In recent years, Paris Fashion Week has become less about the might of advertising titans and more about the glittering emerging talents that are springing up hither and thither. On day one of the Spring/Summer 2020 men’s season in the City of Light, the schedule was dominated by a cohort of young designers representing a host of international destinations. What many had in common was a focus on sustainability, the principle―not trend―that underlies much of contemporary fashion practice.
Opening the week, there was Emily Adams Bode, a 29-year-old New York-based fabric whiz, who recently received the CFDA Fashion Award for Emerging Designer, and a place on the long list for the 2019 LVMH Prize.
Her starting point was the Bode Wagon Company, a wagon building workshop based in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1824 to 1940. In the show notes, she said, ‘I envision how my family and their wagon fabrication studios were colourfully transformed by the great American circus.’
She sourced vintage textiles to form the basis for hued crochets, novelty knits, rich striped workwear, hand-painted silk shirts and canvas jackets, nylons, and linens with familial imagery. One pair of trousers were made from ribbons used at horse shows. Circus act prints added a delicacy and sense of humour to the recycled fabrics.
Bode strikes gold with the way she breathes new life into existing fabrics without losing sight of the season’s narrative. This more personal project allowed her to plumb the depths of her family history. Sustainability isn’t a trend, it’s engrained in the brand’s ethos―fashion comes first. Where better for her to show than in Paris, where her slow process and dedication to materiality are prized qualities.
The same can be said for Spencer Phipps who designs Phipps, another 2019 LVMH Prize shortlisted label. His show was about the ‘contemporary metamorphosis of geological and anthropological concerns investigating man’s relationship with planet earth since the dawn of time’ (whatever that means exactly). Phipps defines his practice as ‘applied garment-making’ with a focus on transparency and traceability.
His outdoor pursuits-inspired work is sharp and ironic―there’s something slightly perverse, a smattering of bad taste, about his Western-influenced designs, inflected with camp counsellor spirit. (One sensed ‘Brokeback Mountain’ vibes halfway through.) On his runway, which took place outdoors at the Cité internationale des arts, models sported high fashion takes on high-performance outerwear printed with satirical graphic designs, inspirational climbing slogans and chronological calendar of Earth’s tectonic movements. Elsewhere there was a naturally-dyed, glue-free biodegradable suiting in British wool - double-breasted jacket styled with brown shorts, a bowling shirt, and hiking boots. Pragmatic chic.
The collection featured a capsule collection of high-performance outerwear with alpine brand Millet. Phipps’ team upcycled existing Millet fabrics from within the archives, fully equipped for rock climbing and extreme weather conditions.
Heron Preston also expanded his mission to include a full-fledged women’s line. Model Gigi Hadid debuted a look from the front row. The streetwear practitioner, close with Virgil Abloh and Alyx's Matthew Williams, called his show, ‘Urban Jungle’. It opened with oversized tailoring, in an attempt to broaden his horizons and push the limits of streetwear.
Preston imbued his work with a sense of environmental responsibility. He incorporated renewable materials such as pineapple leather, recycled nylon, and recycled tweed. Dattner Architects were appointed to create a set of recycled materials. Designer and influenced Sami Miró upcycled Heron Preston denim from previous seasons.
In essence, Preston is one of the more prominent names pushing a more conscious approach to streetwear and, who knows, there could be a wider shift amongst his peers. But, what remains, is that fashion is more important to the concept. He should revise his spins on workers uniforms, reworked denim, and oversized tailoring for men and women next season.
In 2019, sustainability and fashion are intertwined. It should be a given with emerging names that sustainability is interwoven in the very fabric of the brand’s existence. If not, how can they call themselves contemporary designers? Emily Adams Bode and Spencer Phipps exceed expectations in placing their identities as fashion designers on a pedestal: the focal point is in their design and the narrative of the season. Heron Preston could’ve benefited from a greater exploration of thematic influence because it felt as though his sustainable efforts were the most interesting thing in this collection―fashion is more than that.