Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson punctuated the rapidly changing fashion industry in a visually stunning “fusion of the organic and the fabricated” runway show that married plants and tech on garments.
Some of the models at the recent Loewe runway show in Paris looked a lot like the popular 1980s chia pet—the clay animal-shaped planters that sprouted chia plants in place of fur. For Loewe, jackets, pants, and shoes were mobile planters; the label’s fabrics were seeded with chia and catswort.
The green sprouted garments won’t be available commercially; but for Anderson, they’re representative of the growing shift in the industry as it wrestles with its large carbon footprint. The fashion industry produces about ten percent of global emissions.
While the high volume fast-fashion churn is largely responsible for the industry’s footprint, materials are a big problem across all sectors. Manmade materials like polyester and nylon contribute to the ocean microplastic pollution issue that endangers the food supply and increases acidity. This can reduce the oceans’ ability to sequester carbon and produce oxygen.
Labels, particularly in the luxury sector, are seeking out lower-footprint alternatives such as plant-based and fungi-based leather. Stella McCartney’s long-anticipated mushroom leather Frayme handbag is now available for pre-order. Hermès promised it would deliver a mushroom-based travel bag last year. Alexander McQueen is experimenting with the material; so are Pangaia, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger as part of a new coalition helmed by mycelium materials company Ecovative.
Explorations into lower-footprint materials also include cactus and pineapple leather, as well as alternatives to silk, wool, and cashmere.
Fashion houses are also embracing materials that can biodegrade—from shirts and shoes to leather, like the bamboo leather Tesla interior upgrade now available.
For Anderson, the new collection is less an exercise in sustainability—although as part of the LVMH group, that’s at the forefront, lately—and more a nod to our changing relationship with nature. He tapped Ulargui Escalona, a designer and recent graduate of the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Madrid.
“My goal when I started this project was to stress how it is time to reconnect with nature, to take care of it and to truly understand that fashion has to be more sustainable,” Escalona recently told Vogue.
“We spent four months testing different garments [and] accessories until we decided which ones we wanted and which plants we wanted,” Escalona said. “It was actually very challenging as I’m in Spain, so I had to grow them here and then send them to Paris in 24 hours. There was always this tension [of seeing whether] they were still going to be good when they arrived.”
The seeded garments were transported from Spain to Paris, accompanied by Escalona to ensure the plants would continue to grow.
“You constantly have to find a way to [help] the plants grow better without damaging the fabric,” she said. “You have to check if they need more light, if they need more water, if they need a [certain] type of nutrient. You can check the colors of the leaves to guess what it is that they need—the most complex part is to be able to see all that and react fast.”
While Loewe isn’t bringing the living clothes to market, Escalona isn’t ready to dismiss the idea of growing plants on garments in a bigger way. “You can actually keep them alive in your fabrics as long as you take care of them,” she says. “I actually think it could be super therapeutic for a person to have a garment like that, that you have to take care of. It’s [about building] a connection. I think that’s what we need right now: consumers being more conscious, taking care of the things we have and trying to reconnect with nature.”
The spikes of vibrant greenery were counterbalanced by Anderson’s equally compelling dive into futuristic fashion tech. “When you’re sitting on a train or in a cafe, everyone is looking at the screen,” said Anderson. “And in a weird way, I was fascinated by this idea. What happens when a screen becomes the face?”
He did just that—making face masks out of screens, as well as other garments covered in the panels playing videos as the models walked the runway. It’s a big nod to the metaverse and the groundswell of interest from the luxury sector in recent months. Prada and Adidas partnered there recently, and the first entirely AI-designed collection launched there last month, to name a few.
“I think we should have a place to be able to talk about these things constructively,” Anderson said, emphasizing it’s not nature versus tech, but some strange new world where they overlap more significantly than ever before. “Maybe out of this through we can find progression somehow.”
Read about Hugo Boss’s recent partnership with ‘weird’ designer Spencer Phipps.