Friday, March 2, 2007

Stella!!!!!! Definitely no fur - but iffy merino - in a (luxe) streetwear collection named desire

Scurrying to get to this morning's first show I am confronted by a half dozen people in white coats standing outside the venue, the Palais de Chaillot. Each is standing next to a dog on a lead. I think to myself, "Ah yes - yet more animal rights protestors", before doing a double take, and then remembering that the designer whose show I am about to see - Stella McCartney - does not in fact use fur.

On closer inspection it emerges that the white coat brigade are models hired by Target. Each has a little red Target logo on their pocket and each dog - every one of them a massive white bulldog - has a red 'target' painted in concentric circles around its right eye.

The spruikers hand out literature and bottles of water with "Proenza Schouler for Target" labelling. As for the dogs 'makeup', whether it was red paint, lipstick or theatrical makeup, I can't help thinking:

A/ That's got to be hard to get off a white dog and
B/ What would the animal rights lobby say?

Add to that the most pressing question of all here:

C/ With McCartney's own capsule range for Target Australia due to be released in Melbourne next week, shouldn't that in fact be Stella McCartney for Target that is being spruiked out the front of her show?

The animal rights lobby of course has no issue with McCartney. In fact McCartney is something of a PETA poster girl. A staunch vegan who has steadfastly refused to use leather or fur in her collections - in spite of the fact that her brand is now owned by one of the world's biggest luxury leathergoods conglomerates, Gucci Group - McCartney appears on PETA's website in a special videogram, designed to help people think twice about using fur. Her spring/summer 2005 collection moreover earned PETA's "Best animal-friendly luxury collection" award that year.

It is with some surprise therefore, that I get to my seat and open McCartney's show notes only to find the following word listed under fabrics used: "merino". I make a mental note of asking McCartney about this after the show.

The music comes up and the two sides of an enormous silver 'wall' pivot back on their tracks to reveal the runway.

It's a terrifically upbeat collection of rugged-up urban chic: from enormous hooded parkas to oversized knit dresses, some of them boasting an alpine intarsia motif complete with cute 'bears', to voluminous gilets, jackets and one skirt in a shagpile carpet-look faux "fur" made using a handcrafted "tufting" technique.

There are also some great dresses, notably one sculpted putty-coloured knit pinafore dress over matching turtleneck and some cashmere jumpsuits, the best in hot, almost fluoro pink, with a sporty racerback. Oversized seems to be the key to this show. The best coat in the collection is a striking ivory trench with overblown, almost leg o'mutton sleeves.

The collection, which is available through leading multibrand boutiques such as Belinda, Elle and Cactus Jam, should be a hit. Far bigger Stella McCartney news in Australia right now however is the Stella McCartney for Target range. A 45-piece "Best Of" collection, according to the McCartney camp, it's due to be unveiled at the Melbourne Fashion Festival.

I dash backstage to speak to McCartney and wait in line while all the wellwishers say hi. There's a suite of big US retailers - Barneys, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman.

Paris Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld (who some may recall was wearing a Prada outfit on the day of the Prada show last week) was not in Stella McCartney, but Roitfeld was wearing a gold pyramid stud-embellished navy cardigan hot off last night's Givenchy runway.

McCartney answers question after question from a gaggle of international television crews.

The issue of fur comes up in every interview and McCartney uses various terms such as "old lady" and "barbaric" to describe what she thinks of the look. She is wearing an ink blue hooded sweater dress, black stockings and black satin pumps.

Finally it's my turn.

Just as I go to flick the on button on my tape recorder, McCartney's PR loudly advises "No personal questions this time".

Frankly I'm amazed that he remembers me. He is referring to the last question of the post-show chat that I had with McCartney last season when I had the temerity to ask, after reading McCartney's usual show notes dedications to her family, her parents etc..., just what she might dedicate to Heather Mills, the soon-to-be ex-wife of her father Sir Paul McCartney. At which McCartney stormed off saying words to the effect that it was the most ridiculous question she had ever heard. Given the well-publicised animosity between the pair, I didn't think it was that ridiculous.

So, no personal questions this time:

The Target Australia deal - that's an interesting choice for you.
Stella McCartney: 'Tarjay' apparently is what we say. Yeah you know, the H&M thing was such a success but it wasn't in Australia and we felt sorry for the Australians. So we just thought, you know what, let's do it. Because it's a nice thing to do and I think the collection looks great and I think it will hopefully do well.

I am told it's a Best Of/greatest hits collection.
A little bit of a 'best of' yeah - some nice little print dresses, nice knitwear, some nice stuff - good trousers, nice tailoring.

When you did the collection for [European fast fashion chain] H&M, the merchandise virtually evaporated from the shop floors in hours. So potentially we're about to see some of that H&M-type hysteria in Australia?
It's similar because you know... it's what we do. We didn't sort of water anything down. We treated it quite seriously. We're proud of that collection actually. The girls want it - the girls in the [Stella McCartney] studio.

People may even fly to Sydney to buy it.
No they wouldn't go that far.

Why are so many designers interested in doing these tie-ins with discount chain stores?
I don't think anyone's sort of ashamed of doing these things anymore. I think they're a bit more realistic. I mean we're all aware of lots of different brands and lots of different labels. I think it's kind of modern to look at it and go, 'You know what? You wear that couture dress and you wear it with a pair of high street jeans'. It's just realistic. I don't think anyone has to be so kind of [makes gasping noise] precious about it all. It's a more modern way to look at the industry.

You're not coming out for the launch?
I don't think so.

Walking into your show before, there were these people with dogs and I thought, 'Animal rights protestors - that's weird, she doesn't do fur' but then...
I know it's weird isn't it, when they wear fur to my show? But you know, I wish people wouldn't wear...

No I mean the Target promo. But do you think the animal rights lobby would be happy about having bulldogs outside your show, especially with lipstick targets painted around their eyes?
[Joking] Aaa.... they wouldn't mind, as long as the bulldog's happy.

Now I know you don't wear or use fur however PETA also has very strong opinions on wool, notably Australian wool. PETA has in fact been extremely vocal in its criticisms of the Australian wool industry. I noticed that your show notes say you have used merino in the collection. Where does the merino come from?
From sheep - but they're nicely treated.

I don't know, I'll find out. I have no idea. We have quite a strict rule in the house of Stella McCartney that we make sure everthing's signed off. Even things like buttons. We get quite kind of... we follow the life of our product before it hits the shelf.

So you're saying that you don't use Australian wool in your collections?
I don't know. I'll find out for you. I'm not 100% sure to be honest.

McCartney's PR intervenes:

PR: What is the question?

McCartney: Is it Australian wool?

PR: Oh no, it's not Australian wool.

McCartney [to me]: Why - are you mean to your sheep in Australia or something?

It's the mulesing issue - the practise that is used to combat flystrike. It's had quite a lot of publicity around the world, with calls for boycotts of Australian wool etc...
McCartney: I'm sure they do something mean but we don't use that. We're nice to our sheep and our wool. We're very responsible.

Approximately two hours later I receive a phone call from McCartney's PR office.

The office has looked into McCartney's supply chain, I am told, and reports that it can confirm McCartney's wool is "English Shetland".

I am also informed that the Target promo outside McCartney's show was essentially ambush marketing organised without McCartney's permission. Target US and Target Australia are two completely separate companies.

Now, I'm no wool authority, however merino and Shetland strike me as two completely different types of wool. And why on earth say that you use merino in your show notes anyway, if it is in fact something completely different?

According to Australian Wool Innovation, no merinos are bred in the UK and 70percent of the merino wool that is used worldwide in apparel hails from Australia. A small percentage comes from South Africa and New Zealand.

AWI was unable to confirm or deny whether McCartney does in fact use Australian merino wool. But curiously, that does not appear to have stopped them from using McCartney's name and collection in an autumn/winter 0506 trend report on their website - which makes specific reference to McCartney's use of merino wool.

The source of Stella McCartney's "merino" is obviously a matter between McCartney and her supply chain.

Unless any Australian merino growers reading this who believe that they supply either McCartney or the Gucci Group parent would like to throw some light on the issue, all we can really say for sure is that there is a 70percent chance that McCartney used Australian merino in her AW0708 collection, a 70percent chance that she used it in her AW0506 collection and a smaller chance that she may have even used it in her SS05 collection that was dubbed by PETA to be the "Best animal-friendly luxury collection" of the year.

Two things we can however say with a fair degree of confidence: Target US tests makeup on animals.

And a bunch of Parisian bulldogs will be taking the red eye across town for the next few days.

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