gucci creative director alessandro michele put on a whimsical, eclectic show for his first resort collection in june. behind the scenes, the company is focused on green production. (richard drew/ap)
gucci is having a renaissance. after years in the doldrums, the 94-year-old fashion house is again the star of glossy magazine spreads, its collections coveted by couture aficionados and celebrities, thanks to the eclectic runway shows masterminded by new creative director alessandro michele . last month, its new boutique opened at citycenterdc featuring storage units that resemble elegant steamer trunks and expansive tables designed to hold a trove of costly handbags. lots of handbags. because at its core, gucci is an accessories label built on shoes and purses.
and that’s a problem. not for the company’s bottom line, but for the environment.
robin givhan is a staff writer and the washington post fashion critic, covering fashion as a business, as a cultural institution and as pure pleasure.
shoes and handbags mostly depend on leather. and cattle ranching consumes mass quantities of natural resources — from land to water. traditional leather tanning uses heavy metals, most notably chromium, and the resulting waste is a health hazard. and pvc, another favored component in bag-making, is also an environmental contaminant.
so with little fanfare, this nearly $4 billion business has been making changes. the handbags — namely the trendy $2,400 flower-bedecked dionysus shoulder bags stitched from the signature gg supreme canvas print — now use polyurethane in their design rather than pvc.
but the marketing doesn’t highlight the switch; only the vaguest reference on the gucci website notes that it is produced using an “earth-conscious process.”
the new green sensibility of gucci represents the changing philosophy of its parent company, kering — one of the largest luxury conglomerates in the world — and the luxury industry in general, including the biggest behemoth of them all, lvmh moet hennessy louis vuitton. but gucci’s reluctance to make that shift evident — let alone exciting or sexy for its consumers — highlights the unsettled relationship between the luxury business and eco-fashion.
the quiet changes at kering and lvmh are laudable, experts say. but with its rapt audience of tastemakers and innovators — and its unique ability to create markets where none existed — luxury could do so much more.
if top-tier brands buffed, glossed and shared the story of how they responsibly manufacture products, they could even make eco-friendly as covetable as a designer logo — and transform the culture’s entire view of manufacturing that is good for the environment.