I crossed under the scaffolding on a wet, gray Friday to enter the Bryant Park Hotel where a small crowd had gathered by the elevator, chatting about everything from the rain outside to Hillary Clinton's pants-suits. I wondered if we were all headed to the same show - I couldn't imagine the typical fashion-week crowd, ambling around in their furs and expensive-logos, getting excited by anything "eco". Funny thing was, that on any other winter it would be snowing as opposed to raining. February in New York is typically a slushy mess, but - as we know - our planet is changing - and, being a physical part of it, so must we.
Once inside the loft, a simple set of raw, wooden benches with recycled felt cushions lined the sides of the runway. The lighting was bright and sunny, and the room was getting packed. John Patrick ran around, saying hello to everyone and offering water. "You're the one with the blog!" he said to me. "I grow my own organic cotton in the Peruvian jungle, and I recycle wool. I have offices in three different countries and I don't even use computers!" He must have had some coffee. A suited DJ with classic Ray-Bans readied the turn-tables.
Apparently, John Patrick has mastered the art of turning old bed sheets into chic shirts, using harmless and natural dyes, and like Bono's 'Edun', ORGANIC is comprehensive in it's approach to labor. He travels around the world, training his factory workers to mill the organic crop into fibers and to maintain sustainable, local cottage hand-production industries.
The menswear featured on the runway had a casual and bucolic, private-school feel. John Patrick's home in the Hudson River Valley surely played a role in inspiring these rustic looks from the recycled wool herringbone pants and recycled alpaca, storm-dust gray, short-tie to the organic cotton and recycled-wool, kelp-green vest. Another highlight was a gorgeous, organic jungle-cotton henley.
We talked briefly about our common taste for folk-rock, his work methodology, and his motivations. "We make sexy, modern organic clothes for the sexy, modern organic world...to look at ORGANIC and see only clothes is to miss the point: the clothes reflect a lifestyle. To wear them is to vote for the radically modern concept that luxury isn't about stuff, it's about integrity."
While we disagree in some areas, specifically on the use of new wool and leather (aside form recycled wool, which I have no problem with, he uses new 'organic' Vermont wool and vegetable-tanned cow skin), our vision for a paradigm shift within the industry is mostly united. More and more, the symbology of 'cool' and 'luxury' is changing, albeit a resistance of status-quo financial interests, and continual waves of color-by-number designers, stylists, and writers who haven't been exposed to anything but a traditional and dangerous ideology of garment production and it's equally dangerous iconography.
Let's be honest; prototypical fashion designers do not concern themselves with ethical issues of ecological sustainability, social responsibility, and animal exploitation. Some do, however - recently, fur seems to have made a come-back, and even while a psudo-defiant celebration of infantile self-gratification seems to overwhelm the fashion industry's most influential - there is a growing rebellion that has yet to be embraced as the true calling of the iconoclast. Designers such as Vivian Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Betsey Johnson, Benjamin Cho, Charlotte Ronson, Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Comme des Garçons, Linda Loudermilk, Jay McCarroll, Richard Chai and Marc Bouwer have all banned fur from their designs. Michael Kors and Donna Karen, take note. For more on fur, click here.
There is a new generation of people (not 'consumers') who really care about where their clothes come from and what lives they affect. The important thing is that SSA (Sustainability, Social Responsibility, Animal Advocacy) is no longer just a noble concept to put into action - it is literally crucial for the very existence of the fashion industry.
DB's Etiquette Recommendation: We live on a finite planet (that means there are limits, not infinite resources) and the typical production model for fashion and most other industries is a linear one. All things considered, common sense tells us this is bound to self-destruct. Watch this video to get a better understanding. It's high time for the rest of the fashion industry to evolve or die off. The stakes are high, but the reward is the sustenance of fashion itself.
Check back soon for my interview with John Patrick.
*Photos courtesy of Paper Magazine