Everyone’s Talking About Sustainability — Why the Red Carpet Still Hasn’t Caught Up

Cue fashion police gasp. Joaquin Phoenix has thrown out all the rules this awards season by vowing to wear the same Stella McCartney tux for every event. And he’s kept his word. Since the Golden Globes, Phoenix has been doing his part to reduce waste and McCartney couldn’t be more pleased. “This man is a winner,” she wrote on Instagram. “Wearing custom Stella because he chooses to make choices for the future of the planet and all of its creatures.”

Joaquin Phoenix77th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2020Wearing Stella McCartney
Joaquin Phoenix wearing Stella McCartney.
CREDIT: Rob Latour/Shutterstock

However, that can’t be said for everyone.

While sustainability is dominating conversation at Men’s Fashion Week and high-end labels such as McCartney, Reformation, Mara Hoffman and Gabriela Hearst are making strides, the fashion business has been slow to address the issue. One place that continues to show and advocate fashion’s flare for excess? The red carpet.

With awards season in full swing, Hollywood’s biggest stars are making statements in different designer gowns and shoes night after night. “You Fedex 27 boxes [to end up with] one dress,” said stylist Anita Patrickson, who is working with “The Irishman” star Anna Paquin. “That’s where the problems come from.”

Despite this being the norm, Patrickson said she’s trying to pull less looks, focusing in on a more edited version than a typical fitting for celebrities during awards season. For Paquin’s Dior Golden Globes look, for instance, Patrickson said she committed to that designer and had three dresses to choose from to be more sustainable.

Anna Paquin77th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2020 Wearing Dior
Anna Paquin in Dior at the Golden Globes red carpet.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

She added, “More than ever people are feeling like they want to consume less. There’s less concern over a million-dollar necklace when there are fires going on, but it’s honestly not easy. It’s something I wrestled with styling a lot, which is one of the reasons I started Amanu (her eco-friendly-minded custom sandal company). It’s an extreme and I felt I needed to offset that.”

She’s not alone.

As climate change continues to confront the world as a whole, those with platforms to raise awareness are using it.

Thredup, a popular online consignment shop, penned a letter to Oscar attendees urging them to re-wear a dress this year. For those that do, ThredUp will then sell it and donate 100% of the sale price to the eco-charity of the celebrity’s choice. “Single-use outfits have gone from a Hollywood norm to the norm for us all,” it reads. “We learned that dresses, in particular, are some of the most carbon-intensive items to produce, and the biggest culprits of single-use fashion. If everyone in the US wore their garments at least five more times, it would save 40 billion lbs of CO2e annually. That’s the equivalent of taking 1.4 million cars off the road for an entire day.”

Another celebrity making an effort is “Fleabag’s” Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Following the Globes, she announced that she would be auctioning off her one-of-a-kind Ralph & Russo couture suit to benefit Australian wildfire relief efforts. It sold for AU $40,000.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge77th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2020Wearing Ralph & Russo Same Outfit as catwalk model *10325132ab
Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the 2020 Golden Globes in Ralph & Russo.
CREDIT: Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Saltzman, whose roster includes Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan, Jodie Comer and Waller-Bridge, among others, admits that she can’t and doesn’t force feed the issue of sustainability down her clients’ throats, but it is very much top of mind.

“If my client is interested in that I’m going hard and I’m going all the way. If they are vaguely interested, I’m still going for it. As options come more available I’m going to support that. I will always support Stella [McCartney] and if you look at my track record, it proves it. I believe in wearing more than once, using items that’s available today. You don’t need everything custom.” She continued, “I’ve watched the red carpet constantly change. Now there’s 10 every day. Enough is enough. Many of my clients are asking, ‘Can I wear that dress three times?’ And I’m like ‘Yes! Let’s use our stuff over and over.”

Yet, the majority is still stuck in old ways and there’s a few reasons why — whether it’s a cultural mindset or industry standards. And fashion doesn’t make it easy. Women wearing the same dress twice has become a faux-pas, plus, brand ambassadors are expected (and most likely contracted) to hit the carpet in their designs.

“I have the luxury of working with very high-end brands, and for the most part I work with clothes that are made on the highest level by craftsmen. The materials come from the finest mills so it’s not as much of a question [about its sustainability],” said stylist Kate Young, who noted that client Margot Robbie would likely be in Chanel most of the season as she is a brand face. Young added, “We live in this country where we can buy a dress because we have a party to go, we don’t buy a dress because our old one wore out. There’s a bit of guilt associated with that.”

Margot Robbie77th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2020
Margot Robbie in Chanel at the Golden Globe Awards.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Saltzman addressed the gray area as well, saying, “At the same time it is fun to have that fantasy. It’s a combination. People look at these carpets as an escape. They want the release from their realities. What I care about is not making a statement with clothing but working as a whole as a community. That power is great.”

And as times are changing, consumers are holding people with power accountable more than ever.

For influencer Thania Peck, who has shifted her job as fashion blogger to focus more on sustainability, education is key.

She said, “We need consumers to be educated. Consumers make up the populous. There are luxury designers that are sustainable but no one is talking about them and no one is utilizing them on the red carpet. It’s a problem. People need to be pushing that narrative.” Peck added, “Celebrities. They are celebrities. They have a platform. They can stand up for anything they want to. So, who are you, what are you doing and what do you stand for?”

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