Photos by Amanda Coen for Ecouterre
VAUTE Couture made yet another appearance at Fashion Loves Animals to celebrate and raise awareness about the benefits of vegan fashion. The fashion show and cocktail party honored Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, President and Creative Director of VAUTE Couture, with benefits going toward Farm Sanctuary’s work. Demonstrating that stylish looks can be accomplished using all vegan labels, Hilgart included Love is Mighty, Brave Gentleman, Matt & Nat and cruelty-free makeup by The Body Shop in the show. And of course, several small furry friends made an appearance throughout the night both on and off the runway.
As an emerging term, vegan fashion is something that is misunderstood by many people. Some confuse it as a label used to describe a line developed by a designer who is vegan in his or her eating habits. However, it goes far beyond that. Vegan fashion encompasses a way of life and thinking about larger systems, providing yet another set of options we can choose from to consciously express our beliefs on a daily basis. For Hilgart, this means clothing is eco-friendly, fair trade AND animal-free.
Hilgart initially ventured into the world of vegan fashion not because she wanted to be a designer, but because she wanted to have a real impact. She told LAIKA magazine, “I didn’t want to start a fashion label; I wanted to figure out where a new voice was needed to help animals.” Her first item: a winter coat that was animal free and could stand up to the cold winters of her native Chicago. Hilgart’s “V-wool,” a Polartec shell and liner made from 100% recyclable, closed-loop, zero-waste ripstop, the fleece-like fabric is wind, water and snow resistant, was transformed into a stylish coat and became an instant hit.
Having seen rapid success, Hilgart is now on a mission to change the industry. The FW2013 collection that VAUTE showed during New York Fashion Week in February 2013, instantly made headlines as the first all vegan, ready-to-wear line to be shown on the runway during fashion week. The appearance of small dogs up for adoption that accompanied models down the runway also added to the excitement, leading CNN to laud Hilgart as “the rebel of Fashion Week.” When asked what was the biggest lesson she took from the experience, Hilgart told Ecouterre, “It’s simple but really- the more you must create something, the more you must create something. If you feel the momentum inside you, you have to put it out into the world. And the scarier it is, the greater the reward.”
Hilgart has taken many risks to pursue her passion for offering animal-free alternatives to the fashion world. Materials such as organic velvet and recycled satin line the clothing and racks in her Williamsburg flagship store which she designed and outfitted using completely salvaged materials. Though sometimes more expensive, she insists on manufacturing all her designs locally in New York’s historic Garment District.
For the Fashion Loves Animals runway show, Hilgart once again armed almost all the models with a small furry creature as they shared her latest designs. Sturdy waxed canvas bomber jackets left little excuse for leather and tagua nut buttons offered a cruelty-free alternative to elephant ivory. Knowing the power of numbers and the importance of supporting others in the industry working towards a similar goal, Hilgart brought on several fellow vegan fashion labels who had worked with her at fashion week to help introduce new ideas about fashion. Vegan leather bags by Matt & Nat, men’s shoes by Brave GentleMan, Love is Mighty’s women’s heels made by artisans in India, and cruelty-free makeup by The Body Shop rounded out the show.
Though Hilgart has already made waves, she refuses to take a break. Some of her innovative fabrics are already being used by other lines and she insists that if given quality alternatives, other brands will be more likely to experiment with them. “We’re already seeing vegan fashion pick up in mainstream brands like Free People and Express, with a few vegan friendly collections. I’m working on developing fabrics and apparel that are better than traditional animal fabrics, so that we can transition into using those. I want to make it clear that we don’t need to wear animals, and the best way to do this is to create options that are innovations for the entire industry and better than the mainstream fabrics in performance and design.”
The Fashion Loves Animals night was a reminder of how people who work with passion, patience and conviction can impact change. Gene Baur, President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary, stated “Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is not only making it easier to make choices that don’t hurt animals, she’s making it fashionable.” Though Hilgart and her fellow designers started out working on a small scale in a territory that was largely unknown, they have all helped to shape a new sector of the fashion industry that reflects their belief in a more just world. The team will undoubtedly continue to shock crowds as their impact grows and vegan fashion gains ground.