough jewelry kept the overall look very current. I would wear everything in this collection, and I absolutely love the color scheme — basic black and off-white, mixed with rust, yellow, mustard, beige, blue and polka dot and flower patterns. Delicious!
Ciancolo and Valenzuela are both artists, which is apparent in their collections. Both aim to make a statement more so than selling clothes, and at the root of it, isn’t that what eco-fashion is all about? Not selling more stuff or making new collections just because it happens to be a new season? Interestingly, both designers chose to feature kids on the runway. Valenzuela opened with a young model in a pink puff skirt and with makeup and big hair just like the adults. Cianciolo had several children in her show, less made-up and all accompanied down the runway by adults. One child in the front row (since when do people not old enough to drink get to sit front-row?) even grabbed the hand of one model and started sashaying with her toward the front. Nobody seemed to mind, rather, it was welcomed. Spontaneity is the word that comes to mind when attempting to distill Cianciolo’s show (and work). It is quite refreshing to see something on a New York Fashion Week runway that seems natural an unrehearsed.
Bright Young Things, by designer Eliza Starbuck, and Samantha Pleet are both already very successful in their own rights, but I see much more in the future for these two innovative lines that are about fashion first and foremost but with sustainable principles at heart. They are both very commercial, in the good sense of the word, and I believe the future of eco-fashion is very bright when we can look to designers like Pleet and Starbuck to show us the way. Ethical is the new black!
All Photos by Elisa Hyman