Yohji Yamamoto – Sunday Telegraph

Sunday Telegraph Fashion Magazine | 20th March 2o11

Yohji Yamamoto

by Marion Hum

The question is not why is Yohji Yamamoto the subject of a major fashion retrospective at the V&A this spring, but what took so long?

For it is now 30 years since Yohji (always called Yohji, not Yamamoto by fashion insiders), along with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, stormed the bastions of French fashion. It was shocking.

To say one is “shocked” can be used casually in fashion-speak these days. But in March 1981, the front row set were truly appalled. They were, already, in a jumpy mood before the first Yohji Yamamoto show began.  The chill wind of President Mitterand’s newly elected socialist regime was blowing through the silken corridors of Paris fashion, where the motto is rarely Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, but at least they expected to be on somewhat familar ground, to see more of the coquettish frills and furbelows of the likes of Valentino and Ungaro. Instead what they were confronted with was oversized, flawed, monochromatic, flat-heeled, gender neutral, asymmetrical, shabby looking clothes.  “Is there a “yellow peril” on the horizon?” thundered  Le Figaro. Not a line one could get away with now.

While the first to be accused of “Holocaust chic”, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo were not the first Japanese designers on the Paris fashion scene. Hanae Mori had established a gracious reputation for neat little suits, Kenzo had made his Jungle Jap shows into extravaganzas, Issey Miyake had been showing in Paris since 1973. But the storm caused by Yamamoto and Kawakubo didn’t die down, it got more fierce. By 1983, Le Figaro was still raging. telling readers,  “this miserable-ism is not for you. Neither are these patched garments, nor these new rags, nor these fabrics tied hastily as tatters. Nor all this funereal black. Nor the livid make-up of decomposed women. A snobbism of rags that  presents the future in a bad way.”

From the beginning, the British were more curious. Joan Burstein of Browns and the late Joseph Ettedgui of Joseph were quick to see the possibilities of the new wave. (Browns landed Comme des Garcons, the Joseph stores carried Yohji). British fashion students, who back then would travel by coach and ferry to Paris and beg, borrow or steal tickets to shows, were also early fans. Some recall finding their way to Yohji’s Paris studio after the first show and being shown textures and shapes completely new to the West. British Vogue also soon realised this was the aesthetic of the future, praising the designers of the “International East” “for their noblesse oblique, thunderstruck colour, marvellous new manipulations of print and texture.”

Part of the savagery of the initial reaction from the old guard must be attributed to the prejudice of those just one generation away from war. As for Yohji Yamamoto himself, he is defined by the circumstances of his birth, to a widowed mother, who would work 16 hours a day to raise him. In 1987, he said this in an interview with Sally Brampton, then one of the UK’s leading fashion scribes, now an agony aunt;  “The reason my clothes (are the way they are) is because I have given up, because I desire nothing. Some people try to relate that to Buddhism but it has nothing to do with it. It is hard to appreciate what I say unless you were born in Tokyo in 1943 when the war was destroying everything. Success came just by chance. I never wanted anything. Like most of my generation  in Japan, I didn’t want to do anything or be anyone, so I started to help my mother in her dress shop. I hated it.”

A lifelong love of rock n roll might seem to sound a lighter note (and led to a bizarre show where male models walked to “Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” played on a bazooka), yet Yohji himself has been somber about  “Americanization.”  “We were fed American products but at a certain age you start realizing things. The problem was, who are the Japanese people?” he has said. “It is very difficult, even for us, to find out”.

Yet as time has gone on, Yohji has also, brilliantly and surprisingly, explored the aesthetic of Paris, where he sets up home for weeks every season (his mother comes too, to cook for him). Having first fought against the richness of haute couture, latterly he has subverted it. Who can forget Yohji’s catwalk bride with a gown so huge it swept the notebooks off the laps of those in the front row?

For all the memorable catwalk sensations, most of  Yohji’s creations are rather plain, often navy and in industrial gaberdine which makes them seasonless. The same women who would not be seen dead in last season’s Prada happily boast of wearing “20 year old Yohji”, which explains why there is so little trade in Yohjis on the vintage market.

What his clothes have always explored is feminism. Never interested in coquettish appeal,  his woman is always strong, although as he has concurred, “Most men do not like strong, independent women with their feet on the ground. Men don’t want women to be outstanding…. When women try to be real people there is tremendous pressure against them. I’d like to say hang on, keep trying.”

To do so, wearing timeless Yohji is a pleasure.

It’s a Wrap – Diane von Furstenberg – Australian Financial review

AFR | April 2011

It’s a Wrap

by Marion Hume 

Diane von Fürstenberg has started a business, sold a business, started again, been a worldwide fashion phenomenon not once, but twice, appeared on the cover of Newsweek. She has dressed Michelle Obama, advocated for women’s rights, presided over the Council of Fashion Designers of America, married, divorced, married . . . Let’s stop there, because it’s exhausting. But there’s one thing she will never do: design for men.

For von Fürstenberg, who now has her first Australian store at Westfield Sydney, everything comes back to women; being a woman, dressing women, helping to give a voice to women around the world. Which is not – let’s get this clear – to say that Diane von Fürstenberg (often shortened to DvF) has any dislike of men. Or they of her. Before we get into a private – and all signs indicate, highly lucrative – company, a few examples first of female force.

Example 1. A conference, the room airless, the delegates bored. DvF prowls to the podium and, as deeply un­PC as this sounds, it is as if the embodiment of sexual energy has taken control of the room. People are mesmerised, twitchy. It is an extraordinary moment.

Example 2. I am interviewing a chief executive at Claridge’s, the top London hotel, to a background of the gentle clatter of porcelain teacups on saucers. DvF enters, the sedate salon goes silent. Everyone – EVERYONE – turns to watch her go by. “She’s like a panther,” swoons my business titan, to the air, not to me, as the raven­haired beauty in heels passes our table. Did I mention von Fürstenberg is 64 and a grandmother?

“I do use my female power,” she says when, some months later I’m in New York, sitting across the desk from cheekbones that have sunk a thousand ships. It’s the day after her fashion show, which was full of wearable, bright, practical pieces designed by the brand’s creative director, Yvan Mispelaere, a Frenchman who is ex­Chloe, ex­Gucci.

Von Fürstenberg’s role these days is as mentor to the company built in her image. As to that, while she has utterly embraced the can­-do American dream, her look is old world, sultry (un­Botoxed), alluring. “I have always used my power. I used it when I was tiny as well,” the Belgian-­born fashion icon, who speaks four languages fluently, is saying. “We all have that power. I have never met a woman who is not strong. Sometimes they hide it. Sometimes they have a husband, brother, father who puts the lid on them but, then, when it is needed, the strength comes out.”

She was born in Brussels on New Year’s Eve, 1946, to a Moldavian refugee father and a mother who, just 18 months before, had been liberated from a Nazi camp weighing just 22 kilos and who was not expected to live, much less bear a child whom she would raise to face life head­on.

Diane, with a mop of brunette curls in an age of blondes, grew up smart, went to Geneva to study economics, met Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, married him, moved to New York as one partner of that era’s ‘it’ couple, had two babies back ­to­ back and, from an initial investment of $US30,000, was a tycoon heading up an empire with combined retail sales from clothes, licences, fragrance and cosmetics topping $US60 million before her children started school.

“The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her deserts,” is how she explains all that.

Her idea, a simple jersey dress that wraps around the body and ties over the hip, was not original – American designer Claire McCardell had explored similar sartorial territory in the 1940s. Yet von Fürstenberg’s dresses, manufactured by a friend in Italy in graphic prints and with a clingy, jersey sexiness, plugged straight into the ’70s zeitgeist. Being Princess Diane of Fürstenberg helped.

The legendary editor­in­chief of US Vogue, Diana Vreeland, was among the first wooed. “I think your clothes are absolutely smashing. I think the fabrics, the prints, the cut are all great. This is what we need,” she wrote on April 9, 1970, as von Fürstenberg herself posed in a signature wrap dress, leaning against a white cube on which she had scrawled, “Feel like a woman. Wear a dress”.

Her marriage collapsed as the business grew and, by 26, she was a single working mother (although she remained close to Egon and was at his side when he died in 2004). By 1976, she was on the cover of Newsweek, in virtually the same wrap dress Michelle Obama would wear on the White House lawns 34 years later. (“That’s what you call staying power!” says von Fürstenberg). By day, wherever she went, women would stop to tell her of turning points in their lives when they were wearing her label. By night, she relished walking alone into legendary nightclub Studio 54 to hang out with Mick and Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Yves Saint Laurent and Halston.

Hers was, she recalls in her 1998 autobiography, Diane: A Signature Life, the life of the huntress. “Men had been enjoying casual relationships for centuries. Now women could, including me.” She is said to have made a joke of asking a Rolling Stone editor to guess how many of his cover stars she had seduced. “I always wanted to live a man’s life in a woman’s body,” was her mantra. When it came to business, Newsweek, in a follow­up article, dubbed her, “The most marketable female in fashion since Coco Chanel”.

Then came that familiar fashion story of boom and bust. After a damaging period of overextension, she sold her company in 1983, travelled, moved to Bali, to Paris, ran a publishing company – this while her royalties, which had been $US4 million, dwindled. The tarnished brand was looking like a ’70s throwback – until that became a good thing in the ’70s revival of the mid-­1990s.

American designer Todd Oldham invited von Fürstenberg to a fashion show that he said was a homage to herself. As she wrote in her autobiography, “part of me was flattered and part of me felt like saying, ‘wait a minute, I’m not dead yet’.” Meanwhile her daughter, Tatiana, and her then daughter­-in­-law, duty-­free heiress Alexandra Miller, were both girls in their 20s raiding her vintage pieces to wear.

On a trip to Paris, von Fürstenberg ran into Rose Marie Bravo of Saks Fifth Avenue (who would go on to rejuvenate Burberry), who told her, “Diane, we need your dresses.” In September 1997, the wrap dress was relaunched at Saks and sold out. Today, although it is everywhere, it is a particular blessing in Australia, given it is light, cool, businesslike yet feminine – as long as you have curves and confidence.

Actually, DvF had started her comeback in 1992, on television. She was one of the first to embrace televised home shopping channel QVC, racking up numbers with a range called Silk Assets. She saw the light early on in electronic selling, thanks to her association with Barry Diller who, in 1992, resigned as chairman and CEO of Fox and took a $US25 million stake in the shopping channel (it is now also online). Now chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp, he and von Fürstenberg married in 2001, the occasion for him to present her with 26 gold wedding bands, one for each year since they’d met. As von Fürstenberg wrote in her biography, “Our relationship was unique from day one and quite unexplainable . . . Later I would have other people in my heart and in my life, but somehow Barry was always there.”

The six­storey DvF New York flagship store is way downtown, on a wide cobbled street in the Meatpacking District next to the High Line, a tranquil garden along an old elevated rail line. It is in marked contrast to the interior of von Fürstenberg’s office – a riot of hot colour and girls in heels negotiating a six­-storey central staircase embedded with Swarovski crystals.

Von Fürstenberg’s own airy office is decorated with photos of family and friends. Her son, Alexander, works in finance; her daughter, Tatiana, is a filmmaker. While grandchildren Antonia, Talita and Tassilo are still young, she talks openly about how she hopes they will one day join the company. This daughter of a Holocaust survivor has always been a philanthropist. Today, ‘giving back’ includes co­hosting annual Women in the World summits with high­profile magazine editor Tina Brown. Speakers have included US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Queen Rania of Jordan, while four DvF awards a year, each of $US50,000, go to those who display leadership, strength and courage in fighting for positive change for women everywhere.

“My cause in life is to empower women,” she tells me. “Fashion has led me to this incredible dialogue with women always and … there was always a very real relationship with me and women. Now I am in the fall of my life, part of what I do is to share experience.” She shares the cash too. “When I re­created the wrap dress, I committed that for every one made, $US1 would go to St Jude hospital, a children’s research institute (in Memphis, Tennessee). One dollar doesn’t seem much, but when you do hundreds of thousands, it’s forever.”

As for the lessons of running a global business second time around, she says there is one key difference, one key similarity. Different is her clarity. “I know now you can go nowhere without clarity. What is it you want to do? How? You have to see it; it has to be clear. What kind of product? Once you have clarity, you have strategy, and once you have clarity and strategy, you have success.”

The similarity is a lesson from her mother. “Fear is not an option. Insecurity is a waste of time. The most important relationship you have in life is the one with yourself. In order to have that and to like yourself, you have to be very honest. That’s what I most want to pass on to my grandchildren.”

Another Edun- Janice Sullivan – AFR Magazine

AFR Magazine | April 2011

Another Edun

by Marion Hume 

As if the fashion business is not tough enough, Janice Sullivan must also meet Bono and Ali Hewson’s lofty aims for a niche eco label they founded to help lift Africa out of poverty.

There are times when I’m sitting with a Chief executive, who is completely ‘on message’, brilliant at expressing the ‘pillars’ of the brand and at talking through an impressive bottom line, yet I’m thinking, “Yes, but you could be selling paint.” There are other times – rarer these – when I meet a CEO who is perhaps more tentative at first, yet utterly equipped for the unique challenges of the fashion business. A latter case is Janice Sullivan. As she puts it herself, “I come from the back room. I’m hands on. I am all about product.”

Sullivan, an immaculate New York honey blonde in her mid 40s, does not have an expensive MBA. Instead, she has a roll-up-your-sleeves understanding of the logistics of making clothes and accessories in any part of the world. She knows her fabrics; she can tell at a glance how many you can cut of this and how long it is going to take to add beading.

“I started out in production; [was] then in product development; then in merchandising, then took over sales,” says Sullivan, who grew up on the Jersey shore looking across to Manhattan and whose career in New York City, until 18 months ago, involved switching back and forth between Calvin Klein and Donna Karan as she climbed the ladder at two iconic America brands. She was president of Calvin Klein Jeans when Mark Weber, who helms the LVMH business in the US, (which these days includes Donna Karan), asked her to take on a considerable challenge. She is now the CEO of Edun.

In contrast to her past employers, Edun is a minnow; a niche eco brand where the numbers for an item might be 200, rather than 20,000, even 200,000 at Calvin Klein. Since 2009, this eco brand has been 49% owned by the luxury giant LVMH. You will certainly have heard of the pair who founded it in 2005, given they are rock star Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson.

To begin with, Edun received spectacular press, way more than the usual start-up because the world’s media was keen to get up close with Mr. & Mrs. Hewson. Edun garnered renown as the go-to made in Africa label (this even though the majority of product was sourced in Turkey, India, Peru). The mission became the message; that the 53 nations of Africa have way too small a share of the world’s trade (just 3% for 2010) and that producing in that vast continent went at least some way to levelling that inequity.

Ali Hewson, a political science graduate, proved every bit as forceful as her husband at delivering facts and figures about poverty, the numbers of people in sub-Saharan nations decimated by HIV/AIDS and how buying clothes could help. The brand’s mantra, “We carry the story of the people who make our clothes around with us,” was compelling. But while the fashion business worships at the altar of celebrity if that is going to shift stuff, it is neither charitable nor forgiving. Late deliveries, inconsistent quality and lacklustre clothing lead retailers, initially so enthusiastic, to drop the line. It has been reported that the Hewsons pumped US$20 million of their own cash into Edun to keep it afloat while they shopped for an expert partner. LVMH acquired its stake for US$7.8 million.

While the timing was great for Edun, it was also good for LVMH, whose arch rival, PPR/Gucci Group, includes Stella McCartney, a brand that has moved from being perceived as, “the awkward [run] one, by [an] animal rights activist who won’t use fish glue, let alone leather”, to a sustainable, ethical, luxury brand that chimes precisely with the zeitgeist. LVMH needed an eco brand and to get one that could promise rockstar power to the front row (just as the daughter of Paul McCartney can) cannot but have added to the appeal.

The acquisition seemed the signal good times ahead. Sullivan was appointed to steer the brand; Sharon Wauchob, an Irish designer based in Paris, was hired to create a laid-back, modern fashion signature. (As to Wauchob’s nationality, she made clear on the first time we spoke that, “Not everyone Irish knows Bono”. She got the gig based on her achievements, having never before met the Hewsons). LVMH brought business expertise: the ability to help a small company with IT, customs clearance and such like.

Then Bono and Ali Hewson followed the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Keith Richards and Mikhail Gorbachev by appearing in a “Core Values”  Louis Vuitton advertising campaign, which also name-checked Edun. Invites went out to a glamourous party to fete the collaboration and to showcase a Louis Vuitton “Keepall” bag,  featuring a slick cow horn charm, made by an Edun supplier in the slums of Nairobi. Profits from the bag, as well as the Hewsons’ fees, went to African causes.

Yet not for nothing is there an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Last September, The Wall Street Journal came out with a damning article headlined  “Out of Africa, Into Asia”, containing the revelation that, since joining with LVMH, most of Edun’s clothes are made not by the poor of Africa but in highly mechanised factories in China. The story went round the world.

The WSJ piece was fair (the online version has a few clarifications, but no significant corrections), yet the ramifications of it have been unfortunate. While I was working on this piece, a leading style journalist mentioned she was working on a piece about producing in Africa but “not featuring Edun; they make everything in China.” (To clarify further on the goods that are made in China, this is no longer synonymous with sweatshops; LVMH has stringent codes of compliance for its factory partners).

There were further reasons the WSJ story, its contents cherry picked and reprinted by global tabloids, garnered such traction. Some of this was due to Bono bashing, given he is a divisive figure. Some of it was due to a rare chink in the otherwise impregnable armour of the mighty LVMH (which is rarely criticised and also spends enormous amounts of money in the media advertising its brands).

“I think it is unfortunate some people put a lock on the brand,” says Janice Sullivan carefully. However she then acknowledges, “because of all the press, because of Bono, there was a high level of expectation to not only have a beautiful collection, but to tick all these boxes in terms of sustainability, in terms of where things are made.

“But I think to go forward, you take it carefully and make sure you deliver. You want to make sure you have controlled growth. Our commitment is to make sure we grow the percentage of our line that we produce out of Africa. But it will never be everything.”

Depending how you cut it, 41% of Edun’s production is currently Africa, however this includes the Edun Live line of blank T-shirts, which are bulk-purchased by bands and brands as tour merchandise and are separate from the fashion offer. Also wrapped into that African percentage are items made in Morocco and Tunisia- North African nations that, (Tunisia’s current political turmoil not withstanding), are industrial suppliers to legions of fashion companies.

On the plus side and perhaps galvanised by press scrutiny, Edun has pledged that its fashion sourcing in the poverty belt of sub-Saharan Africa will rise to over 60%  by 2013. The highly visible fashion portion which started out as 15% of the collection, is expected to expand to 40%, and with steady attention, each collection should benefit from the transfer of skills needed to achieve these goals. Already, new collaborations are being forged; with The Crochet Sisters, a sisterhood of nuns and young girls, many of them refugees from Zimbabwe, who live and work in a safe environment in Nairobi; with a small company in Cameroon making sneakers and ongoing, with MADE, the Nairobi accessory company that provided the charm on the Vuitton Keepall bag.

Janice Sullivan is a realist. “This is made in Asia,” she says, fingering a fluid silk dress that wraps and ties over the body. “The fabrics are most likely Asian. These are African” she says, pointing to beads of recycled copper adorning a handknit. “I think Edun can be the next big brand but in a different type of way. But right now, it’s about getting it right so we can grow.” Desirability and reliability have to come before any mission.“You can have a great story, but your product has to deliver, it has to be desired by people, it has to be right and on time. And you have to do it over and over again.”

Those who frame Edun’s  sourcing of the majority of its offer outside of Africa as some kind of ongoing failure lack an understanding of the logistics that Sullivan is talking about or of the challenges of producing in the sub-Saharan region, home to some of the most disadvantaged people on earth. “As we grow more confident, we will expand our capacity in Africa,” Sullivan says. “But I don’t want to overburden, overwhelm. I want to make sure we concentrate on good, strong pieces we know we can execute, and get them done.”

“Overburden” “Overwhelm” are well chosen words. The challenges of producing in the developing world are legion. I know of this because I serve as a consultant to the UN agency, the International Trade Centre, on its global Ethical Fashion Programme, which encourages top designers to consider marginalized community producers among their suppliers. (Edun is not currently involved with the programme).

As you can imagine, it is not easy to produce high fashion in a Kenyan slum where the population density is 23 times that of Manhattan; neither is it so in war-torn rural Uganda where there are almost two million ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, refugees in their own land because of 20 years of civil war. Add to these, such externalities as lack of a reliable power supply and the need to get workers, especially women, home before dark, (which mitigating against the possibility of overtime).

It is surprisingly expensive to source among the poor. Just one equation; in Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, water and education are provided free by the communist regime, meaning the living wage is $3 a day. In Kenya, slum dwellers must pay even for access to drinking water, meaning their living wage is $4 a day – that extra dollar at source significantly upping the end price of a product. Currently Edun sources in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and the West African nation of Cameroon.

But one would safely assume that an ethical brand like Edun would be 100% organic, wherever it was producing, right? Wrong. Pesticides kill some 20,000 cotton growers a year from accidental poisoning, while a further million suffer ill health, according to Pesticide Action Network. This is compounded by the devastating effect on the environment. Edun has a noble commitment to organic cotton and has been a key force in the establishment of The Conservation Cotton Initiative (CCI) which enables displaced farmers in Northern Uganda to get the tools and funding they need to return to their land.

Appearance fees donated by Bono and Ali Hewson in the Annie Leibovitz-shot Core Values campaign were donated to CCI  facilitating the hiring of TechnoServe, a specialist in rural enterprise, The result has been that the number of farmers being helped has risen from 800 to 3,500, (the target is 8000).  Last season, Edun purchased 15 tonnes of this cotton, enough to make some 10,000 T shirts. “We use organic materials whenever possible,” Sullivan said last year, “but it’s not easy”.

Things just got harder- 2011 is an election year in Uganda and President Museveni is distributing free pesticides to farmers. “We’ve decided to push a people agenda rather than the organic agenda,” says a sanguine Sullivan now. “We’ve switched our efforts to teach responsible farming and how pesticides can be used sparingly. Yet she remains upbeat. “These are the kind of complications Edun is willing to embrace in order to thrive and grow. Inconveniences are not insurmountable. They require patience but that pays off if the result is something special.”

Sullivan, a working mother of 15 year old twins, who is also stepmom to her husband’s 15 year old son, says she was ready for a new kind of fashion challenge. She is glad Edun is about forging long relationships around the world. But for Edun to fly, the clothes have to be great. While designer Wauchob has made as many visits to East Africa as she has been able (she has a young baby), she has resisted offering African styles or prints, choosing instead to use her time there researching what it is possible to make.

Hence black crochet skirts, little fringed vests, which are bang “on trend” while the offer sourced elsewhere includes utilitarian parkas (wise, given winters seem to be getting harsher in the Northern Hemisphere fashion cities), snug chunky knits, floaty-long woven skirts and reconstructed Fair Isle patterns in rich earth tones. In other words, clothes that are not chasing youth but can be worn by grown up women such as Hewson, whose style signature is “great pants, layers and a good jacket” and Sullivan, who needs to look like she means business, but not to look “corporate”.

Sullivan is quick to praise the founders. “A lot of great ideas come from those outside the industry…What appealed to me [when I joined] was the idea that we’re all in one world now, and you can’t remove yourself from the process any more. Fashion is a big influencer. I’ve worked for some very big brands. This is still a small brand but I think it has a lot of power.”

Certainly, there is no way Edun could have come so far, so fast without the Hewsons, who remain very much involved. “I’m incredible impressed with how extensively they had already made in-roads, particularly in Uganda. It made my job a lot easier stepping in,” says Sullivan.

Star power continues to create magic. While last season, Sullivan apparently had to reign in Bono’s ambitions for a fashion extravaganza, telling him, “We are having a fashion show. Show is the second word. Fashion is the first word.” This season, he’s helped to lift menswear sales by wearing Edun, as has fellow band member The Edge, during U2’s South African tour.  As for womenswear, REM’s Michael Stipe, Hugh Jackman, Helena Christensen and Christy Turlington sat in the front row at the New York show in February.

But neither a sprinkling of stardust or a good heart is enough in the tough business of fashion.  “It’s got to be great. No one cuts you slack. I can’t put out something that looks half way, there’s no such thing as ‘we’re almost there’,” says Sullivan. “It’s always about what I can show you now that’s great.” She pauses. “Take those black skirts made by the Crochet Sisters. We’ll do 600 of the skirts,  400 of the fringed vests. No, make that 2,000 units, I’m sure we’ll do that.”

And with just 2000 units – not 20,000, not 200,000 –  a community of women, many of whom have fled the violence of war to find unlikely sanctuary on the edge of one of the most dangerous slums in the world can work, eat and stay safe until next season’s order arrives.

Royal Ways with Austerity chic – Australian Financial review

AFR | April 2011 

Royal Ways with Austerity Chic

by Marion Hume 

There’s much chatter about how a wedding dress big enough for Westminster Abbey and the world’s TV can also be in keeping with the current make-do-and-mend trend. 

Austerity Chic: that’s the term being bandied about to describe a forthcoming royal wedding of which, even if you are the staunchest republican, you cannot be unaware. Wills and Kate are doing a buffet, we hear, but there’s much chatter about how a wedding dress big enough for Westminster Abbey and the world’s TV screens can possibly also be in keeping with the current make-do-and-mend trend.

I’m guessing that the royal couple have advisers they can call on in such circumstances, but they could still learn a trick or two from my friends A&M and N&M, as both these couples have recently scored 100% on the Austerity Chic wedding monitor of my own invention.

I doubt W&K – as I shall henceforth call them, for balance – can manage to pair things back quite the way A&M did; their invitation consisted on him saying “Can you meet me at the Civic Centre on Tuesday morning?” -and there he was on the steps, in the suit he was given 15 years ago when he first came to England and got a job as a silver service waiter.

The ring was his mother’s, the bridal car – this will explain the initials – had been borrowed for a test drive from a swanky dealer, the pictures were taken outside Kenwood, one of London’s grandest wedding venues although we didn’t go in, the champagne was concealed in my handbag and the cake was a pile of meringues bought from a local cafe. As for the dress, it was in shades of oyster and chocolate, chosen by a woman who rarely gets new clothes to be worn again. All in all delightful and in the nicest way, spectacularly cheap.

N&M’s wedding was on a bigger scale. Hundreds packed the church and later, a scruffy music venue which had been transformed with elbow grease and ropes of circus lights into a magical place. The groom’s dad is of Welsh heritage, so we kicked off with cups of tea, rounds of sandwiches and slices of Victoria sponge cake that he and his side of the family had made that morning. Mother-of-the-bride is from Sierra Leone, Mother-of-the.groom from Barbados. I’m prepared to wager that the African & Caribbean buffet they cooked up later, and which the bridesmaids ladled out, will outdo W&Ks for flavour – even with all the organic produce from Prince Charles’ farms.

Another bet I know I’ll win is on the dancing. Posh ‘Hoorays’ tend to be commendably enthusiastic but really bad dancers, in contrast to N&M’s celebration where Granny-of-the-bride cleared the dance floor out of respect when she did her moves wearing flame orange robes, a vivid head scarf and a jaunty fedora hat atop it all. The bride’s dress? Cocktail length and one of those rare ones where you think “she really could dye that and wear it afterwards.”

But how can you do “Austerity Chic” when you are marrying the heir to the heir of the throne?  Kate’s dress has to be sort of grand; companies such as 9th generation silk weavers, Stephen Walters & Sons, keep going in part because of royal trade, but (please) there has to be less of it than there was of Di’s gown. Dyeing and reshaping is not an option for what is, after all, a future historical artifact, but then, that’s austerity points scored for the guarantee of a second life, viewed under glass. Where Kate’s outfit-to-be is all set for maximum points on my Austerity Chic wedding monitor is in the jewels department. After all, the ring A gave M was only second hand. And those royal tiaras get hauled out and remodelled generation after generation.

So overall, W&K may score higher than you might expect, familiar as they are with the Austerity Chic mantra; Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.

Fashion Journalist and Ethical Consultant