By Jody McCutcheon and Chere Di Boscio
Since even before Dickens wrote ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, London and Paris have been compared to each other for many things: culture, writers, language, architecture, people, politics, and of course, fashion.
Both cities are so vast, it is of course difficult to make generalisations: for every Chanel clad Parisian, there’s almost certainly her punk counterpart somewhere; though Londoners are more eco-conscious and have a better selection of green labels to choose from, they also probably consumer more overall.
But we have noticed that the two metropolises DO have distinctive styles, which we think can be demonstrated by three of each city’s best eco-designers. Still, when it comes of London vs Paris in terms of fashion, we think both cities win!
London: Less Chic, More Cheek
The Couture Option: Christopher Raeburn
So British Because: the use of wool from Blighty, a strong nod to the British military tradition
Raeburn’s first collection was made from upcycled army surplus fabric, and since then, he’s maintained a strong eco-ethos throughout his collections. “We’ve done a lot in terms of fabric innovation, and we’ve really pushed things a lot further for our womenswear and I hope that it’s been a really good result,” Raeburn says.
Apart from using eco-friendly materials, he is fully committed to manufacturing in the UK, and works closely with wool textile company Hainsworth in Yorkshire. Knitwear features for the first time in his current collection, and includes pure Merino wool sweaters sporting the polar bear motif, drawing attention of the plight of this endangered animal.
Rather than using silkscreens, Raeburn prefers digital printing, and has created a distinctive motif in his current work, which he has applied to a variety of materials including wool: a mélange of illustrations found in 1930s Russian fairytales is layered together to create a detailed three-dimensional world of sculptural icescapes. The theme may be Russian, but the attention to eco-friendliness and use of traditional wool is pure British.
The Quirky Option: From Somewhere
So British because: it employs a very British ‘waste not, want not’ ethos
Orsola de Castro is something of a miracle in the world of eco-fashion. Along with Fillipo Ricci, she began From Somewhere to put pre-consumer surplus fabric to good use. The label was one of the first ever to combine sustainable thinking with fashion-forward design, and has consequently sparked several high-profile collaborations, such as one with Speedo.
Perhaps even more importantly, the two founders have played a leading role in the creation of Estethica, the hub for sustainable fashion at London Fashion Week–there really is no French equivalent. They’re also behind Reclaim To Wear, an organisation bringing together academia, retailers and consumers to understand the issues behind textile waste. RTW has made a huge impact on large British fashion influencers, such as Central Saint Martins school of fashion and Topshop.
With models sporting punky green or blue hair, body-con and colour-popping fashions, From Somewhere couldn’t be from anywhere else but London.
The Strong Woman’s Choice: Fabryan
So British because: the brand is completely unafraid of working with colour or print
The French femme fatale is all about seducing men to get her way. British designer Samantha Jane Fabryan shows female power can be more than just sexual–her sharp-angled, geometric inspired creations in natural chiffon,velvet and silk crepe are a celebration of female strength and individuality.
By wearing the boldly colourful collection (all dyed naturally), a woman states: “I’m here. Now it’s all about me.” A favourite on the catwalks of Berlin Fashion week as well at London Fashion Week, of course, this is a line for brassy, bold British babes.
Paris: Luxe Trash Makes Haute Mode
The Couture Option: Petit h by Hermes
So French because: it’s based on Hermes scraps, for goodness sake!
The cart usually comes before the horse. In design, the concept usually precedes the gathering of materials. But shake things up and you’ll often find something new, something unexpected and indispensible.
Hermès, that exclusive, Paris-based purveyor of leather, perfumes and other luxury goods, has certainly shaken things up with their Petit h (pronounced ash, as in the French letter h) line of colourful, one-of-a-kind, up-cycled furniture and fashion accessories. The brand was officially launched in Paris in 2010, and its essential ethos is in perfect harmony with the planet.
Creative director Pascale Mussard, the great-great-great-granddaughter of company founder Thierry Hermès, felt the pull of the reuse-and-recycle mentality at a young age, and consequently became something of a hoarder. It’s no coincidence that the Petit h motto is “We Don’t Throw Anything Away.”
Mussard’s early understanding of waste-not-want-not has translated well into her professional years, to the mutual benefit of consumer and environment. Each objet d’art in the Petit h line is up-cycled from discarded materials salvaged from company ateliers—previous seasons’ fabrics, leftover leather, defective buttons, scraps of silk scarves, metal, porcelain, enamel; you name it, and it’s been transformed and reinvented by Hermès artisans, with no adherence to collection or season.
Be they tiny bracelets woven from scraps of silk scarves, a small notebook fashioned from material that may have been parts of a Birkin bag, or any of the other clever re-imaginings of discarded textiles, Petit h items are perfectly unique. The brand has found a cozy niche in that small but fertile intersection of artisan and treasure-hunter. But be warned: these items are not for the financial faint-of-heart. The orange leather bookcase, for example, runs in the low six-figures. Whether in Euros, USD or any other stable currency, that’s rich.
The Quirky Option: Maison Martin Margiela
So French because: it’s the epitome of avant-garde chic
Maison Martin Margiela is anti-consumerist and pro-environment in a way Vivienne Westwood could only dream of being. Rather than cashing in on the fame of one big designer name as Dame Westwood does, those behind these innovative creations are, just as their catwalk models are, faceless and nameless. The clothing itself is constructed from upcycling whatever the design team believes to be beautiful that season–be they vintage scarves, used baseball gloves, bottletops, coins, pen caps or old helium balloons. Whilst Westwood claims to be eco-friendly but actually isn’t, MMM doesn’t sell itself as being green, but actually is, and it’s this gift for understatement that makes them so distinctively French.
The Strong Woman’s Choice: Martin Raffa
So French because: the label firmly believes that a true femme fatale’s strength lies in her glamour
Argentinian born Raffa has been on the Parisian fashion scene for over two decades, upcycling lush waste textiles into couture creations Evita would have craved. Today, he is mainly inspired by his muse, supermodel Milagros Schmoll, to create uniquely feminine fashion that evokes a bygone glamour.
Whist he may use fur in some designs (a big faux-pas in the UK, where wearers are often paintballed), Raffa insists that he only upcycles vintage pelts for his work. An animal lover whose adorable French bulldog is called Batman, the designer believes that there is far too much waste in the fashion industry, and that sustainability is the only way forward. With attitudes like this, it’s not surprising that Raffa is a huge fan of vintage–in fact, his own look–with slicked back hair and a dashing moustache–is reminiscent of a tango-dancing, cravat-wearing gentleman from Paris’s Belle Epoque.
All images: Emmanuel Sarnin
Main Image: Flickr