Stella Mccartney, Copyright Mary Mccartney/Trunkarchive.Com/Snapper Media.
All hail Stella McCartney, the designer who has made ethical business a cornerstone of her label by practicing sustainable production methods all the while reinforcing her unique creative vision. Her successes so transparent that she is merely known by the moniker 'Stella', shedding any demand for a surname. And quite a surname it is after all. With a style acumen aimed at people who want clothing that defines modernity and embodies a philosophy in line with the contemporary zeitgeist; she may be the first designer to completely allow her business decisions to speak for her ethos, eschewing the use of all animal products in her lines; no leather, no fur, no skin and no feathers. She has also made a commitment to work with sustainable materials and new technologies, which have become part of the DNA of her brand. In this regard she embodies a true fashion maverick.
Given that the majority of all luxury brand sales comes from accessories—namely shoes, handbags and small leather goods—it was once thought impossible to reconcile such a hardline ethical position. However, McCartney has proven it is in fact very possible to eschew longstanding manufacturing practices whilst maintaining significant profits and ensuring long term sustainability. According to The Business of Fashion, the company’s estimated annual revenues are in the vicinity of $150 to $200 million with the company operating 30 stores, 20 franchised stores and 600 wholesale accounts in more than 70 countries around the world. McCartney’s brand extends across fragrance, women’s wear, children’s wear and her successful ongoing sportswear collaboration with Adidas.
Long before she took on her role at Chloé in 1997, McCartney cut her design teeth at Christian Lacroix, then later alongside Edward Sexton—one of Savile Rowe’s most loved tailors—all the while studying at Central Saint Martins. Her time with Sexton, who opened in 1969 and developed a name as the celebrity’s tailor for his contemporary approach to suiting, had a lasting influence on McCartney. Sexton’s less stuffy approach to male sartorial elegance attracting clients such as Mick and Bianca Jagger, Elton John, Ringo Starr, Andy Warhol and Paul McCartney (who introduced his daughter to the tailor), and more contemporaneously Mark Ronson and Tinie Tempah. Where Sexton’s approach was about a disruption of the male norm, McCartney has made a career out of reinterpreting the female form in a contemporary context.
Central to McCartney’s universe is humanity’s shared environmental concerns. Sustainability is not a trite descriptor for the designer, but rather a mantra which has come to underpin the very existence and inception of the brand. As the first luxury house to partner with the UK National Resources Defense Council, the designer has aimed to build long term relationships with manufacturers, artisans and farmers so that the brand can constantly improve their practices and use technology to overcome environmental challenges. She states, “I think that the way to create sustainable fashion is to keep asking these questions while making sure to make desirable, luxurious, beautiful clothing and accessories that women want to buy”. Fortunately, this will not prove to be an impediment for a designer who has made vegan shoes her stylish calling card, sighting that it takes 20 times more energy to produce leather in comparison to synthetic materials.
Sustainability is not a trite descriptor for the designer, but rather a mantra which has come to underpin the very existence and inception of the brand.
The decision to launch her menswear line for Spring/Summer 2017 alongside her existing lines echoes fashion’s ongoing fascination with androgyny and gender fluidity. McCartney is one designer who has always enjoyed exploding the dominant tropes of modernity, masculinity and femininity. She is well known for her personal penchant for men’s suiting, a preference she has parlayed into her ranges. At Chloé, McCartney quickly garnered a following for her slouchy but well-tailored suits, and trousers, designed for a woman’s curves. McCartney may well be the contemporary answer to Yves Saint Laurent who pioneered the Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women in the 1970s. As Yves was playing with androgyny and feminine independence, so too does McCartney, in a brave new world in which gender stereotypes and presentation are all but irrelevant.
In an inversion of the traditional fashion model, where men design for women, McCartney is also well placed to make ready to wear for the contemporary man, for whom the definition of suiting has changed exponentially while expanding beyond traditional offerings. Men have become big consumers of a transformative elegance, desiring a new type of silhouette in their mainstay pieces. As consumers become mindful of their respective environmental footprint, it’s becoming increasingly imperative that fashion needs to prioritise sustainable practices. In this changing landscape and with the introduction of its menswear line, Stella is indeed leading the charge.
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