Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vegan Fashion: Faux or the Real Deal?

(CNN) -- For Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, being vegan isn't only about what she eats and chooses to wear each day.
Avoiding meat and dairy in her diet and animal-derived products in her closet is just part of the equation for the 30-year-old designer, businesswoman and animal lover. As founder of fashion label Vaute Couture, her dedication to creating animal-free coats, sweaters and other cold-weather gear has earned her a global cult following among animal rights activists and eco-conscious fashionistas.

Her activism began when she was 10 years old with an elementary school social studies project in suburban Chicago on factory farming and the fur industry. She became vegan at 17 and continued her activism in high school with a campaign for alternatives to animal dissection in science class that, with the help of national group Animalearn, eventually became Illinois law.
This week, she took her philosophy to New York Fashion Week, where she debuted her first ready-to-wear line in a solo show Wednesday, less than five years since starting Vaute Couture in 2008.
Stella McCartney, Charlotte Ronson and other big-name designers have created fur-free collections in previous seasons. But Vaute Couture is the first independent fashion house to show during New York Fashion Week with animal- and cruelty-free built into its brand DNA, from its ultrasuede elbow patches to Thinsulate-lined winter jackets.
The line's aesthetic goes beyond faux fur and leather, using organic, recycled and high-tech fabrics in an effort to redefine traditional outerwear staples. Before a packed showroom in New York's Chelsea gallery district, models, accessorized with rescue dogs available for adoption, showed off Vaute's line of coats, dresses and pants of waxed canvas, velvet and moleskin (a heavy-napped cotton twill fabric, despite its name), among other materials. Even the shoes, by Love is Mighty and Brave GentleMan, were vegan.
Though Vaute's line comes at a time when consumers seem more willing than ever to pay a premium for products from companies or businesses whose values align with theirs, industry insiders say the company is swimming against the tide in a season expected to bring new twists on leather and fur.
But Hilgart, an activist at heart, is undaunted. She believes that there are people like her who care about where their clothes come from and how they're made. It's Vaute's role to make those options more accessible, she said.
"I want to reach women who love style, love color, love fashion, and maybe they used to care about where their clothes came from but at some point they told themselves that it was naive to care," Hilgart said. "I think it's important that people see that you can care, you can interact with the world in the way you want and it's not naive. But to do that, you need options."
Vaute's values infused all aspects of the show, from the animal-free makeup and hair products used on the models to the vegan petit fours and cheesecakes inscribed with a V from Vegan Treats bakery of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Leashed rescue dogs were led around the audience by volunteers from the Humane Society of New York and Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. The list of sponsors included some of the biggest names in animal rights activism: the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
By sponsoring fashion events and designers like Hilgart, these groups get a chance to share their mission with buyers, fashion editors and industry insiders, key influencers of consumer trends.
"It's a great audience for us to get our message in front of," said Michelle McDonald, outreach manager of the Humane Society's fur-free campaign, which sponsored Jay McCarroll's runway show in 2006 and Charlotte Ronson in 2008.
The Humane Society tracks progress through a growing list of designers and companies that have adopted fur-free policies. But Hilgart has taken the commitment to "cruelty-free" fashion a step further with Vaute, McDonald said.
"She's not only trying to do her part for fur-bearing animals but for animals all over," McDonald said. "We're very thankful she's out there and attracting so much attention from the fashion industry."
The genesis of the company came from Hilgart's own desire for a stylish winter coat that wasn't "accidentally vegan" because it used substitutes for wool, fur or leather to drive down costs. She was a DePaul MBA candidate on break working as a Ford fashion model in Hong Kong when she decided that entrepreneurship was the best way for her to make a difference.
"I realized that if I could create a business where the process in itself was actually creating positive change, that would be my activism," she said in a phone interview last week from a noisy New York coffee shop in between final preparations for her show.
"I started with outerwear because I found being cold was an excuse to wear animal products," she said. "I wanted to figure out where I would be needed to make a contribution to the movement so people would no longer need to use products and materials made from animals."
Whether consumers are ready to give up fur, leather and wool is another story, even if it's in favor of equally stylish and warm alternatives. Hilgart knows there is a market for animal-free fashion among people like her, vegan or not, who take conscious consumerism to an active level.
Many of those people attended Wednesday's show and were thrilled by what they saw, regarding the Sailor Moon-inspired collection as a validation of their beliefs.
"Compared to even just a couple of years ago, there are now so many cruelty-free alternatives to products that we used to think required the bloodshed of animals -- everything from shoes to cosmetics to luxury fabrics," Jasmin Singer, executive director of Our Hen House, a nonprofit animal advocacy organization in New York, said after the show.
"As a society, we're evolving away from commodifying animals, because, finally, it is becoming clear that it's not only cruel, it's unnecessary. There are accessible, affordable, sustainable and attractive alternatives that are ethically sourced and cost no lives. Why not choose them?"
People want to do the right thing, she says, citing growing excitement around organic food, fair labor practices, and even faux fur and leather as evidence.
But some see the interest in fake animal material in fashion as simply the trickle down effect from more of the real thing appearing on runways. Even if interest in animal-free fashion might be greater than ever, in the same way that more people are willing to go vegan or pay extra for locally made products, trend forecasters say there's a greater interest in looks incorporating fur and leather, which will be reflected on the runway this season.
Part of it is a continuation of the seasonless fashion trend that began showing up unexpectedly in spring and summer collections, said Jaclyn Jones, womenswear editor of style forecaster WGSN.
But most of it has to do with the luxurious look of leather and fur, plain and simple, Jones said.
"There's a point of view from many people in the fashion industry that having real leather or fur pieces adds a kind of elevated conception," she said. "Everyone is always trying to look like their outfit costs more or have more worth or more value to it, especially during economic hardships, people want to make sure they're putting money into something that will last."
Hilgart understands that perspective, which is why it has taken her this long to come up with looks that she hopes will make the fashion world and consumers take notice, she said. Creating garments of high-tech materials to convey the indulgent look of high fashion took months of research, especially for someone with no formal training in fashion, she said.
With coats and skirts starting at $200, Vaute Couture's price tags are also typical New York Fashion Week, at least on the low end of the scale. Hilgart said the prices reflect the quality of materials and the cost of paying workers a living wage to produce most of the garments in Brooklyn, where she lives. (The line's knits come from Maine.)
"I knew I had to design something that would be innovational for the entire industry. Not using animal fibers was an opportunity to look past what was just good enough to make something truly superior," she said.
But even attendees of Wednesday's show who were receptive to the concept acknowledged that it's an uphill battle to change an industry or consumer behavior.
Simply making animal-free clothing available is a big step in the right direction, especially if it's hip and stylish, said Dakota Kim, a freelance fashion writer who attended the show so she could write about it on her blog, Fashtronaut.
"I think that (animal-free clothes) really came to the forefront with Stella McCartney and ever since then it's been a big deal. It's more mainstream and the clothes are just so young," Kim said.
Fur coats and leather pants are easy enough to cut out of your wardrobe, she said. But everything else? "It's hard to cut all that out."
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Friday, September 13, 2013

Blogger's Power on Display at New York Fashion Week

By Emanuella Grinberg 
(CNN) -- Fashion blogger Leandra Medine was expecting a crowd for her in-store appearance at Paige Denim on Fashion's Night Out last Thursday. But she wasn't expecting the bouncer or the long lines inside and outside the contemporary Soho boutique.
It wasn't just your typical crowd of young women in strappy wedges and pleated shorts out carousing for free booze and celeb sightings. Teenaged boys and mothers with young daughters had also lined up for the opportunity to meet Medine, the wry personality behind the popular style blog, "Man Repeller," which champions the use of detachable collars, drop-crotch pants and other style pursuits that don't necessarily attract the opposite sex.
"I like her because she's really cool and funny," said a 10-year-old girl who waited 45 minutes to get her shirt autographed and a picture with Medine. "She has her own style that's unique and I like it."
Though the 23-year-old style icon has been criticized for often using high-end couture to achieve the distinct looks that define her style, she says her goal is to inspire people to take chances, regardless of whether they're wearing BCBG or H&M. And her fans seem to agree.
"She comes up with ideas that I would never think of, and she has a funny way of explaining them," said 19-year-old student Lindsay Fields, who waited in line fruitlessly to meet Medine at Paige Denim. Despite staying 15 minutes late to greet as many people as possible, Medine had to leave behind a long line to make it to another fan event at New York's Grand Central Station.
"I definitely was expecting a full store, but not like that. I didn't expect girls to line up and actively try to meet me," Medine later said. "I still don't expect anything, so everything is weird to me."
It's that direct line to fans and potential consumers that makes Medine a desirable partner to designers and brands, especially during New York Fashion Week, when she's constantly sharing images and insights from the runways. Perhaps the clearest indication of her industry clout resides in the coveted front-row seats she occupies at runway shows during New York Fashion Week. Traditionally reserved for celebrities and industry heavyweights, the seats have opened up in recent years to bloggers regarded as influential taste-makers with a broad reach.
Social media bring fashion to the masses
"When a designer or a brand invites digital publishers, it says that the publishers represent the brand, their audience represents the brand and the type of content they create represents the brand," said Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects, a talent agency that represents digital publishers (the preferred term for bloggers). Medine is represented by Creative Artists Agency.
Medine's social media following tells part of the story. She has 95,517 followers on Twitter and more than 174,000 on Instagram. Her professional credentials also speak to her power and influence in the fashion world. She's part of UNIQLO's new fall marketing campaign and has collaborated with several designers on limited runs of clothing and accessories, from Gryphon trench coats and Del Toro smoking slippers to a jewelry line with Dannijo bearing her initials.
She's also been known to dress up boutique and department store windows -- sometimes appearing as part of the display -- and just submitted the first draft of a book. She has a slew of projects in the works that -- if and when they become public -- will seem all the more impressive for someone who graduated from journalism school in 2011.
It's hard to know what to call Medine these days. Is she a blogger? A freelance fashion writer? A trend forecaster? A brand? Not even Medine knows for sure. What's clear, though, is that through her unabashed sartorial choices and shrewd business decisions, the native New Yorker has achieved a unique level of celebrity in the world of fashion bloggers for which many both love and resent her.
This is Medine's fifth season attending Fashion Week and her third since designers began offering her prime real estate in the rows at their runway shows, she said. Medine is quick to put the kibosh on any discussion over whether she dresses for herself or for potential endorsement deals, saying doing so would diminish her credibility. Plus, there are enough great designers out there that she doesn't need to pander to anyone, she said in a phone interview before the start of Fashion Week.
Complete coverage: Fashion Week
"As a blogger, it's so nice to be able to attend. I'm still at the point where I'm just grateful for the invitation," she said. "The reason people find us so relatable is because we ultimately are an extension of people on the outside who want to be on the inside. We receive the luck of the draw."
A scan of Medine's Instagram feed from the shows reveals the simple yet effective formula. From her unobstructed vantage point, she captures sleek runway images, filters and captions them with a dash of whimsy, attaching appropriate hash-tags and handles to share the love. She beams them out to her followers within hours, if not minutes, of a collection's debut, typically scoring thousands of likes on a single image.
"Certain bloggers have a very large following with influencer ability. They have a great power to mobilize their audience as taste-makers," said Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, a show where Medine sat in the front row.
"Leandra is a very special A-list blogger and influencer who has a very definite viewpoint," he said in an e-mail. "Leandra herself is witty, intelligent, humorous -- there is no one like her. She radiates charm and energy and can light up any room (or computer screen). Her audience is a very qualified and a highly desirable demographic.
"She is treated appropriately for these qualities."
Attending Fashion Week shows may seem like a glitzy gravy train of free champagne, swag and air kisses. But spending one day following Medine at Fashion Week proved to be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. The following is a day in the life of a fashion blogger extraordinaire.
10:10 a.m.
Peter Som, Milk Studios
Like many Fashion Week veterans, Medine knows the shows start at least 15 to 20 minutes after the time on the invite, so she rolls in shortly after finishing up a post for Man Repeller. In what will be the first of three outfits of the day, she's wearing a thin green see-through Isabel Marant tee over a leopard-print Philip Lim bra, white Rebecca Minkoff jeans with blue embroidered animals running up the sides.
The photos start as soon as she finds her seat in a long row of benches dividing the runway among other high-profile bloggers, including soon-to-be America's Next Top Model judge Bryan Boy and model and actress Olivia Palermo.
The show is over in less than 10 minutes, but Medine has the image she'll upload in a few minutes: the final walk of the models together captioned, "Peter Som is punk rock tea party infused with tigers and ponies."
By the end of the day, it has more than 2,000 likes.
10:40 a.m.
On her way to the next event, she finds friend Rachel Strugatz, accessories editor for industry trade publication Women's Wear Daily. The two met three years ago at the website Stylecaster, becoming fast friends and "fashion partners in crime," says Strugatz, a fast-talking New York native who, like Medine, goes heavy on bling.
Also similarly to Medine, she is constantly on her iPhone, tweeting and Instagramming from the shows in between e-mails and phone calls related to her job.
"She says all the things we can't can't say (as journalists)," Strugatz says as the pair wanders through the Nonoo presentation, an alternative means for designers to showcase their collections, by having models stand on a stage like mannequins instead of walking down a runway.
"What's the inspiration for this collection?" Strugatz playfully asks Medine.
"If you ask me, it's Man Repeller," Medine says after taking a picture of the models in airy pastels and flamingo prints. "It's birds of paradise, Frida Kahlo hair and red lips."
10:50 a.m.
As Medine exits Milk Studios, a handful of photographers approach with cameras raised. She gamely poses, smiling and turning for each camera. She stops for a quick on-camera interview with Glamour Online about what she's wearing while a pair of publicists lurk in the wings to woo her over to a pop-up beauty lounge across the street.
"Maybe later," she says politely and diverts her attention to her iPhone as she makes her way to 12th Avenue. She's almost out of the crowd when a Korean photographer stops her. "Konicheewa," she says and waves at the camera.
Does she mind the constant barrage of requests for photographs? Of course not, she says.
"It's sort of like a rite of passage that reinforces your style cues, know what I mean? It's also good for my business, to be seen in photos on sites that people are frequenting," she says as she thumbs through her phone.
"I'm definitely not trying to be like 'I'm too busy for this picture,' " she says, "because, it's like, I'm not."
11:50 a.m.
Photographers are waiting a few feet from the car parked near the studio hosting Sally LaPointe's show. Medine and Strugatz decide that it's too hot to wait outside for the show to start -- not that they'll actually have to wait on line.
With an e-mail to the right person, they get me into the LaPointe show even though I had not requested a seat ahead of time. We bypass the line and the velvet rope opens for us.
I am seated in the front row next to Strugatz and Medine, though I'm warned I might have to move. Luckily, no one shows, leaving me my only unobstructed view during Fashion Week shows. As it turns out, it really is the best vantage point for runway pictures and casual peeks at front-row royalty, in this case, model Veronica Webb and Beyonce stylist Ty Hunter.
Medine Instagrams her favorite runway look, a set of blue layered shorts and shell, but it doesn't end there. After the show, she consults with LaPointe's publicist and follows her to hair, makeup and wardrobe to talk to LaPointe about borrowing the clothes to wear during Fashion Week.
When LaPointe arrives, they exchange pleasantries and Medine shows her an iPhone picture of the coveted items.
"I love that one, too," LaPointe tells Medine, beaming. "It'll be great to see it out there on someone."

1:00 p.m.
Medine catches up on the phone with the reporter on the ride home for a wardrobe change at her apartment. She requests that the details remain private as she promised the publication an exclusive.
She also denies a request to see her SoHo home, saying that she wants to keep parts of her life private. Fair enough, I say, and wait downstairs, watching her driver fill a cooler with ice for the two bottles of Absolut Tune that came with the car, courtesy of the alcohol distributor.
1:42 p.m.
"I'm exhausted," Medine declares upon returning to the car with Strugatz. She's carrying a bag of clothes from Rebecca Minkoff and Rag + Bone that she plans to change into for their shows.
She returns to her iPhone and muses over a comment from a follower on Wander, a new social media channel she's trying out.
"Following Man Repeller on Wander is like mainlining Diet Coke while riding a unicorn," she says smiling.
2:00 p.m.
Stuck in traffic on the way to Yigal Azrouël in the Meatpacking District and Medine is starting to get nervous.
"Who can I e-mail?" she asks Strugatz. "I'm just afraid that if I miss it, they're going to blacklist me."
2:13 p.m.
Yigal Azrouël, High Line Stages
Panic sets in as the car creeps toward 8th Avenue. Medine and Strugatz decide to get out of the car and hoof it over, stacked heels be damned.
Luckily, the show still hasn't started by the time they arrive. Medine relaxes and finds her seat in the front row next to Bryan Boy, while Strugatz slinks off to her third-row seat for the Israeli-American designer's show.
2:46 p.m.
The parade of hooded jackets and maxi dresses that Medine likened to "athletic nuns" didn't last long. On the way back to the car, Medine indulges several photo requests and now she's in a rush to make it to Lincoln Center for gal pal Rebecca Minkoff's show.
Medine is already wearing her jeans and changes into a white tank top by the designer, who did the white satin biker jacket that Medine wore at her wedding. The two also have teamed up on YouTube videos with model Hilary Rhoda for a rendition of "Call Me Maybe" and a "NYFW Boot Camp."
Medine sees a friend on the street who works for New York Magazine and tells the driver to stop the car and let her in. They talk about their schedules for the next few days. No one's going to Holmes & Yang or Victoria Beckham, it turns out.
"Only the top dogs go to Beckham," Strugatz remarks.
3:10 p.m.
Rebecca Minkoff, Lincoln Center Theater
The group disperses inside Lincoln Center's Theater for the biggest show of the day so far in terms of production level and star power, with Sanya Richards-Ross, Hailee Steinfeld, Ryan Lochte and Kristin Chenoweth in the front row across the aisle from Medine.
She approves of the collection of sun-bleached floral prints and summer tweeds that Minkoff describes as a nod to American photographer Slim Aaron's images of jet-setting socialites of the '60s and '70s.
4:13 p.m.
Jen Kao, New York Public Library
A line has formed outside the 42nd Street entrance and a bouncer is not letting anyone in. By the time Medine and Strugatz arrive, a publicist has appeared outside and ushers them in. They spend enough time outside, however, for a VICE contributor to take note of their expedited entry.
4:50 p.m.
Rag + Bone, West 33rd Street
When the Jen Kao show breaks up, Medine bolts out the door for Rag + Bone, one of the most anticipated shows of the day. She changes in the car on her way over into a cropped top and floral skirt and a pair of Balenciaga combat-style boots.
Again, she is seated next to Bryan Boy, who has also changed outfits, in the front row near the start of the long U-shaped runway. The seats are a who's who of celebs, New York's elite and industry heavyweights including Maggie Gyllenhaal and Anna Wintour.
5:45 p.m.
There's a cushion of time before the Helmut Lang show at 7, which Medine says will be her last before she retires for the night to observe the Jewish Sabbath with her parents. With two friends from New York Magazine, she decides to check out the party at Emporio Armani's store on Madison Avenue. She doesn't have a ticket but as usual, bypasses the line.
Helmut Lang, Chelsea
A staff member lifts the red velvet rope for just Medine while the rest of us check in and it seems like a good time to bid her farewell for the evening. She disappears into the crowd, her presence in the front row next to Linda Fargo, a senior vice president at Bergdorf Goodman, later noted in blogs and Instagram feeds.
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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Designers to Watch: Emily Miranda

Emily Miranda’s jewelry is truly fantastical.  Her pieces, anomalous in shape and size, are created with such sculptural precision that they vividly mimic mystical creatures and objects.  Ultimately inspired by nature, Miranda brings these exquisite warped shapes to life with her creative manipulation of metals to bring us effortless wearable architecture.
Nature with its aberrant beauty has always inspired Miranda’s work.  Her fascination with nature’s peculiars stem back to a childhood spent amidst the lakes and forests of rural New Jersey. Today, she holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and a MFA in Combined Media from Hunter College.  However, it is through jewelry design that she is able to communicate her sense of wonder about the world as she explains, “My hope is that the women who wear my jewelry reflect that spirit of wonder as her own”.
It is this superlative zeal for her craft, combined with inimitable product offering that has fueled a vast media interest, and successfully stacked a loyal consumer base for the designer.  Her work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times and Fashion Magazine – to name a few – never mind the countless stylists world-wide whom flock to her for her gorgeous statement pieces.
One of our favorite Emily Miranda collections is Murex, featuring a collar necklace in brushed gold, double ruffle bangle, and a scandalous hinged cuff.
For more info and a look book, visit

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rock 'N Roll Ankle Boots

Rock n Roll Ankle Boots

The pointed toe makes these shoes fab, but paired with an angora sweater, vegan leather biker pants, and a two-toned bag, this look would be absolutely fab.  True examples of the rock 'n roll ankle boot have a lower heel than the images above.  How would you pair your rockin' shoes?
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Layering Necklaces How-To

Layer a few delicate chains underneath a Peter Pan collar for an unexpected, peek-a-boo look. Stick to 2-4 layers; anything more than that will look too cluttered.

1. Khai Khai Cloud Charm Necklace, $735 
2. Jennifer Zeuner Mini Heart Necklace, $176 
3. Phillips House Multi-Stone Necklace, $1350

Give your go-to basic tee a luxury upgrade with a few glamorous strands. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different metals and chain lengths.

1. Anita Ko Medium Dagger Necklace, $4400 
2. Anita Ko Crested Wing Necklace, $7620
3. Adina Reyter Tiny Diamond Necklace, $98

Don’t discount your longer necklaces. Wrap one around twice for a layered look, then add an initial or word necklace for a personalized touch.

1. Melina MariaChain Necklace, $170
2. Lana Jewelry Love Signature Necklace, $720

Incorporate an edgy element into your work uniform while still remaining professional with a few punk-chic charms. Choose chains that are similar in size for the cleanest look.

1. Big Bang NYCPendulum Necklace, $78
2. Khai Khai Zeus Charm Necklace, $1050