Stella McCartney's Outfits Bring Sustainability Into Fashion

By Adam Baidawi
30 December 2018
Stella McCartney
Designer fuses elegant cool with environmental friendliness – and everybody is winning

Parents have a knack for rubbing off on us – from quirks to values to flaws.

So it’s unsurprising that Stella McCartney, the daughter of musician and activist Linda and Beatles frontman Paul, would grow to become an artist in her own right. Nor that she’d become a lifelong vegan. But details more innocuous than those would creep into her way of looking at the world.

As a child, McCartney would routinely raid her parents’ closets, peeking in and playing dress ups. Suffice to say, these were no ordinary wardrobes: they were wardrobes replete with crisp tailoring and glam-rock stage outfits from decades of globetrotting tours.

“At a really early age, I wanted to be a fashion designer and I think it was looking at their wardrobe,” she says. “What I realised, more recently, was that they shared a wardrobe. I could never tell what was mum’s and what was dad’s.”

Something else McCartney noticed was that her parents were similar sizes – Paul was razor-thin, to the point where the Savile Row tailoring she saw in the closets were indistinguishable from one another. “I would put on his suits when I was studying at St Martins. It was very androgynous: a very modern, fluid way of dressing.”

This mentality carried through to McCartney’s own clothing label, which, whether you’re considering her menswear or womenswear, exude an effortless ease – and always with a touch of cheek and modernity. It doesn’t take much to realise that this McCartney mood is sort of emblematic of where both menswear and masculinity are moving toward: freedom.

“There’s no rules. I feel like it’s a moment of change on every level on the planet. It’s a big year, a big shift of change, and I think you can feel that in menswear,” she says. “It feels like there’s a bit of liberation happening.”

From her initial obsessions with Savile Row tailoring has evolved a men’s wardrobe that’s, well, unmistakably wearable; a sort of new uniform for the modern man. And in the age of maximalism, ugly sneakers, brash layering and zero-apology embellishments, wearability is nothing worth dismissing.

“You can go really classic – to the point where you want to kind of die – or you can go so extreme that you’re this over the top fashionista,” she says.

“That’s not what you come to us for. But I still want to have a sense of humour. I still want to have a lightness of touch and atmosphere with the menswear. When you wear Stella McCartney, I want you to wear it – I don’t want us to wear you.”

What exactly you’re wearing, when you’re wearing Stella McCartney, is of the utmost importance to the brand. McCartney’s veganism is anything but a phase – anything but lip service. Since the day of its inception, the brand has placed a blanket ban on the use of any leather in its collections – a decision that came with sizeable risk in the modern luxury industry.

“There’s no incentive, in the fashion industry, to do what I do. At the core for me was not ever making a bag or a pair of shoes out of a dead animal – which happens to be the most sustainable thing that I do. That was the biggest challenge.”

It took McCartney years to persuade the artisans that make bags and wallets for global powerhouses to adjust to working with leather-alternative materials. “Maybe they had more stretch or less stretch or worked in a different way – that was probably the hardest thing,” she says.

One of McCartney’s proudest accomplishments, she says, is the fact that her eponymous label has become more than a fashion house – it’s become a formidable supply chain, and one that could inform the future of an industry.

“I’m trying to make sustainability sexy…for me, it’s the sexiest thing, ever.”

But she knows all too well: fashion needs to seduce the heart first, and the mind later.

“We’re not in your face. We’re not like, ‘Oh my god! That’s the must-have.’ But we are, I hope, a gradual discovery. And I like that. I’m proud of that. That means that we’ll have staying power.”

McCartney shifts in her seat for a moment, and grins.

“Actually,” she says, “The word sustainability goes with a lot of what we do.”