A joint statement from Simone Cipriani, The Ethical Fashion Initiative and Marion Hume

The United Nations’ ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) today announces that Marion Hume will step down as senior consultant after five years.

During this time, the Ethical Fashion Initiative has expanded to be truly global with designers from Britain’s Vivienne Westwood to Australians, Sass & Bide and New Zealander, Karen Walker working with some of the world’s most marginalized artisans.

Hume, an international fashion journalist of nearly 30 years standing, with a career spanning the UK, the USA and Australia, has worked closely with the fashion media across the world to promote the possibilities of Simone Cipriani’s vision to use fashion as a vehicle out of poverty.

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has featured in global issues of Vogue, Bazaar and Marie Claire as well as the Financial Times, The International New York Times and The Economist. “Working with Simone Cipriani and the Ethical Fashion team from Geneva to Nairobi has been an extraordinary privilege, full of unforgettable memories and achievements,” says Hume. “As a fashion insider, it has been wonderful to be part of a process of shifting the needle towards more thoughtful production, to acknowledging the artisans who make our clothes and accessories and being more mindful of the environment. The biggest honour has been the human connections as artisans are empowered to change their own lives while EFI’s designer partners create truly great fashion.”

Cipriani adds; “Our time together has been great and full of achievements. I will always be grateful to Marion for the work she has done with us. Part of the reason we are where we are is because of Marion’s dedication and hard work. So, thank you, Marion, you will always be with us.”

HOW SHOULD WE DESCRIBE SPRING’S, UM, ‘GLOBAL TREND’? – NEVERUNDERDRESSED.COM

DESCRIBE

www.neverunderdressed.com BY MARION HUME

SUNDAY 26 JANUARY 2014, 06:00

For spring 2014, designers looked far beyond their backyards for inspiration, mimicking an ever expanding global market with the international flavours of their collections. The trouble is, we don’t seem to have the fashion vocabulary to describe them. Writer and ethical consultant Marion Hume on the pitfalls of provenance and why you should never say ‘tribal’

‘Designers are thinking globally this season, with plenty of African inspired beading.’

The caption, on a jacket featuring bands of blue and white braiding, is from a woman’s magazine. The question is, what is African inspired beading?

Does that mean in the style of the Magreb where the beauty might lie in unexpected juxtapositions of silver, amber and shells? Or is the inspiration the vivid creations of the Samburu, where uniformity is prized to the point that any glass bead not perfectly round is rejected? And why this sartorial esperanto that implies all is the same from Mozambique to Senegal?  Designers are never ‘European-inspired’, because that might mean anything from Aran knits to Lederhosen.

AT DIOR COUTURE AW13, RAF SIMONS ‘OBSERVED DIFFERENT CONTINENTS’

”African-inspired’ is just ignorant laziness. Inspired by which part of Africa’s 54 countries exactly? Which part of its 6 different geographic zones? So 1.1 billion people inspired the collection?’ says Kiran Yoliswa, co-founder of the popular website, SBA.

But hang on. Doesn’t SBA stand for ‘Styled by Africa’? Isn’t that wrapping up a continent as one? ‘We called our brand Styled By Africa because we source collections from all over the continent and our mission is to showcase the diversity in African fashion,’ Yoliswa counters. ‘Traditional Ethiopian womenswear is very white with only hints of colour while West African women wear much brighter designs, in turn different from Mali’s mud cloth or Tanzania’s kitenges. To be ‘Styled By Africa’ means simply that the people and places of the continent have contributed in some way to what you are today, which is true of our customers, designers, and collections.’

Ok. With ‘African- inspired’ eliminated, how to describe the trends we’re currently seeing at Givenchy, Dior, Celine? What about ‘ethnic’?

‘Used to describe any non-European aesthetic. Without any real descriptive value,’ says Yoliswa.

‘Tribal?’

‘Cringeworthy, patronising. And used to describe stereotypical geometric patterned prints or beaded jewellery that could be from anywhere. With feathers usually thrown in for good measure.’

Yodit Eklund, founder of Africa’s first youth culture brand, Bantu Wax, says the T-word should be deleted, not just because it is offensive but also because it reveals the writer as hopelessly out of date. ‘Tribal, to me, refers to anything but the cultural explosion that is taking place across the African continent today,’ she says. ‘Africa is moving at the speed of light. There are more mobile users in Africa than in North America.’

‘Global traveller’ is the euphemism of the moment. All it reveals is that fashion scribes – the majority still white anglo-saxon like me – aren’t very good at geography. Or history. Or politics. But how to describe the hottest collections of the season? Some writers called Dior ‘Africa-meets-Japan’ – a distinctly unequal collision if you visualize it, given one landmass measures about 8,000km tip to toe, the other comprises hundreds of islands, (and even then, sovereignty is disputed by Russia, China, Taiwan…). Style.com managed to teeter without breaking any eggshells by noting, ‘a Maasai neckpiece, a Parisienne wrap, a Shinto scarf.. colorful, optimistic emblems of national identity.’

So as long as you avoid thinking of Africa as a country not a continent, you are specific in the nations or cultural groups you cite and you avoid using terms that expose you as a complete colonial throwback, will you then be doing ok? Then what about this scenario:

You’re at the Vivienne Westwood Gold label show. The model coming towards you is wearing a trouser suit of fabric handwoven near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and she is carrying a bag screen-printed in Nairobi and beading by the Maasai in Lakipia, Northern Kenya. (All this is thanks to Westwood’s enduring collaboration with the United Nations ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative for which – full disclosure- I consult). With the best will in the world, how to be culturally correct in a tweet? Is “Dame Viv @FollowWestwood shows fab stripes and squiggles made with @_ethicalfashion #Africa” not ok?

‘I think it’s fine because it is made in different places within Africa. If it was just made in Kenya, there would be more of an argument to just say ‘Made in Kenya’.’ says Kiran Yoliswa.

Westwood’s collaboration allows marginalised artisans to join the fashion chain in a fair way. But what of all those designers who turn to the African continent for inspiration but produce elsewhere so that no profits go to the source?

‘When done properly, some places can actually benefit from the increased awareness about their cultural styles,’ counters Yoliswa, citing Burberry’s use of West African wax prints. ‘I do think this helped place African designers more in the mainstream and allowed the indirect growth of their brands as well.’ Yet, to add to the confusion, those wax prints are created by VLISCO, which is Dutch.

Let’s move on to how we describe designers themselves. In the unlikely event I were ever to cross the fence from journalism to design, I would most likely be ‘English’ (even though my heritage, not my accent, is Scottish). How to describe Nkwo Onwuka, a British designer of Nigerian heritage who lives in Nigeria yet finds inspiration from the traditional craft of the bronze casters of Benin? No wonder fashion writers opt for bland cover-all lines such as, ‘Nkwo Onwuka is worth watching.’

All this is not only ‘An African Problem’ (to use another sweeping and inaccurate term). Let’s travel to the Americas and Walter van Bierendonk’s recent menswear show which included milliner Stephen Jones’ take on a Native American feathered headdress. (Help! Should I be writing Cheyenne, Sioux or the Muscogee war bonnet?). This was daubed with the words “Stop Racism” ;  allegedly a response to the headgear at the Chanel Metiers d’Art show in Dallas at the end of last year. The Metiers d’Art show at the end of 2012  had been held in Edinburgh. Yet Lagerfeld’s plays on the sporran and tam o’shanter had my Caledonian heart beating with joy, not righteous anger. Is that because my forefathers, cleared from their crofts on the orders of greedy landowners to make way for sheep at least had a chance, unlike those slaughtered in long years of government-sanctioned genocide?

Damn,  fashion is fraught.

I guess where I’m going with this is at least we should acknowledge we’ve got to try harder. But we have a long way to go.  This is, after all, the business that refers to a plaster pink shade as ‘nude’. Maybe this season’s style crush, Lupito Ngong’o will at least knock that lazy terminology right out of fashion.

The Start of Something New – Australian Financial review

Collette Dinnigan: The start of something new

collette
AFR | October 2013

Never play poker with Collette Dinnigan. I should state here that in years of knowing her, both as a designer and a friend, she’s never suggested a card game. But were she to do so, I’d decline. Goodness, can she keep things close to her chest.

Recently, I have seen quite a lot of Collette; at her Paris show, for afternoon tea, and then over drinks at Le Meurice she gave me her gorgeous new book (launched in Australia on Tuesday), many of the adventures within ones we shared. Her business grew as my fashion life in Australia began. Arriving in Sydney from London to edit Vogue, as I did in 1997, was a pretty lonely gig. Collette just plunged in and invited me home to dinner.

So when my colleague Katrina Strickland called seeking comment on Collette closing her business, I was stunned. Collette had just shown the freshest collection she’s done in years: genuinely lovely, bang on trend.

Close now? I haven’t been able to talk to Collette before writing this – the time difference from London and deadline didn’t allow. What follows is my guess of what might be happening.

What I know for sure is Collette is smart, ambitious, driven. Her husband Bradley, also in the business, is charming and strategic. Give up a career she has fought so hard for?

My hunch is that’s not what’s happening here.

Spending time looking for the right investor – not found – makes one examine a business. What went wrong? Perhaps this is a case instead of what to do right. Close stores? Why not, as rents and staff costs rocket. Bizarrely, Australian designers are online from overseas.

There’s a reason Matches Fashion – which grew to an e-commerce force from a store in south London – is bringing British designers on a “rock tour” of Australia. It is the same reason American retail giant Neiman Marcus is sending its creative director to meet the customers.

Last May, Mr Porter’s Jeremy Langmead was delighted to appear at The Australian Financial Review Bespoke conference because Australian men are the e-tailer’s second-biggest customers.

What astonished even Langmead was that the offer of three days’ free shipping after the event, announced from the Sydney Opera House stage, had a take-up over triple what he’d anticipated, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Who needs stores anyway?

MORE TO COME
Is Collette giving up altogether? I think she’s just pausing for breath before an even bigger next chapter. Her family is happiest at their organic farm down south.

Might this be the launch pad for a business like the UK’s Daylesford Organics? (Good food was important to Collette long before it was such a trend.) Maybe a Maggie Beer-meets-Donna Hay with seasonless, gorgeous, ethical clothes in the mix? And perhaps a really glorious collection of rural holiday rentals too, given Bradley has a background in hotels and she’s great at interiors?

Could this be the beginning of the business I longed for when I first arrived in Australia? One that encapsulates the uniqueness and makes the differences touchstones of chic – as Ralph Lauren did for America years ago?

The modern business model would be to sell that dream almost all online and have a gorgeous shop off-the-beaten track with places to stay to experience the lifestyle. If she is giving up a brand she’s fought for to bake cookies for the kids, she’ll bake those cookies into another even better Collette Dinnigan brand.

Sacré Bleu – Australian Financial review

AFR | October 2013

by Marion Hume

Hush hush, but have you heard the latest about cocagne? The source is limited but whispers are spreading through the French fashion crowd. Really, if you are planning to holiday in the snazziest summer enclaves in Europe next summer, (Cap d’Antibes, Ile de Re, St Paul de Vence….) you don’t want to miss out.

We are talking about something difficult to obtain but entirely legal of course. While you pronounce “cocagne” almost exactly like the marching powder which, some years ago, a supermodel allegedly put close to her nose, this column reaches you not from seedy late night London but from sun-drenched South West France, with its Medieval cities which grew rich thanks to the cocgane trade reaching every corner of the world.

What is cocagne? It’s about the size of a tennis ball and originally came with a distinct whiff of urine. In 15th century Toulouse, dealers built Medieval McMansions complete with blingy turrets and spiral staircases and probably tried to out-do each other with pimped-up ox carts too. The hit they sold was blue.

A cocagne is the solid, transportable form of a plant extract that releases blue dye. While abundant in nature, for centuries, blue was the trickiest hue to fix onto fabric. Your 12th century Game of Thrones warlord wasn’t wearing ecru because of a pre-Armani taste for beige but because no one had yet been able to take the taste for woad face paint and make it work for fashion. The breakthrough came when someone took the ordinary-looking plant called pastel, from which woad derives, pulped the leaves, dried them, fermented them in human urine, rolled them into balls then, about a year later, crushed these and hurled the powder into a vat of boiling water. When the offcuts from the loom were dipped into this brine, the cloth emerged a celestial blue.

So successful was the taste for pastel blue that by 1570, the pope decreed priests shouldn’t be seen in it as it was far too common. But the good times would end. Indigo – faster, cheaper – arrived from India. The French government tried to ban its import but by the mid 18th century, it was all over for the lords of cocagne. In turn, the 19th century saw indigo ousted in favour of synthetic dye, the 20th saw the pollution of rivers near European fashion factories. And so it came to pass that, by the 21st century, the poor of China started dying because dyeing had turned their water sources toxic. Those with a conscience are looking back to the environmentally-pure pastel of France.

A combination of university boffins plus eager artisans have been trying to bring pastel up to date for over a decade, the challenges, including finding an eco trigger for fermentation that does not whiff of the pissoir and making a labour-intensive process economically viable have taken time. First successes including (pee free) body products – soaps, lotions and the like – trumpeting the pastel plant’s antiseptic properties and labelled “Comptoir de Pastel” are now de rigeur in the chicest French holiday houses.

Now, at last, linen and cotton scarves dip-dyed a glorious Gallic blue are available via a completely sustainable reintroduction of a traditional artisanal trade and for around the 40 euro mark, making them viable additions to a holiday wardrobe. Gorgeous Gauls, who would never be seen dead out of darks while in Paris, are accessorizing their summer looks (white jeans, striped T-shirts – that chic cliche that keeps on looking good) with a swath of pastel blue scarf, worn either soft knotted at the neck, wafting in the evening breeze or even tied over an Eres swimsuit.

As far as I know, Pastel de Lectoure is the only producer to have launched an online source of pastel scarves with an English translation. Let the international trafficking of cocagne begin.

Fashion Journalist and Ethical Consultant