LVMH and Central Saint Martins have been collaborating for more than six years, with the luxury giant sponsoring scholarships as well as the lecture theatre at CSM. Now the programme has moved into overdrive with a new agreement to focus on sustainability and innovation, led by Carole Collet, appointed CSM LVMH Director of Sustainability and Innovation. To mark this momentous occasion, a day of events was organised at Central Saint Martins. We broke down the key trends for you:
The sustainability factor
LVMH began to focus on sustainable business practices in 1992 in their wine and spirits division. Now the emphasis is shifting to their other businesses. Shoes and handbags, for example, rely heavily on leather. Cattle ranching requires vast natural resources, from land to water. Traditional leather tanning uses heavy metals, most notably chromium, and the resultant waste is a health hazard. PVC, another component in bag making, is also an environmental contaminant.
Can anything be done to create a sustainable process? Emilie Gombert-Duclos, senior leather goods designer at Givenchy, explained that luxury brands are on a constant search for more sustainable materials, but she pointed out, with some justification, that “pleather isn’t always more ecological than leather.”
Companies, she said, should focus on sourcing materials ethically – and encouraged the students to continue asking questions. “We are still a business, and suppliers create things that will sell. The more questions that are asked, the more opportunities for new materials will be explored. Demand creates the supply.”
LVMH brands, including Pucci (a highlight of the day, with the presence of Laudomia Pucci), are already working with CSM students on garment preservation projects and the exploration of environmentally friendly dyes.
“The more questions that are asked, the more opportunities for new materials will be explored. Demand creates the supply.”
New tech influences
Innovation and technology are at the heart of the new LVMH message. Take one of LVMH’s most interesting brands: Loro Piana, an Italian luxury label that strives for incomparable, exclusive luxury. Garments are manufactured in Italy, but a key fibre – vicuña, the world’s most precious animal fibre – is produced in an enclosure in the Andes. And Loro Piana’s baby cashmere garments are created using the underfleece of goat kids in Mongolia. The breeders are supported by the company both financially and ecologically, allowing them to protect and nurture their rare breeds.
So far, so familiar: a luxury knitwear brand steeped in quintessential Italian tradition. But Loro Piana does not shy away from innovation. A recent project involves harvesting the fibres from the stems of lotus flowers from Lake Inle in Myanmar. The fibres are gathered, spun and woven by hand. Stiffer than animal fibres, the lotus flower textile creates more rigid garments than the supple cashmere jumpers for which Loro Piana is best known.
Creating textiles out of less-appreciated natural materials such as banana, coconuts and pineapples is not new, but nor is it yet mainstream. The challenge awaiting Loro Piana will be how to sell this avant-garde approach to its longstanding customers. This is perhaps the greatest difficulty facing luxury brands trying to tackle sustainability issues. Who’s to say that taking fibres from lotus flowers halfway across the world is any more sustainable or ethical than the production process for baby cashmere? Is it a gimmick? And, most importantly for a luxury brand – is it actually desirable?
Loro Piana’s innovation and exploration of new, non-animal based textiles is admirable and undoubtedly creative. But the consumer must believe that it is sincere. Both as consumers and creatives, we have difficult questions for the luxury industry to confront and accept.
Who’s to say that taking fibres from lotus flowers halfway across the world is any more sustainable or ethical than the production process for baby cashmere?
Responding to the consumer
Throughout the day at Central Saint Martins, each LVMH brand, from Pucci to Bulgari, emphasised the importance of quality, craftsmanship, modernity and innovation in design. But at the heart of it all is the consumer. Success requires the creation of beautiful product that not only weaves desire into the hearts of consumers, but is also relevant. Products that sell.
This core point was a refreshing insight into the practicalities of the job. The LVMH designers themselves were keen to emphasise that a reflection of commercial needs is something to be positively celebrated.
At J.W. Anderson, where head of womenswear Greta Villiger talked about the unbridled creativity that drives the design studio, it was made clear that working with merchandisers is crucial to building a collection. “If the merchandiser feels that some things, some market place is being missed, then we’ll talk about ideas that still feel interesting and integral to the brand but can serve the customer… It’s about finding the right idea at the right price.”
At Givenchy, the leather goods team also champions collaboration between merchandisers and designers to harness creativity and meet consumer demand. Senior designer for accessories femme, Emilie Gombert-Duclos, said that to stay competitive in a crowded market, designers need to “provide the right product, at the right price, at the right place, at the right moment…with a supplement of soul.” A mantra that serves as a reminder that fashion is big business.
The LVMH designers themselves were keen to emphasise that a reflection of commercial needs is something to be positively celebrated.
Working with the new generation
LVMH perceives Central Saint Martins as a fertile recruitment ground for innovative design and creativity. The luxury group’s partnership with students and alumni from Central Saint Martins is already well established, including the LVMH Prize award that has supported young talents such as last year’s winner Grace Wales Bonner and design duo Marques’Almeida.
This year, five students across various disciplines at CSM have been awarded LVMH Grand Prix scholarships – two in BA Fashion, two in MA Fashion and one in MA Narrative Environment. Continuing this momentum, a non-fashion scholarship has been established that links to a different discipline every year, broadening the spectrum of collaborations.
It will be fascinating to see how this new scholarship will evolve every year based on what’s happening in the market, embracing the work of students from different creative backgrounds.
LVMH perceives Central Saint Martins as a fertile recruitment ground for innovative design and creativity.
Report by Kristina Ezhova, Desislava Todorova, Florence Allday and Lianne Piroddi.
Photos by Azra Sudetic and Sanghwa Yim.