Backstage at Vaute Couture

by D. R. Hildebrand

Last year, in early March, I took a short subway ride from the annual New York City Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea to the opening of a boutique clothing store in Williamsburg.  I had read about the designer and her innovative water-proof, wind-proof, sub-freezing-suitable outwear and I wanted to meet her and see the clothes in person.  Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, newly relocated from Chicago, was attracting evermore attention for her one hundred percent cruelty-free label, Vaute Couture—and she hadn’t yet even opened her doors.

But this was just the beginning.  Two months later, in a national competition hosted by Macy’s, Ms. Hilgart was chosen from an applicant pool of 1,800 as one of fourteen “emerging designers” with “promising mainstream success.”  The reward was a week-long workshop aimed at teaching these designers the business aspects of the industry and how to penetrate the greater marketplace.  Hilgart excelled, and less than a year later Vaute entered New York Fashion Week.

When I arrived for the fitting two days before the show I was already elated, not just as a vegan and a model but as a friend, to be a part of this experience.  There had never been a sustainable, vegan label showcasing solo at New York Fashion Week, and Hilgart was poised to correct that.  As enthusiastic as I was for this inimitable occasion, it wasn’t until I put on my “look,” right there in the factory where it was made and I saw the decency, the ethic of the environment all juxtaposed to comparable factories overseas that I realized the extent to Vaute’s uniqueness.  Much more than just the apparel itself would set Hilgart’s brand apart from the tiresome trends and the status quo of fashion’s most meaningful week.

Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

Everything, it seemed, was different.  From the subtle to the overt, Hilgart created her own rules: instead of opting for the artificial, militaristic look of sameness and severity, she chose models who were diverse and approachable and styled each one uniquely.  Instead of confining the show to a runway, which would permit the audience just a few elusive seconds to view a single outfit, she integrated a showroom design that encouraged guests to photograph, to engage, and to linger.  Instead of creating an ambiance of darkness and mystery she opened the atmosphere with music that was inviting and lighting that was serene.  And instead of having her models walk out with every imaginable being from snakes to peacocks to baby tigers in some false display of survival or allure or power, Hilgart presented dogs—in the hopes of finding them homes.

Backstage, the mood was professional yet light.  There was a clear sense that everyone involved was eager not only to create something beautiful, but something lasting.  It was a fashion show, yes; it was art and creativity and newness, of course; but it was a statement to boot, a very proud and unequivocal one with a conscience at its core.  Every element of the exhibition reflected this.  Makeup was done by DeVita.  Hair was styled by Salon Champu.  Women’s shoes were made by Love is Mighty, men’s shoes by Brave Gentleman.  Refreshments came from Vegan Treats and Vita Coco.  Sponsors included the Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, PETA, and PCRM.  From the casting director to the DJ to the volunteers and many of the models, nearly every piece of the show was fair-labor, sustainable, principled, and vegan.  As Hilgart commented afterward, “I’m not here to create fashion.  I’m here to create ethical options within fashion.”

David Raphael Hildebrand Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

My own outfit exemplified this.  I wore a warm, ivory-colored organic cotton Sherpa turtle neck, a camel organic velvet coat with a recycled thinsulate quilted liner and brown tagua nut buttons, and gray waxed canvas pants, most of which was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard of.  The innovation behind each item not only made the rest of Fashion Week look lame but caught the attention of leading media as well.  By the following day CNN reported it on its homepage and soon after ran an almost four-minute televised segment on Hilgart and the unnecessary use of animals in fashion.

Notably, after commenting on the elegance and sophistication of the clothes, the news anchor concluded the story with an observation that couldn’t have better summarized the entire affair.  “Well,” she said to the correspondent, reflecting on what she had learned, “you made me think.”  As thought is the origin of compassion, that is the point.  Nothing will change without thought when it is thoughtlessness that defines the current state of fashion: exploit, waste, pollute, kill—over and over and over with a few bland modifications in color and cut so the world will clap and call it new, and ignorance will persist unchallenged.

Hilgart has chosen to think.  She has chosen to challenge.  Originality has never looked so good.

Note: For all news on Vaute Couture and for exclusive backstage footage of the show, like their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/VauteCouture

VAUTE AW13/14

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Vaute by Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart had their RTW launch for New York Fashion week at Eyebeam yesterday, and it was stunning. There was a huge turnout of writers, editors and buyers, fans and friends and the show featured organic, sustainable, vegan clothing and outerwear for both men and women. I was honored to be invited to showcase the Brave GentleMan x Novacas shoe and boot collection on the male models, while Monisha Raja’s Love Is Mighty collection sparkled on the ladies. The atmosphere was high-drama with contrast spotlighting in the huge space that swelled with epic music. And if all the amazing fashion wasn’t enough, there were mouth-watering sweets from Vegan Treats circulating on platters and appearing in gift bags (see below for the images and don’t lick the screen).
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Vaute’s ethos is very aligned with The Discerning Brute and Brave GentleMan and it’s exciting to see such a major response to something that is otherwise unheard-of within the mainstream fashion industry. In fact, this show was making history as he first totally vegan conceived brand to show at New York Fashion Week. Even the hair by Salon Champu and makeup by DeVita were cruelty-free and vegan, as were several of the models. Adoptable dogs looking for forever homes from The Humane Society of New York and Badass Brooklyn Rescue hung out with some of the models.

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Joshua Katcher backstage with some of the models.

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WIN TICKETS TO VAUTE AT NYC FASHION WEEK

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You and a guest have the chance to win tickets to see Vaute by Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart at New York Fashion Week this Wednesay February 6th, 11:30 am-12:30 pm. Vaute is the first 100% vegan and sustainable brand to show at New York Fashion week which is pretty historic. Hilgart’s label has taken leaps and bounds in the last two years, opening her flagship store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and developing an entire collection that is inspiring, ambitious and stunning. And yes, there’s menswear, which is why you should be there!

HOW TO WIN:

10 people and their guest will be hand-selected by Ms. Hilgart herself, based on their answers below in the comment section. The contest is today only! Comments will close at midnight.

Leanne asks, “What men’s apparel piece would you love to see more ethical options for?”

Good luck and hope to see you there!

 

 

New Matt & Nat, Israel to Ban Fur, Pussies Eat Meat & Sparrow Media

Matt & Nat has unleashed it’s new website, along with a pretty rad spring/summer collection of vegan bags lined with 21 recycled bottled turned into faux-suede. If you’re in the NYC area, you can grab the men’s bags at Alter.

Phoenix Briefcase, Black $239.00, Kronos Bag, Black $175.00, Fujiya Bag, Black $170.00, at ALTER

Meat Is For Pussies book image

I am stoked about my tough-guy pal John Joseph‘s (Cro-Mags front man, Ironman Triathlete, all-around vegan badass) new book that does not beat around the bush (ha…) about meat and its affect on the earth, our health, and animals. Yes, the title is controversial. Feel free to rant about it in the comments section. Or just pre-order your copy.

John Joseph

Meat is For Pussies: The how-to guide for dudes who want to get fit, kick ass, and take names (Crush Publishing, 2010).

“In Meat is for Pussies, John Joseph makes sure you never look at meat the same way. After painting a sickening picture of how things really are, John outlines a plan for a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Do you want to continue living like a pussy, or are you ready to take back control of your life? It’s your call.”

Sparrow Media recently did an exclusive, in-depth interview with Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart (Vaute Couture). Sparrow Media’s work is pretty amazing in general, so we recommend checking it, and all their stuff out! Big-ups to Discerning Brute Andy Stepanian for spearheading so many cool and important projects.


Skin Trade MovieThe new film “Skin Trade”, by Shannon Keith (Behind the Mask) has been released and is shocking audiences  across the country. Gary Smith writes an excellent review of the documentary over at Elephant Journal. The film features Rory Freedman, John Feldmann, Todd Oldham, Alexandra Paul, James Cromwell, Jorja Fox, Peter Young, Joshua Katcher, Matt Rossell, Ingrid Newkirk and Dennis Kucinich.

“Skin Trade” covers the fur industry like no other film has ever done – from the history of the fur trade to consumer fraud to the environmental toll of tanneries to truth-in-labeling legislation… systematically debunks the most common myths around fur, such as warmth, fashion, and the Canadian Fur Council’s laughable “Fur is Green” campaign.

http://www.animalliberationfront.com/ALFront/Actions-Israel/IsraelFur021306.jpgSpeaking of fur… will Israel be the first country to ban fur, all together? Michal Lewin-Epstein’s article on Huffington Post:

“Ninety-five percent of Israel’s textile products are imported from China and real furred items are occasionally mislabeled as fake fur, deceiving both the retailers and the consumers. A survey, commissioned by the International Anti-Fur Coalition and Let the Animals Live, conducted immediately after the February 2009 media investigation, showed that 86% of Israelis believe killing animals for fur is immoral. Moreover, nearly 80% back a bill calling for ban of fur trade in Israel. This media exposure and public support, together with the long-standing joint efforts of the International Anti-Fur Coalition and the Israeli organization Let the Animals Live, recently pressured Israeli Members of Knesset to endorse a law that would limit or eliminate the fur trade in Israel.” Read the FULL ARTICLE.

Vaute Couture A/W 2010

Yesterday, the Green Shows in NYC featured the A/W 2010 collection from Vaute Couture, which included some amazingly tailored men’s outerwear and accessories. Leanne is the first designer to ever showcase menswear at the Green Shows, and it was definitely my favorite collection. You may remember when I gave you a sneak peek of this line back in early January. The finished pieces are meticulously crafted with origami-inspired top-stitching, classic, and looked striking coming down the runway. The designer, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, has done some incredible textile research and development, and some accessories that the models wore included vegan-leather gloves made from recycled fibers, and soy-yarn knits made from soybean waste, which will be available for purchase. At the core of Leanne’s business is compassion for animals and the environment, and all of her designs are 100% cruelty-free and vegan (no wool), in addition to being eco-conscious. Check back later for my interview video with Leanne.


Photos by Jun Lee and Joshua Katcher