Where Eco Meets Living Art Deco: D.C. Fashion Week Fall 2011

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Blue wrap became more than starchy hospital gown material on Monday, Sept. 19, when D.C. Fashion Week launched its eco-fashion show at the World Wildlife Foundation. Although blue wrap is typically used as the sanitary barebones form of “clothing” that hospitals give during check-ups, 14 finalists of Project Blue Wrap used this material as an unconventional form of fashion.

The show began with speeches from D.C. Fashion Week’s environmental sponsors, Perkins and Will design firm and Inova Health Systems. Perkins and Will was rated the most sustainable architecture firm by Architecture magazine and reduced its energy consumption by 35% last year. From 2009-2010, Inova eliminated one million pounds of medical waste through monitoring their hospitals through an incentive program. “Being a responsible member of our community also means being responsible to our environment,” Inova Director of Sustainability Seema Wadhwa said.
While Inova’s video presented the fact that “More plastic than plankton resides in some of the remote parts of our ocean,” I was reminded that the culture of sustainability is further created when education meets art. This is similar to Alexander McQueen’s post-mortem Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit “Savage Beauty” which ran from May 4- Aug. 7 2011. In one of McQueen’s premier dresses, he used medical glass slides as a divergent from typical gown materials, dyeing the slides red. By using materials that would easily be tossed in the trash, he created environmentally sustainable couture.
Pictured below is photographer Racquel Segall who took the runway shots of all of the models, Wadhwa and HC UMD Editor-in-Chief Liz Roberts, all holding their blue wrap gift bags that came with the runway show.

Included in the Project Blue Wrap collection was a snowflake dress, a fitted raincoat with accessorized tote, a grid-style dress with alternating black tape and evening wear. The three main designers, chosen for their contributions to saving the environment, are Kelly Tang, Aidah Fontenot of the Aidah Collection and Elizabeth St. John.

Tang describes her clothing as “ready-to-wear for the everyday woman, inspired by architecture that translates into her pieces as modern with a feminine twist.” Her collection showcased daring geo-prints and unexpected cutouts of material taken from the fronts and backs of dresses.

Some of her key styles were graphic prints on dresses, a black shift with the midriff showing, supportive chignon hairstyles and a wool coat with a long black dress cut sweetheart style. Also out-of-the-box was a snakeskin graphic with a pink slip underneath.

“The cutouts in the first designer were very trendy,” Christina Tang said in support of her sister, Kelly Tang.
Fontenot’s collection, “an ethical, eco-chic line inspired by the beauty of nature within urban existence” followed Tang with a gold signature that is emblematic of the designer’s mission statement to “empower women and protect the environment.” Almost all of the clothing that was featured was made of 100% natural or recycled materials.

One stand-out piece was a pink flower accessory on the shoulder to pop against a turquoise top with a mauve skirt. Bicolored dresses were also featured, such as the dark purple with light pink combination and gold symbol embellishment. High-waisted pants with tie-up tops were a popular look for the Fontenot as well as a looser blue tunic dress.
No fashion show is complete without its celebrity sightings! Bianca Richardson, participant in the 13th season of America’s Next Top Model, arrived late with Paul Wharton of Real Housewives of D.C. “Ean [Williams, Director of D.C. Fashion Week] helped me get my start in the modeling world,” Richardson said. “D.C. is where I began with the Betsey Johnson community so I like to see what’s new in fashion around the area. Aidah is a friend as well so I came for her.”

Elizabeth St. John finished the show with her casual daywear and wedding collections. Her production cycle will minimize the most impact to the environment out of all three designers, as her operations will be 100% powered by wind in 2012. Her designer biography states that the fabric she incorporates for her dresses are 100% recycled, “such as the PET satin linings that are made completely from recycled plastic bottles and line all of her wedding gowns.”

Some startlingly beautiful pieces were the pale lilac dress with a high slit on one leg, a white dress with flowing covers from shoulder to wrist and full tiered skirt and bodice combinations with topaz and green statement piece necklaces.

“There’s this mixture of contrast with the tight knots and the loose braids,” St. John said. “I used the back slit in a lot of my pieces because it’s more difficult to make, I wanted to sex up the dress.” St. John is pictured in the center with her models and D.C Fashion Week Director Ean Williams.

Fashion show attendee UMD junior American studies major Sabrina Dunn applauded the show as the right move towards eco-friendly fashion. Particularly for the college community, she states that it’s important for the young adult age group to mix fashionable items with important issues such as the environment. A writer herself at cocokouture.com, Dunn says, “As a girl who likes fashion and writing, I’ve always loved N.Y. Fashion Week but knowing that D.C. has one too is an excellent local opportunity.”  
While Tang, Fontenot and St. John remain stylistically diverse, what they have in common is a commitment to improving the production standards of their clothing by improving natural material quality and reducing potentially harmful production emissions. Demonstrating that eco-fashion is not an oxymoron, these designers are normalizing the idea that gorgeous fashion can also alleviate risks to the surrounding environment.