Chanel previewed the Spring 2016 Haute Couture collection in the Grand Palais in Paris on Tuesday. It collection oozed luxury, with gorgeous bouclé two-pieces, beautiful midnight blues, neutral embellishment and pleats, and elegant silks and beading. Karl Lagerfeld worked to incorporate wood shavings, straw, organic woven yarn and recycled paper into the designs, wanting to combine couture and ecology. A golden bee was embroidered into many of the designs to reflect the growing concerns over the fate of the honey bee. Lagerfeld voiced the importance of recycling and reusing. He also wants to encourage clients to reduce their environmental impact through everyday changes (you know, reducing how often they use their private jets and dialing down their air-con!).
“This is high-fashion ecology. It must not look like some sloppy demonstration”
However, Karl’s insinuation that previous attempts to produce eco-friendly clothing mirror “sloppy demonstrations” does not sit particularly well with me. There are several companies that offer carefully crafted sustainable apparel, combining ethics and aesthetics. And many brands have gone a lot further than Chanel, embedding environmental issues into their core business strategy, rather than producing a one-off collection with an eco focus or theme.
That having been said, couture could be argued as inherently more sustainable than ready-to-wear. This is due to the fact that garments are made on a client-by-client basis, usually by hand, take a long time to be produced. Couture is certainly not perceived in the same disposal manner as fast fashion. But, can you tell me for sure that the pieces from this collection will be just as beautiful and desirable in five or ten years as they are now? And can you honestly tell me that these garment’s will be used on a weekly or even monthly basis?
Although I am a big advocate of raising awareness of environmental issues, I do not think brands like Chanel should gain a reputation for operating in a sustainable manner for producing a one-off collection that incorporates ecology and uses some more environmentally-friendly materials. Instead, I believe companies should be working to ensure they imbed sustainability into their core business strategy, reducing the impact of everything they make throughout the entire lifecycle of each product. Liz O’Neill, senior vice president of product development and sourcing at Levi Strauss, recently spoke of the importance of integrating environmental issues into every aspect of Levi’s business. She states that system level innovations allow for a greater impact than product level innovations (see more here).
Currently, Chanel have no public sustainability policy. All I could find on their website were commitments to try to ensure suppliers comply with regulations and do not partake in human trafficking or slavery. Rank a Brand have given Chanel an E-label, their lowest possible sustainability score. This is due to the lack of any concrete policies on the environment, carbon emissions, or labour conditions in low-wage countries.
As beautiful as the collection is, and inspiring a concept, it is simply not enough. Let’s hope that this will be the start of a more mindful and environmentally responsible Chanel, but big strategic changes need to occur before we can think of the brand as a sustainable one.