Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Timberlake, Pink, Karlie Kloss; just some of the names that come to mind when I think of Stella McCartney’s AW19 show. With the online buzz from the #ThereSheGrows campaign, followed by an empowering collection and show of global inclusivity, McCartney has given us all a schooling in how to seamlessly combine social media, celebrity status and fashion design, to work for the greater good.
The collection’s build-up began on February, 21, nearly two weeks before it's showing. On Instagram, McCartney introduced the #ThereSheGrows campaign with a recorded message, in the name of the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem of Sumatra, Indonesia; she informs that the area is at risk of logging and development and she promises to work with Canopy and the Stella McCartney Cares Green Foundation to help, before donating a tree in her mother’s name. Finishing the clip, she asks Paltrow to follow suit and also donate a tree for a loved one, knocking the first domino of the star-studded nomination challenge which ensued. The strategy grabbed the fashion and environmental worlds’ attention alike, hotly anticipating the upcoming show – one shadowed with positive change well before the first look had appeared.
Indeed, this move is far from rogue in McCartney’s rich activist history, and for her brand which stands up for sustainability in an industry consumed by fast fashion. Since her 1995 graduation show at Central St Martins, where vegan sandals stormed down the runway, her name has become one synonymous with eco-friendly, cruelty-free production. The AW19 collection is dedicated 'to the ones we love in the past, present and future', succinctly intertwining the definition of sustainability with her campaign rooted in loved ones, and the planet in which we all live.
As March, 4 finally rolled in—amidst the hectic and bombarding nature of fashion month—the collection, shown in the stunning Opéra Garnier of Paris, was a real breath of fresh air. The runway was adorned with the names of those who had dedicated trees for the campaign, ensuring a spine-tingling aura of teamwork and activism filled the hall. On this ground the collection came together, combing empowerment with free-spirits, and a sense of global inclusivity – and massive breadth in a show of only fifty-one looks.
The models who hit the runway were undeniably strong, serious and demanding of respect, with hyper-masculine silhouettes and hair slicked back behind the ears. Bold shoulders were impossible to miss, with oversized pads featuring in Glen Plaid patterned trench coats to salmon pink dresses – these even further exaggerated by cinched waists using various belts. This unapologetic sense of power continued with military-style shirts and dresses featuring buttoned epaulettes, large, structured collars and front facing pockets. At times the looks were androgynous, and men and women would walk in almost identical outfits – a statement on equality and human indifference. Hefty boiling suits, tailored jackets tucked into high-waisted trousers and the bondage-esque details, which wrapped around models waists and necks completed this authoritative tone; together it screamed, ‘we have something to say, and you’re going to listen’.
McCartney did not let these commanding features stray too far from the boho, feminine aesthetic which characterised her SS19. Brighter yellows, greens and pinks met the catwalk and models were embellished with colourful statement earrings made from paper clips – a gentle reminder of the trees at risk in the Sumatran rainforest. Flowing slip dresses featured cut-outs filled by intricate, doodle-like cords and patterned silks came in a variety of forms. No matter how loose the outfit, however, each look was firmly grounded to the floor, printed with the tree donators – not a stiletto to be seen! Platform knee, and sometimes thigh-high faux leather boots, were almost 70s-disco in style and effortlessly commanding, with the potential to grow into McCartney classic in the future. Chunkier, just-above-the-ankle wellies, in collaboration with Hunter, stole the rest of the shoe lime-light, importantly rooting the collection in nature, planting, and growth.
The global reach of McCartney’s environmental aims, and need for an international effort to succeed in change translated to a plethora of worldly inspirations being showcased. There was a collaboration with Shelia Hicks, an American artist who uses indigenous peoples’ weaving practices on wooden looms to make varying artefacts. For the show, her instantly recognisable pieces wrapped around models waists and necks and tied the clothes close to indigenous cultures, famously close to nature. Consolidating this were Japanese elements, another culture linked intrinsically to their relationship between people and the environment. Starting from the opening look when a faux leather panelled Kimono-esque coat hit the runway, ancient Japanese tradition was blended with McCartney’s modern, sustainable style.
In a collection that moved so quickly between the masculine and feminine, tailoring and dresses, outerwear and eveningwear, one thing remained constant: an unwavering focus on the environment, and human beings' relationship with it. These are clothes soaked in connotation, and hopefully, the show has had success in raising awareness for environmental issues, specifically of the Leuser Ecosystem.