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Style Recap: Fashion Hypernormalization in Copenhagen

“You’re a hero!” pronounced Valerie Keller to François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering S.A. on Wednesday morning at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. One week prior, Mr. Pinault’s company had agreed to pay 1.25 billion euros in a settlement payment regarding unpaid taxes and penalties with the Italian Revenue Agency. The conversation kicked off the summit and provided a preview of what was to come. The annual gathering provides a setting for pats-on-the-back and feel good rhetoric that is more similar in tune to a Trump cabinet meeting, and less that of a high stakes opportunity to garner momentum for significant changes in the way some of the worlds’ largest fashion businesses operate. Praise first, tough conversations later, in private, if at all. On its tenth year, the summit welcomed CEO’s, brand representatives, and influencers from forty-eight countries, many of them arriving each morning in chauffered automobiles, preffering the ironic mode of transportation to the only fifteen minute bike ride from Central Copenhagen as they proceed to gather inside to discuss the importance of offsetting carbon emmissions.

Mr. Pinault used the stage as a chance to announce that Kering would stop hiring underage models as if this sudden revelation was worthy of the applause that the summit’s audience felt obliged to deliver. Along with this announcement came the news that French President Emmanuel Macron had tapped Mr. Pinault to lead a new “coalition” of executives to address environmental issues in luxury fashion. France is hosting the G7 summit in August and the efforts by the French government to address climate change in a robust, multi faceted strategy were in full display at the summit, one of the more tangible takeaways from the gathering.

Kering’s efforts in the realm of sustainable progress within the industry are among the more respectable, which is telling. Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu, has been at the forefront of the company’s EP&L, or Environmental Profit and Loss initiative, an open source tool which the company claims can be used for “measuring and quantifying the environmental impact of its activities”. Still, as with many of the environmental programs championed by Kering, H&M and the likes, the devil is in the details. In its disclaimer within the EP&L, Kering states “Because of its nature the EP&L cannot achieve the accuracy of financial results nor can it be subjected to financial audits”. It remains to be seen how such a tool can actually result in change, as Mr. Pinault himself acknowledged: “Despite what we’re doing, things are not moving. I could understand it if we were the only company working towards this, but we aren’t. It’s amazing what some of the biggest companies are doing. But the results don’t work. We really need to define targets together.” These announcements are a central componenent of the summit, which also featured Nike’s Chief Design Officer, John Hoke, announcing the company’s Circular Design Guide, a collaborative project with Central Saint Martins and the University of the Arts London.

This years summit concluded on a politically charged note, with Katherine Hamnett and Tim Blanks trying to tackle the subject of Brexit, Trump and autocrats within their allotted speaking time of thirty minutes, which had been billed in the program as a conversation on “A Designer’s Journey”. In a suggestion referring to incumbent politicians, Hamnett concluded, broadly, that we “need to remove them from power”, to which Blanks responded reminding Hamnett that doing so should involve a democratic process.

There is a seeming momentum building around increased attention to ethical, human rights and social issues in fashion. It remains to be seen whether this will be followed by tangible change, or more of the same. For a summit who proclaimed “10 Years of Rewriting Fashion” on its promotional materials this year, one can’t help but be perplexed by the simulatenous release of the report titled Pulse of the Fashion Industry, which it has a hand in facilitating, stating that the “pace of sustainability progress in the fashion industry has slowed by a third in the past year”.

The summit and its contradictions brought to mind the following sound bite from the 2016 BBC BBC documentary “Hypernormalization”:

“…over the past forty years, politicians, financiers, and technological utopians, rather than face up to the real complexities of the world, retreated. Instead, they contstructed a simpler version of the world in order to hang on to power. And as this fake world grew, all of us went along with it because the simplicity was reassuring. Even those who thought they were attacking the system: the radicals, the artists, the musicians and our whole counter culture, actually became part of the trickery. Because they too had retreated into the make believe world. Which is why their opposition has no effect and nothing ever changes.”

A warning to us all.

Stay tuned for more on sustainable fashion from Devin Gilmartin, Co-founder and President of Querencia Studio and The Canvas.

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