Vegan luxury: two terms that used to live on opposite sides of the fashion spectrum and never meet. Just a decade or so ago, luxury was the remit of those who preferred the ostentatious, decadent and why not outrageously expensive – and were not afraid to show it. This penchant for enjoyment appeared to be completely foreign to the virtuous world of veganism, where self-sacrifice and a relentless dedication to improving the world took priority.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
But since fashion had its grand awakening and made the connection about its role in the climate crisis, luxury has had to face facts: there is no luxury on a dead planet, and unless we all change our ways urgently, that's where we're heading. So fashion adopted a new mindset and, with it, a new series of values (our Investment Pieces edit is testament to this).
As a result of this, vegan fashion has been gaining ground among the luxury set. On the annual fashion calendar, we can now look forward to Vegan Fashion Week – an annual celebration of cruelty-free luxury in Los Angeles. Founder Emmanuelle Rienda has said, “we are creating an international community of emerging fashion talents influencing the industry” – and vegan fashion is definitely having an influence on luxury.
Leading the way is, of course, Stella McCartney. While not a vegan brand (common misconception!), Stella is still a pioneer when it comes to animal rights in fashion. The first designer on international fashion weeks to refuse both fur and leather, Stella also refuses to work with feathers and exotic skins. She has said that “a move towards animal-free fashion is critical,” and is working on moving away from using silk in her brand.
Veganism has also trickled into luxury via the least expected avenues: some brands that are particularly keen on animal skins have broadened their horizons to experiment with vegan materials. Hugo Boss was one of the first ones to do so, creating a shoe range made from pineapple leather. This vegan leather was later also used in a gold-toned hat by Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld's eponymous brand collaborated with supermodel Amber Valletta on a bag in Desserto's vegan leather made from cactus. And Hermès, the French luxury house best known for its leather goods, has released a bag made from mushroom leather Sylvania, developed by material innovation company MycoWorks.
But luxury brands that are fully vegan? They do exist. Labels like Melina Bucher bridge the gap between consciousness and luxury by forgoing animal skins – but also focusing on capturing that elusive elegance that makes an “it” brand. The Dutch brand are among the first to use Mirum, a plastic-free vegan leather that is all the rage among the eco-conscious style set. As plastic – quite rightly – continues to become a dirty word in fashion, Melina Bucher is riding the wave of change by championing better alternatives. “We redefine luxury, one bag at a time,” the founder has said of her eponymous label.
Staying in the realm of bags, innovative luxury label Kaila Katherine is bringing compassion into the high-fashion space. “With today's advanced technology, leather is an unnecessary evil”, says founder Mikaila Roncevich. Her brand is also turning to cactus leather to create its polished, high-end designs which are produced by hand locally in Manhattan.
Similarly, FRIDA ROME is tapping into the potential of plant leathers to create statement handbags for a luxury client. After having started out with cactus leather, the brand has now branched out into apple leather, offering designs that are daytime-appropriate but still have an edge to them. Positioning themselves as "the brand for bad girls who do good", entrepreneurs Rebecca Joy and Natalie Deana are best friends who love to explore the planet - and make sure their production doesn't harm it. "It had to be vegan," says Natalie about their business criteria when starting the brand. "And the business would also need to provide the wealth - or even just the platform - for us to support animal welfare."
If you love a bit of glamour in your footwear, the latest name in vegan luxury is Willa Phoenix. From leopard-print stilettos and snake-embossed vegan sandals, this brand's designs are no wallflowers. But there's more to this conscious label than just glitz and glamour: free from PVC and hand-making each design by a collective of artisans in Italy, Abby Barroll Brown is committed to creating change in the industry. “I wanted to show people that style and social consciousness can walk hand in hand.” And with the new wave of vegan luxury brands, they definitely can.
By Sascha Camilli
For more luxury vegan & sustainable fashion, take a look at our Investment Pieces edit.
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her or listen to her podcast Catwalk Rebel. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Cover image by Kaila Katherine
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