Fashion Reimagined

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Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Fashion Reimagined
"Amy and Chloe’s odyssey, filmed by Daniel Götz, is an adventure tale, which includes a visit to the cutest llamas in Peru." | Photo: Fashion Reimagined Ltd

Last Friday, to escape the New York heatwave, I decided to revisit The Costume Institute’s extensive two-part exhibition, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion and In America: An Anthology of Fashion, which turned the Met’s American Wing over to nine directors: Martin Scorsese, Tom Ford, Chloé Zhao, Radha Blank, Sofia Coppola, Janicza Bravo, Autumn de Wilde, Julie Dash, and Regina King. For the exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, the filmmakers conjured up scenes mainly inspired by American domestic lives and installed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s period rooms ranging in time between 1805 and the teens of the 20th century.

From George Washington’s brown wool broadcloth coat to a Shaker retiring room, to the Battle of Versailles fought in the air, to the gild of the Gilded Age, and on to a delightfully elegant funeral party in the Frank Lloyd Wright room, where the guests wear Charles James and Scorsese pulled the strings - you cannot help but think of sustainability and that a turn back to different attitudes from the past towards clothing is not only necessary but desirable. There is nothing winsome in the fact that approximately 150 billion garments are produced per year. We now buy three times as many clothes as in 1980, and wear them half as long. Three out of five garments end up in a landfill within a year.

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Becky Hutner’s Fashion Reimagined (a highlight of the 21st edition of the Tribeca Film Festival) follows Mother of Pearl fashion designer Amy Powney’s journey with brand manager Chloe Marks in search of building a sustainable collection. Along the way Becky introduces Amy to her idol Katharine Hamnett, one of the first fashion designers to raise awareness about the responsibility of those involved with clothing, which means: all of us. Andrew Morgan’s documentary The True Cost, featuring Livia Firth, was an early alert on the devastating impact fast fashion is having on the environment.

Hutner’s documentary begins in London’s Soho in April 2017, where the Designer Fashion Fund gave Powney the prize as UK top emerging designer. Having grown up with activist parents as far from the fashion world as it gets, “two souls, alas, are housed within [her] breast,” to quote Goethe’s Faust. Enjoyment and responsibility have to go hand in glove and so begins the world-spanning search for suppliers to turn Mother of Pearl into a sustainable fashion brand, which means organic, traceable, and using minimal water and chemicals. Animal welfare is key, as is the treatment of garment workers.

Amy and Chloe’s odyssey, filmed by Daniel Götz, is an adventure tale, which includes a visit to the cutest llamas in Peru. In Uruguay, it turns out, Pedro Otegui’s family farm is the hopeful answer to their sustainability prayers. Becky told me she called Otegui the “David Attenborough of Uruguay.” Animals in the open air, the country has a thriving wool industry, but no large-scale spinning or knitting capabilities at all.

The conflicts and obstacles are many and the effort needed to overcome them is significant. In their search for wool and cotton, they soon run into obstacles. In Turkey, they are not allowed to visit the fields. English sheep are rather scratchy and coarse so the mills in Scotland import Australian wool. A woman in Devon breeds Merino Sheep which produce just enough wool for one shop. A fabric mill in Austria seems perfectly eco friendly, but where can they get the wool?

It is also a dire report on the status quo of the world’s clothing infrastructure. There is a lot to learn. Denim, the most sturdy and lasting cotton fabric, embraced by workers at least since the invention of blue jeans in 1853, is a major culprit. The water use is immense to make even one pair and the pesticides in conventional cotton threaten the extinction of bees. The film states that five of the world’s top seven cotton-growing countries use child labour. 35% of the ocean’s microplastics are from washing clothing.

Most importantly, Fashion Reimagined makes very clear how much consumers themselves can do to make changes. We have to be curious about the past and alternative ways to consume or the future will blight us. Livia Firth’s Green Carpet dictum to wear your garments at least thirty times is a great start. From buying second-hand, to fixing what is broken, to wearing your clothes longer and buying fewer items, the responsibility is with us, same as it is with food. We all eat and get dressed every day and small changes can have great impact.

And for sublime inspiration from history, catch The Costume Institute’s two-part exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion and In America: An Anthology of Fashion at The Met, which runs through September 5, 2022.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2022
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Follows fashion designer Amy Powney in her bid to create a collection that’s sustainable on every level.

Director: Becky Hutner

Year: 2022

Country: US, UK


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