Billie Eilish made history at the Met Gala for a dress with an ‘only if’ condition bigger than its 15-foot train: Oscar de la Renta would ditch fur forever if she wore the dress. And those 30 diamond pieces she wore from Cartier also come with their own ethics backstory nearly as big.
Nineteen-year-old pop sensation Billie Eilish can seem to do no wrong when it comes to fashion. From her green hair and baggy neon clothes circa 2020 to her Marilyn Monroe vintage glam look at Monday night’s Met Gala, the seven-time Grammy Award winner is redefining fashion. And so much more.
It’s not that the tulle Oscar de la Renta ballgown was such a drastic departure from her typical style—there’s nothing typical when you’re a teenage pop star. What helped her dress stand out was the platform she put it on. Animal rights organizations like PETA have been fighting the fur battle for decades. And while Oscar de la Renta recently agreed to retire fur from the runways and red carpets, it was still selling fur at retail.
Oscar de la Renta’s fur ban
According to the brand’s CEO Alex Bolen, fur still makes up a “significant amount” of revenue. Eilish, who was raised vegetarian and went vegan several years ago, got the 60-year old fashion label to do what animal rights organizations couldn’t achieve with millions of members and countless campaigns spanning decades: Oscar de la Renta agreed to permanently ditch fur if Eilish would wear that gown down the red carpet.
“I thought a lot about what Oscar said—he was a big fan of fur, by the way—that the one thing he really worried about in the fashion business was his eye getting old,” Bolen told the New York Times. That served as a reminder to listen, especially to younger generations. “I have to surround myself with people with different points of view.”
Eilish’s point of view is that of many of her peers. She said it is “shocking that wearing fur isn’t completely outlawed at this point in 2021.” Poll after poll finds those under age 40 are more likely to support alternatives to animal products—from meat and milk to fur and leather—and spend money on brands with sustainability and ethical missions instead. “I’m honored to have been a catalyst and to have been heard on this matter,” Eilish said.
Of course, it’s those decades of pressure that made it easier for the brand to be persuaded in the first place. And as much as it seems like an Eilish-led victory, it’s brilliant marketing prowess by Oscar de la Renta more than anything. Despite the declining interest in fur—PETA even killed its decades-old ‘I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign—and despite the label having mostly moved away from it, the world will remember the night Eilish, draped in gauzy peach tulle and a Monroe-esque platinum bob, gallantly brought an end to fur as she stepped out of a limo and onto the red carpet.
But the ethics only start with the dress. The “Bad Guy” singer came draped in diamonds by Cartier. Eilish wore 30 pieces by the French luxury label—more than any celebrity in history.
Eilish wore Cartier High Jewelry diamond earrings, four 18-karat gold and diamond bracelets and multiple diamond rings.
Cartier, like its contemporaries in luxury jewelry—Tiffany & Co., Bvlgari, and Rolex—came under fire in 2018 over accusations detailed in a Human Rights Watch report that it failed to ensure ethical mining of gold and diamonds.
“An increasing number of customers want to be sure the jewellery they buy has not fuelled human rights abuses,” Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the report. “Jewellry companies owe it to their customers and to the communities affected by their businesses to source truly responsibly and allow public scrutiny of their actions.”
Cartier has taken measures in recent years to do just that.
According to the Kadence Luxury index, Cartier was the world’s leading luxury brand in 2018, ahead of brands like Mercedes, Rolls Royce, and competitors like Rolex. And it’s not taking that responsibility lightly.
Corporate responsibility at Cartier
“As outlined in our Corporate Responsibility policy, our commitments extend beyond the scope of diamonds,” the company notes on its website. “They apply to all our product lines and cover three areas–ethical, social and environmental.”
These days, more than 90 percent of Cartier’s gold is recycled. The jewelry giant has been climate-neutral since 2009 and continues to take measures to reduce its CO2 footprint.
While the industry is embracing a shift toward lab-grown diamonds, Cartier is among the technology’s critics.
“The problem with lab-grown diamonds is that, despite having the same molecular structure as those found in the earth, lab-grown diamonds don’t have any [history]. They were made two days before,” Cartier chief executive Cyrille Vigneron shared in an interview for the Business of Fashion and McKinsey’s “State of Fashion Watches and Jewellery” report.
“Many customers will still reject lab-grown diamonds as they’ve lost their singularity and lost the fact that they were made by the Earth millions of years ago,” he said.
This commitment to mined diamonds has Cartier to become a world leader in quality control and accountability.
The brand says it now only engages in long-term partnerships with suppliers who share the brand’s values. “We work with our suppliers on a daily basis to help them respect and uphold the commitments of our Maison.
One of Cartier’s most notable achievements of late is elevating women entrepreneurs.
Cartier’s Women’s Initiative awards women across impact-driven businesses and women in science and technology.
2021 winners include Seynabou Dieng, who won for her food processing company, Maya, which specializes in creating local pantry staples through an inclusive partnership with Malian farmers. According to Cartier, “since 2017, the company has processed 78 tons of vegetables and cereals, a third of which come directly from its partner farmers.”
New Zealand’s Rebecca Percasky’s Better Packaging won for its innovation in solving the global waste crisis by producing sustainable packaging, practicing product stewardship, and communicating and educating about waste.
“I saw how quickly e-commerce was growing,” she says. “Along with that growth, there’s an extraordinary amount of packaging waste. Eventually I said, ‘I can’t be involved in that. I don’t want to be responsible for putting any more plastic into the world.’”
Cartier is investing in impact-driven businesses that align with at least one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs were created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030 as a call for action by all countries to “promote prosperity while protecting the environment.” These include social, economic, and environmental development issues.
Eilish ushers in sustainable glam
There was never any doubt that a post-Covid world (or permanently semi-post, as the case seems to be) would lean hard into the glam and couture. Eighteen months in lockdown makes even the most devoted sweatpants lover lust for stilettos and satin—and, of course, those sparkling diamonds. Especially when they tell a story.
Lockdown changed us all—kids, especially. But for Eilish, it’s also been an even more critical late-teens coccoon phase, too. Her metamorphosis is a coming of age moment in more ways than one. She released two documentaries in the last year; the first, The World’s a Little Blurry, details her ascent into pop stardom: those late night bedroom recordings with her partner in crime and in family, brother Finneas, translating her teen angst into sonic, relatable escapes. There she’s at her most comfortable and awkward, covered up in baggy, crumpled clothes, teddy bears and her parents bed are where she feels most at home. Turns out a teen is a teen no matter what the Billboard charts say.
By the time she appears in The Disney+ Happier Than Ever, recorded at the Hollywood Bowl over the summer and released earlier this month, there’s no question Billie Eilish has matured. Always a diamond, the debris that held her into the earth now lies in crumbles around her. If lockdown were a person, this would be it: those suspicious yet sensitive eyes, a voice that’s hollow and yet so full of story, a style that is finding comfort in the discomfort, and a posture that says we can—and must—do better. And it turns out, the red carpet, and the world, are ready for it.