Gabriela Hearst, artistic director of Chloé, brings the values of the era of climate emergency to the head table at Paris Fashion Week. The once carefree carefree woman Chloe now cares a lot.
For nearly 70 years, under the direction of former stellar designers from Karl Lagerfeld to Phoebe Philo, Chloe’s USP was to consistently make the finest clothes in Paris. Since Hearst’s arrival last year, Chloe has instead been trying to make the most durable clothes.
Hearst and his team “think luxury fashion has become too industrialized”. So the rainbow-colored cardigan dresses on the catwalk were hand crocheted. The necklaces were made from seashells tied on twists of leftover fabric from previous collections. Handbags were created by knitting more strands of dead fabric and had hand-woven leather handles. The handcrafted pieces, which the house considers “naturally low impact”, will receive the highest status in stores and will be embossed with the “Chloé Craft” logo.
Chloe’s price tags are such that her overall impact on the fashion industry’s ecological footprint, dangerously in the red, will be minimal. The artisanal methods with which Hearst transforms the deep-pocketed Chloe brand cannot be transferred to fast fashion, which is responsible for most of the environmental impact of fashion. But Hearst is hoping that putting hand-knitted and crocheted dresses in the spotlight of Paris Fashion Week can have a ripple effect on fashion culture by making sustainable clothing an aspiration.
Handcrafted pieces will only make up a small proportion of the stock sold in Chloe stores, but progress has been made in making larger-volume items more environmentally friendly. Clothing and bag linings have shifted from cotton to linen, the production of which emits less greenhouse gases and requires less water. Basket bags are now made from a mixture of straw and recycled wool. The chunky soles of the flat sandals are made from recycled thongs. It’s done in partnership with Kenyan social enterprise Ocean Sole, which employs around 90 people from low-income areas to reshape flip-flops washed up on beaches.
The open-air show was upscale Parisian chic, staged on a cobbled bank of the Seine, with Notre-Dame Cathedral and the picturesque Ile Saint-Louis as a backdrop. The guests from the industry outnumbered the large crowd that gathered on the Tournelle bridge to attend the show. In the front row, actresses Demi Moore and Gillian Anderson were seated on benches constructed of low-impact mud bricks by Les Bâtisseuses, a local network that trains refugee women in eco-construction. The objective is to integrate women into French society and to bring diversity to the building trades.
The setting on the street was in line with the debut of Chloé de Hearst, which was staged at night on a boulevard Saint-Germain deserted by the pandemic in March. Where it aired online to lock in audiences, this season marked a return to live broadcasts. Along with her role at Chloe, Hearst continues to run her eponymous fashion brand, which is the favorite of Oprah Winfrey, Jill Biden and the Duchess of Sussex.