Stella McCartney Had a Question: ‘Why on Earth Would You Be in Fashion?’

This season Stella McCartney eschewed her normal slot during Paris Fashion Week for a slightly later reveal — with a twist. She’s not coming out just with a collection; she’s coming out with a whole lexicon of values, with each letter illustrated by a different artist.

Below, in an interview that has been edited, she explains why, and what it means.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pandemic changing the fashion value system, but you seem to have taken that literally.

I think, like all of us, I asked myself a lot of questions during lockdown. “Why do I do what I do? Why do people work at Stella McCartney? And why on earth would you be in fashion?”

I had all these sleepless nights, and then I woke up at like 4 o’clock in the morning and wrote down everything that really makes what I do important to me and meaningful. I wrote a manifesto without knowing it.

Then we turned that into an A to Z. I wrote down words that basically correspond to the meaning of the brand. A is to be accountable, C is to be conscious, S is for sustainable, L is for love, H is humor, O is for organics, Z is for zero waste, R is for recycle.

Every letter has a word that I think is a great kind of focus for us now and for the future, because when you’re working this way, you can always be better. And it’s been great fun to design around that, too. D is for desire. It doesn’t mean we have to punish ourselves. It doesn’t mean we have to compromise. We can still have fun.

What are you going to do with it?

It’s basically a set of guidelines and principles for the brand, and it’s lovely because it gives clarity. I think words are really important, especially when people are talking all the time about sustainability and fashion.

But a lot of it is greenwashing, and a lot of it doesn’t really have any substance. So for us, it’s like put your money where your mouth is. Just setting the record straight and just be like, “You know what, this is what we do at Stella McCartney; we intend to do this forever.”

I wanted to really give an a clear explanation to everyone. A huge percentage of people don’t even know what a vegan really is. Like what does that mean? I mean, there are so many words and there’s so much confusion around them.

So how is it being realized in your collection?

For the summer show, it’s working with recycled industrial waste. I find it so sexy and cool and exciting. We have some lace pieces, and all of the lace is completely upcycled from what we have left over from maybe four or five fashion shows. All of our cotton and all of our denim is a hundred percent organic now, which is amazing.

Of course, tomorrow my organic crop might fail or I might not be able to source it. There’s a fragility in working this way, and you have to kind of hold your hands up and say, “You know what, we’re trying really hard, but we are not perfect and you can only control so much.”

What else are you doing?

We have a room that’s all one-off pieces that were basically pieces that we made but that weren’t put into production. They were just sitting around. I thought: “Why are these going into a sample sale and being chucked out? These are precious pieces.” So instead we’ve taken them and embellished them more and put little handwritten notes in them. And so they became hugely rare and precious and emotional.

You are now in a partnership with LVMH, so are these ideas and the manifesto going to trickle upward? Should we expect Fendi to go fur free?

You’d have to ask the Fendi gang. I hope so. The biggest impact we have in a positive way on sustainability at Stella McCartney is not using animal products. One of the many reasons that I wanted to join LVMH is to really infiltrate from within, and I think it’s a brave statement from them to invest in me.

I’m a vegan fashion house that’s not in line with a lot of what they’re doing, and the fact that they are betting on someone like me — that was a bold move. That’s a conversation starter. It says we’re looking at this and we’re taking this seriously. You know, it’s a big ship. I’m like this little pirate ship. I’m like the Sea Shepherd on the side.

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