Copenhagen Fashion Summit Draws Hermès, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren

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Global Fashion Agenda’s CFS+ (the digital format of Copenhagen Fashion Summit) kicked off on Thursday morning, with a 10-hour-long digital program, with fashion professionals from around the world tuning in.

This year’s summit, aptly titled “Prosperity vs. Growth,” aimed to give the — virtual — stage to all new names and speakers, with major brands joining for the first time, including the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Hermès and Ralph Lauren.

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While corporate interests were many, some speakers were a category all their own, deemed royalty or celebrity status including the likes of actress, producer and change agent Yara Shahidi, as well as singer Miguel Pimentel (also the creative director of S1C) and Mary Elizabeth, Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess, a patron of GFA.

Hilfiger, who was among the first speakers, had a discussion with Shahidi that centered on social justice and fashion’s ability to engage with political and cultural issues.

The talk took the form of an exchange between two generations, with Shahidi and Hilfiger offering their individual perspectives on how fashion can lead the cultural conversation and have a positive impact on shifting social dynamics, from gender expression to race equality.

“As a brand, we consume pop culture and what’s going on around us because the more informed we are about how people are thinking, the more successful and inspired we can be,” said Hilfiger.

Shahidi spoke about the importance of more designers “paying attention to the culture and the individual and letting things blossom from there,” rather than dictating a certain look or trend to their audiences.

“We need to acknowledge the space that fashion takes in the world as a creative force but also socially, as a uniting force. It’s indicative of where we stand socially and brands have the opportunity to lead the way when it comes to socially responsibility, with their mission statements, campaigns, donations. They can absolutely work alongside political movements,” said Shahidi who starred in Hilfiger’s fall 2021 campaign, impressed by the roster of creatives the brand has tapped for its collaborations from Zendaya to Lewis Hamilton and Gigi Hadid.

“Each of them represents a different part of culture, a different tether. People are drawn to it because it’s resonant,” Shahidi said.

Collaborating with the right people and giving them space to express themselves creatively is a big part of how you can create a culturally relevant brand, according to Hilfiger, as well as make relevant cultural statements.

“Usually, brands control what is being developed into a product. But I told Zendaya [referencing the Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya fall 2019 collab], ‘You can do whatever you want, whatever colors, whatever fabrics.’ She and her stylist Law Roach developed what they thought was going to be appropriate for the runway and for fashion and it was a blockbuster success,” he said, acknowledging the younger generation’s need for freedom of expression and for being in charge of the narrative.

“What I love about my generation is our emphasis on self-expression, on the agency we have, the respect we demand, how we want to be referred to. When I think about fashion there’s a real utility to it, it’s not something frivolous for us, but a real tool for expressing our identities,” added Shahidi.

Patrice Louvet, Ralph Lauren’s chief executive officer, followed on from Hilfiger, giving a brief keynote speech on how to design a thriving fashion industry that can benefit both people and planet.

“Everyone from customers to regulators is asking a version of this question,” acknowledged Louvet, adding that the goal is to set measurable goals and commitments in order to find the right answers.

He pointed to Ralph Lauren’s net-zero road map, circularity commitments and increased data transparency as part of the solution, as well as new initiatives to connect executive compensation with progress on the sustainability front.

“Ralph always said that ‘you don’t just wear clothes, you live a life and have a style,” Louvet said. “So how things make you feel is hugely important, it’s not just about how something looks — and it doesn’t feel good to buy something that you know will sit in a landfill or wasn’t made ethically.”

Fashion’s eye toward policy has tightened in recent years, as the EU, for one, looks to clamp down on textile waste and greenwashing.

As times are changing, a conversation between Jenna Johnson, head of Patagonia Inc., who previously led Patagonia’s outdoor business, and Olivier Fournier, executive vice president corporate development and social affairs at Hermès International, juxtaposed innovation and legacy.

“This ethos [doing more with less] has really been with us as we’ve transitioned to Patagonia: apparel and equipment manufacturer,” Johnson said, emphasizing the “and” as a crossroads from simply outdoor gear. To that, Fournier emphasized how passion, excellence and craft have been maintained from Hermès’ bits-and-harness days as the house rode into fashion goods.

“We can be proud of our heritage, but we can change anything we want if it creates change,” said Fournier, turning mention to innovation without supplier abandonment. True, the handbag purveyor announced its “Sylvania” mushroom leather innovation with MycoWorks this past March, which leads to questions on how key suppliers fit into this new material world. Fournier reinforced how responsible partnerships are integral even amid change: of the company’s 50 largest direct suppliers, relationships have been maintained an average of 20 years.

Those on the supplier side of things who have been overlooked, however, are the workers. Executives like Ayesha Barenblat, founder of human rights nonprofit Remake, and Khalid Mahmood, director of Labor Education Foundation in Pakistan, shed light on workers’ rights in a later conversation (perhaps to buffer past criticism surrounding CFS+ not giving equal play to grassroots organizers).

If anything, the CFS+ program was one continuous call to action.

In a cut between programming, Virginijus Sinkevičius, European commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries at the European Commission, thanked attendees for continuing to put sustainability “at the heart of your sector.” The Designer Challenge (a recurring aspect of CFS+ with Heron Preston participating last year), on the other hand, spoke to the reality that sectors are still failing to meet infrastructural and funding needs.

“We’re not a super strong voice, we’re designers, we’re a small cog in the machine,” said Sunshine Bertrand, creative director of eyewear company Sunshine Bertrand Ltd. The eyewear designer teamed up with singer Miguel for the ultimate sustainable sunglass design, but the group showed up empty-handed, citing funding constraints. “Certainly it’s about a lack of dialogue that’s going on, lack of transparency and lack of urgency. The eyewear industry is dominated by very large organizations, and they’re not so quick to work [on sustainability].”

Bertrand’s points on small designer struggles came to complement those of Victoria Allen, concept designer at H&M ladies denim, who spoke to the big brand perspective in a separate conversation.

Her thoughts, in a way, bookended how the greater mass movement in sustainability tips the edge back to the basics. “I don’t think sustainability is the competitive edge, I think design is the competitive edge.”

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