Resort has always been a weird season, an incongruous mash-up of “takeaway clothes” for the St. Tropez set and cozy sweaters for the rest of us. This year, the collections we saw in June and July were particularly dissonant: Designers who make party dresses tried their hand at jeans and T-shirts; tailored suits were replaced by their quarantine counterparts—sweatshirts and joggers. There was still the odd gown or nipped trouser, items likely completed in the ignorant bliss of “pre-quar.” As a result, resort 2021 became less about trends and holiday dressing and more a study of what we’ll wear after lockdown—though with COVID-19 cases rising in parts of Europe and the U.S., that timeline feels hazier by the day. Still, most of our conversations with designers weren’t about the clothes at all. Instead, we heard about the highs and lows of creating a collection remotely: conducting fittings via Zoom, sending fabric swatches to buyers, and the logistical headaches of lost shipments and furloughed employees.
Suffice it to say, finishing a collection at all was a feat. Consider the number of resort reviews on Vogue Runway: 98, compared to around 250 last year. Beyond the creative challenges, cashflow came to a grinding halt for many designers. Retailers cancelled their pre-fall orders, saddling labels with mountains of unsold inventory, and clothing sales hit record lows in the spring. For those who wanted to show something new, the only option was to get resourceful: They used leftover materials from seasons past, revived old patterns, and relied on working with their hands, sewing, draping, embellishing, and dying garments at home. “I realized through it that I’ve never wanted to make things more, to be more creative,” Jonathan Anderson said at the time. That’s one silver lining of such restraints and limitations: They simultaneously narrow your focus and unlock ideas you may not have had in the #BeforeTimes, when any fabric or silhouette or trim was at your disposal.
The other silver lining, of course, is that all of these methods are more sustainable: making do with what you have, repurposing materials, and designing only what feels truly necessary. As Gabriela Hearst puts it, designers “skimmed the fat,” the fat being superfluous items made to appease retailers or fill a lookbook. It’s difficult to concisely express just how significant a change this is; for decades, the mantra from retailers and press was that “more” is always better: more collections, more SKUs, more colors, more exclusives, more collaborations, and ultimately more waste. In comparison, what seems like common sense—producing smaller collections of items people will actually buy, wear, and keep forever—sounds radical.
It also feels like deja vu for most of us. For years, designers, retailers, and editors have complained about the pace, the excess, and the toll it takes on creativity, not to mention the environment. It took a global pandemic to turn the conversation into action. Similar to the lifestyle changes we adopted in March—social distancing, working from home, wearing a mask—the shifts fashion needs sound insurmountable at first, but they aren’t mind-bendingly difficult. They’re changes that, taken together, would have a massive impact.
Some designers are sitting out the spring 2021 season to figure out their next steps, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a breather (and choosing not to make stuff just for the sake of it). But others are wasting no time in mapping out a more sustainable, thoughtful future. They’re cutting their lists of wholesale partners, desperate to avoid future cancellations and charge-backs; they’re committing to producing fewer collections a year, with fewer deliveries and fewer inventory problems; and they’re designing spring 2021 in the spirit of what fashion should be in the next decade: consciously made with limited resources, on a smaller scale, and with no shortage of creativity. Here, two of them—Hearst and Marina Moscone—share a behind-the-scenes look at how they’re making it happen with Vogue Runway.Gabriela Hearst appeared in her resort 2021 lookbook alongside her sister, Magdalena.Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela HearstGabriela Hearst appeared in her resort 2021 lookbook alongside her sister, Magdalena.Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela HearstGabriela Hearst appeared in her resort 2021 lookbook alongside her sister, Magdalena.Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela Hearst
“The pandemic made the mentality we are working in feel more relevant,” says Hearst, who is known for her uncompromising commitment to sustainability, explains. “We were always thinking 10 years ahead, about when we have water shortages and climate disasters. The pandemic isn’t what’s going to wipe us out as a species, but the environmental crisis will. We have to change [our behaviors and systems] drastically, and the pandemic taught us is that we can do that—we can change in the blink of an eye. We have the technology to do make those changes in the fashion industry, but it just takes a new consciousness.”
If restraint and resourcefulness conjure images of spare minimalism, Hearst says her spring 2021 collection is actually “extremely intricate,” even more so than her past efforts. She designed it alongside her men’s collection, which was made entirely of pre-existing patterns and fabric, and resort, 60% of which was produced with pre-existing and recycled materials. (Hearst and her sister, Magdalena, also worked overtime as models for the shoot.) Spring will boast a similar percentage; in these photos, Hearst collages leftover materials and trims with new garments made from fabrics her team purchased pre-pandemic.
Working with deadstock wasn’t a new challenge for Hearst; her north star goal is to eventually reach 80% non-virgin materials, and her team has been “working backwards” for a few seasons by purchasing rolls of pre-existing fabric before the collection is even designed. That means there is a predetermined number of garments they can make, and by choosing not to develop all-new materials, the carbon footprint is significantly lower. One problem that was entirely new for Hearst was tackling a sudden excess of inventory: With her London and New York stores closed for months, unsold merchandise piled up, and she wasn’t willing to put it on deep discount. Instead, Hearst is doing something bolder: She’s creating a “retrofit collection” of past-season garments that are tweaked or redesigned to feel like new. The collection will be sold exclusively in a top London retailer. “The key is to make sure it still feels desirable,” she says. “No one is going to buy something for its good intentions. They’re going to buy it because they truly desire the product.”Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela HearstThe making of Gabriela Hearst’s spring 2021 collection.Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela HearstPhoto: Courtesy of Gabriela Hearst
The retrofit line will be among the first examples of true luxury upcycling and could elevate the concept in a post-pandemic, climate-conscious world. Hearst has long been adamant about designing garments that will be sold and cherished, avoiding excess altogether. “The most sustainable thing you can do is to pay attention at the design table. A lot of waste happens there,” she says. “If you control your instinct to over-design, you really become sharper and more focused. That’s what I like about these restrictions—your creativity flows in a really focused way. And if you prioritize sustainability, that’s the answer. If we’re making a linen dress with trims, and we have the choice between a herringbone lace trim from last season or a new one, we’re going to use the one we already have. If that’s your mentality—that new is not always better, and that you can make this [leftover fabric] beautiful—you’ll make a lot of headway.”
Marina Moscone’s name isn’t always brought up in sustainability conversations, but her mindset is similarly thoughtful, less-is-more, quality-over-quantity. Before the pandemic, she was one of New York’s most exciting on-the-rise talents, praised for her attention to detail and impeccable tailoring. (The best testament to her skill comes from Lorna Williams, an in-demand tailor and pattern-maker featured in Vogue’s September issue, who referred to Moscone as a “prodigy.”) Handwork is a key ingredient in Moscone’s collations, even if they don’t look “handmade.” Her twisted satin dresses are painstakingly draped and tacked by hand in her New York atelier, and the interiors of her blazers are hand-constructed. When her Italian textile mills shut down this spring, she set up a wooden loom in her apartment and hand-weaved her resort 2021 collection using leftover yarns. She’s weaving a few spring 2021 garments, too, and the rest is being designed with past-season materials.
“I live next to our office, so at the beginning of lockdown, I went in and spent a week looking through everything by myself,” she says. “We have such beautiful deadstock, from the tried-and-true textiles we’ve developed for past collections to our knitwear yarns… Just because it’s from a past season doesn’t mean it’s not relevant anymore. I weaved with all of those yarns and found ways to do hand-embroideries with the yarn, and tactile handwork using old fabrics and trims. We just found new ways to interpret them, and we did the same with old patterns.”
Despite the headache of canceled orders, lockdown also removed certain distractions, like planning a show for fashion week or traveling to Italy every few weeks to check on production. “This new way of working afforded us the opportunity to look at the relationship between our beautiful materials, the handwork, and the silhouettes, but actually do it even better, because we didn’t have to be on the hamster wheel of more, more, more,” Moscone says. “I didn’t even realize it until March, but I’d been going through the motions every day, creating collection after collection. And when that stopped, I gained so much clarity.”
One of the first decisions she made was to cut ties with a number of retailers, namely the ones that had pushed for more deliveries and ultimately put her collections on sale after two weeks. “It’s so wasteful and gluttonous, this constant need for more,” she says. “The way I develop my collections has nothing to do with that train of thought. Everything is made slowly and with care, and I just couldn’t fathom that I might take a full year to make something, and then it only gets two or three weeks to sell before it’s marked down or sent back to me. I realized I had to do what’s best for us and for the woman wearing our clothes, and ultimately, that’s making fewer collections. I really saw that it should be about sustainability and care, and the community around the brand, and the whole process, really. Not just the end result and rushing to get there.”
Moscone is reducing her collections from three to two, and is moving to a pre-collection model, as resort and pre-fall collections spend more time on the sales floor. “The collections are going to be tighter and more edited, and they’re going to be made with the client in mind, not the store that wants me to send them 30 blouses,” she says. “And I won’t be on the hamster wheel anymore. I think I’ll be able to design with more purpose and integrity, and avoid some of the waste.”Photographed by Matteo MobilioMoscone hand-twisting and pinning her signature satin dress.Photographed by Matteo MobilioPhotographed by Matteo Mobilio
Hearst and Moscone are influential enough to inspire a ripple effect of change, both for their peers and their customers. But Sandra Capponi, the co-founder of Good On You, the site known for rating brands’ sustainability efforts, points out that independent designers can’t fix the industry by themselves. “If a massive brand makes even a small change, it can really shift the dial on environmental issues,” she says. But corporate brands often have built-in red tape and are slow to move, and their supply chains have become so vast, they’re nearly impossible to trace; the discovery of fast-fashion garments made in Uighur labor camps in Xinjiang is a recent example. It doesn’t come as a surprise that none of those massive brands have a 5-out-of-5 rating on Good On You; most of the brands with scores of 4 or 5 are on the smaller side. It isn’t an excuse for the big players, though. “These large brands have access to more resources and have teams who can engage with industry bodies, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and certification schemes to support tracing and transparency,” she insists.
The other piece of the puzzle, of course, is the person buying the clothes. “What’s going to move the needle in the future are the consumers. They have a massive role to play in all of this,” Capponi says. Good On You recently updated its ratings criteria to hold brands accountable for their response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well, because its community wants to know if a brand canceled orders in Bangladesh factories, or if it protected their retail employees when their stores reopened. What makes a brand “sustainable” or “ethical” is changing by the day, but as millennial and Gen-Z shoppers increasingly demand transparency and sustainability from the brands they love, it’s also going to be key for any label’s survival—whether it’s an independent New York atelier or a global powerhouse.