09 okt Haute couture is the ultimate form of slow fashion
A mannequin in a stunning black couture dress catches your eye as you enter the building. The workshop is in the back, and the new collection can be seen hanging to the left. Space, creativity, craftsmanship and a buzz capture the essence of the new studio of one of the best-known fashion designers of the Netherlands. After some business doldrums, Monique Collignon made her comeback in 2014. Not only with designs that stop fashionistas in their tracks, but also with the courage to go against the grain.
Interview with Monique Collignon
Fashion designer, MC Collignon and haute couture
The fabric of the dress feels like satin. Never in a million years would you have thought it was made of plastic. The label is marked with the number 19: that’s exactly how many PET bottles went into making this dress.
“I’ve known Monique Maissan for years now “, says Monique. “And I have always followed how she, with her company Waste2Wear, transforms plastic bottles into sublime, almost silk-like fabrics. After a period of business doldrums, I bumped into her again. And we both thought: We really need to do something with this. So we joined hands and became business partners. Sometimes it’s just fate”, she explains quite candidly.
The collaboration clearly shows in Monique Collignon’s collections. Like seventy per cent of the new MC autumn/winter ready-to-wear collection is made using fabrics by Waste2Wear: from recycled PET.
“When I put together the couture collection for the opening of Amsterdam Fashion Week 2015, including fabrics from recycled PET developed by Waste2wear, people were like: I don’t think so. Until they saw it. They were all flabbergasted, because the fabrics were absolutely gorgeous. But it took years of product development; and that’s something people tend to forget. Which is why I have so much admiration for my business partner, Monique Maissan.”
“I have so much admiration for my business partner, Monique Maissan”
Monique’s long, thick hair is tied in a ponytail. Sporting a basic black dress and trainers, she’s the epitome of cool. When she was a teenager, she did whatever it took to look different, she tells with a grin. Trousers with enormous bell-bottoms, the coolest trainers or heels with a square toe. Her mum knitted the spencers and she herself crafted brooches out of plastic cutlery. She learnt how to make all sorts of things from her father.
“I’ve always found it important to take care of things, do unto others as you would have them do onto you and have respect for nature. Simple things, even like separating your rubbish, can make a difference. It might take some effort at the beginning, but then it becomes almost second nature.”
Before her comeback in 2014, she had never really consciously connected these values to her work in fashion. But now she wants to do things differently and, above all, with greater awareness.
“The past years were quite tough. Not just businesswise, but my horse is gone and my father also passed away. And at the risk of sounding too spiritual, it gets you thinking about life.”
“Simple things, even like separating your rubbish, can make a difference”
In this building Monique has her atelier, showroom and office altogether. In the glass cylinders you see, for example, yarn made out of PET bottles
She now does things differently. And it visibly gets her up in arms: the mountain of waste that we’re all been creating, with clothes, plastic and what have you. The same goes for how the clothing industry treats people.
“When I got back to designing, I often thought: That embroidery? Really? And that zip? Where does it come from and how is it made? So I grabbed the phone and called my suppliers. That was certainly new to them: someone was suddenly asking all kinds of questions. Sometimes they said: “Monique, you know us, right?” I asked for certifications and wanted to be sure that they were still up to date – not from two years ago. I still work with nearly all my suppliers. But there is one supplier from Paris where I still buy lace, for example, but not their embroidery. I don’t feel I can say for certain how or where it’s made. And as long as that’s the case, we’ll make it ourselves for the couture collection.”
For her ready-to-wear collection, she works with factories allied with Waste2Wear. Besides Waste2Wear’s production of material from recycled PET, they also try to reduce carbon emissions and use a closed water system – not to mention the community initiatives with local NGOs. She has faith in her partner Monique Maissan, who has been promoting sustainable fashion for at least ten years now.
Low customer demand does not exactly help
Where many brands find it difficult to speak candidly about sustainability, there’s something very refreshing about her openness and realistic view of the industry and what her customers want. “The collection is not 100% sustainable. That would just be very difficult”, she tells. Her visit end September to Première Vision, a large fashion fair in Paris, again confirmed this.
“Lot of new things are happening, but to be honest, the offering of sustainable fabrics was a bit disappointing. It was quite limited. And many companies are still unable to provide reliable information on the source of their fabrics. I also spoke to a company that had discontinued its collection of sustainable fabrics. Apparently, there was not enough demand.”
Companies naturally need to take their own responsibility, but it certainly does not help if demand from customers remains low. And there’s the question: when is something totally sustainable?
“That’s not an easy one to answer. To me, it’s important that we keep trying to improve and keep up to date with new developments. The quality of recycled wool is getting better and better. So chances are that we will start using that in one of our next collections.”
“I spoke to a company that had discontinued its collection of sustainable fabrics. There was not enough demand”
Quality is the key
“By nature, there’s a sustainability aspect to high fashion. It’s actually the ultimate form of slow fashion. It’s all about style, not trends. You don’t cast off a good suit – because ten years down the road it will still be a good suit. Sometimes my apprentices are surprised to see me walking around in clothes that are at least ten years old. But sustainable fashion is not seen that way. It’s still often associated with hippies and suchlike.”
She realises that sustainable fashion still has a problem with its image, and sees it too in her own customers. Sometimes, she has to work on them to win them over. But after that, they are fans for life. “Then suddenly you see one of them posting on Instagram that they’re wearing 19 bottles today. That makes me so happy!”, she says as she springs up from her chair with glee. But she adds that no one would ever buy or wear clothes that they think are ugly. “That’s why the quality of the collection and the fabrics is paramount. Otherwise, it just won’t sell.”
And while we’re at it: we are all responsible for the mountain of cast-offs. Sustainable clothes that don’t sell because few people see any beauty in them: well, that all gets thrown away too, right?
Designs from Monique were shown at the opening of Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week
At the opening of Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week on 5 October, Monique showed a jacket and trousers made out of PET bottles in various stages of the recycling process: the plastic itself but also the pulp and threads that come from it. The result was a ‘power suit’ and, at the same time, a ‘work of art’ of lace-like material. The mini photo-reportage #1image1000words shows the making of the power suit.
Monique Collignon designed this ‘power suit’ jacket for the opening show of the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week
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