Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Livia Firth's Oscar Gown - a "Green" Triumph or a Vintage Tragedy?

Livia Firth, co-founder of Eco Age, a retailer of green and sustainable products, issued her "Green Carpet Challenge" a couple of years ago in which she pledged to only wear eco-friendly, sustainable, and green fashion on the red carpet as she accompanied her husband Colin during awards season. I applaud Livia's goal, and many of the dresses she has worn in the past meet the challenge admirably.

At the 2011 Golden Globes, Livia wore a gown made of sustainable Ahimsa silk (peace silk) designed by Jeff Garner of Prophetik.

At the 2010 Oscars, Livia wore a gown by Orsela de Castro of From Somewhere, who uses the scraps from other clothing factories to make her creations.

For this year's Oscars, Livia hired designer Gary Harvey to make her gown. Mr. Harvey has become well known for his designs using up-cycled used clothing. According to Livia's blog at Vogue.uk, Harvey "scoured Southeast London for the right pieces, from Cancer Research shops to vintage boutiques, such as 360 Degrees Vintage." The goal was to use clothing from the 30s to honor the era in which the film "The King's Speech" was set. Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar for his role in that film.

Pursuant to that goal, Harvey cut up 11 vintage evening gowns from the 1930s and patchworked them into the 1 dress worn by Livia for the 2011 Oscars. But can we truly consider this "green" or "sustainable"?

Many vintage fashion lovers, myself included, wondered about the condition of those 11 gowns from the 1930s. Lynn Burgess, the owner of 360 Degrees Vintage, declared on her Facebook fan page that, "He bought the very best gowns". We can possibly presume that since she owns a well known and highly respected vintage clothing store in London, the dresses must have been in at least wearable condition. She later stated, "I did say he bought the best gowns. I didn't say they were perfect most vintage garments will have some sign of wear and tear." Yesterday, on the Ecorazzi blog, she stated, "“Although the dresses Gary picked were beautiful they were far from perfect. There was some damage to the netting and the top part of the dress which he removed. The other dresses had some signs of wear and staining which he managed to cut out and reconstruct to make Livia’s stunning dress.”

To be fair to all parties involved, I contacted Gary Harvey and Livia Firth with this question: "Were the gowns that you used in wearable condition as they were or would they have been considered damaged beyond repair?"

Mr Harvey responded to me this morning with this statement (italics by me): "This is an unjust criticism, I am a designer with a conscious rather than destroying collectable clothing, I am preserving it for future generations.

Firstly, I have the utmost respect for vintage clothing, an avid collector for the last 20 years, I have scoured the vintage stores and markets across Europe, The USA and Japan, and as Creative Director for Levi’s I was responsible for the design of the ‘LEVIS Vintage Clothing’ lines (authentic reproductions of LEVIS Jeans wear since 1873) and a regular visitor to the LS&Co archives in San Francisco.....

The 11 dresses used in Livia Firths Oscars dress were sourced from the millions of dresses available in the second hand market-place, there is literally tons and tons of vintage clothing out there just waiting for a new lease of life.

My aim with the design was to show Livia Firth looking amazing in the most beautiful dress supporting her husband as he collected his Oscar, I also wanted people to realise that just because something has been pre-owned, is not current, too small, ripped or stained there is still potential for reuse, thus raising the profile of vintage clothing and up-cycling.

Yes the dresses and fabrics were all sourced from or inspired by the era of the Oscar winning film ‘The Kings Speech’ however not one of these garments was suitable to wear in its current state, due to distress, damage or decay, they had all been beautiful dresses once, this is the true nature of recycling, I have preserved and given new life to these vintage garments, some of which would have ended up in land-fill."

Livia Firth has not responded to me as yet. Many people from the vintage community, myself included, commented on Livia Firth's blog questioning her choices in this matter. All those comments have been removed from the Vogue.uk site and new comments are now being blocked.

The question remains, were the 1930s dresses used for Firth's Oscar gown in wearable condition or not? If they were, then a tragedy has been visited upon valuable vintage clothing. If not, then Harvey's standard of "reuse, reduce, and recycle" can perhaps be utilized as an example of how to keep damaged clothing out of our landfills. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

What say you? Triumph or tragedy?

UPDATE: Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle have responded to this controversy via Huffington Post. I find their tone to be very dismissive, and the idea that gowns were cut up because they were "too small" for anyone to wear is simply outrageous.

24 comments:

The Red Velvet Shoe said...

Tragedy. If he is such a brilliant designer, why couldn't he have worked with one of the "not perfect" vintage 1930s dresses and some additional vintage fabric/trim and created a dress for his client? That would be the work of a true designer, eco~friendly and with a conscience. Funny how the story continues to change with criticism, isn't it?

Penny Dreadful said...

I think it is completely awful. How is it preserving collectav=ble clothing to cut it up and turn it into something else? I have much more respect for Marisa Tomei, who wore vintage as it should be, with respect for the rareness of the piece. These people all seem to keep changing their story - one moment these dresses were the 'very best', the next they are 'unwearable'. Apparently the cost of at least one dress was £250, which indicates it was in fact in good condition. It is a crying shame that they didn't think to restore rather than destroy, I don't know how this guy can believe he is preserving anything other than his own ego.

Carol@Dandelion Vintage said...

So we go from 360 Degrees Vintage saying that they were the best in the shop to the designer claiming some were only land-fill quality.

One small glimmer of hope in his response is when he says that the dresses were 'sourced from or INSPIRED BY the era' of the movie. So hopefully not all of the dresses were true 1930s gowns. The tulle on the back of the dress looks much newer than 30s.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

A very good point. Taking one 1930s gown and restoring it would have been a much better use of resources. And the backtracking is troubling to me too. Unfortunately, unless someone can produce pictures of the original dresses, we'll never know the truth.

Nicole said...

Great post and good for you, requesting responses from Livia and Gary: their point of view is very necessary for this situation. I look forward to hearing from Livia too.

I'm confused though: how can a '30s dress, hanging in a reputable vintage clothing be both "very best" and "landfill"?

I hope that Gary doesn't visit my shop the next time he's working on an upcycle project - we'd be sure to disagree about the best way to "preserve" vintage as I prefer to restore than destroy.

The Kerrs said...

I personally think it's horrible. There seems to be a lot of back peddling going on by both the shop (first saying they were the best then saying they didn't say they were PERFECT) and secondly by the designer, who from what I can see only danced around the question by spouting his own references. I LOVE Colin Firth, but I think his wife's refusal to respond and blocking of all attempts to even question her behavior is really crappy. I don't know how tall/what size she is but I think the key might be when the designer lists "too small" as a viable reason to destry... perhaps they had a hard time finding one that fit her so they all got the scissor treatment?

Ang said...

Maybe the silver lining here as the truth comes out (I'm honestly inclined to give the designer the benefit of the doubt, with Livia's track record for being eco-conscious) is that maybe people will start to look into *damaged* vintage as a resource for upcycling. I know I have loads of pieces I never know what to do with....most of my clients expect nothing less than flawless, wearable vintage from my website and shop (as far as that goes, "most vintage items will have some wear and tear" isn't necessarily the case and speaks to a questionable attitude toward it). I'd be thrilled to work with designers to provide textiles for use, and thrilled to see it used so it can be worn again.

But I find Harvey's statement here problematic "I also wanted people to realise that just because something has been pre-owned, is not current, too small, ripped or stained there is still potential for reuse, thus raising the profile of vintage clothing and up-cycling". Tearing apart a gown because it is "too small" or "not current" is not preserving nor is it eco-conscious in my opinion, it is wasteful. To say that updating it makes it relevant right now assumes no one, literally zero people, would wear it as is. And were that the case most of us in the vintage business would have no business.

I could go on and on about my concern over the lack of respect for vintage in the design industry but I will keep it to myself for now...

Ang

BombshellShocked said...

Bottom line, the result wasn't pretty. I'd rather use a bit of chalk or some well place safety pins on a true vintage treasure than look like I was wearing a patchwork condom with a first communion veil sitting on my butt.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

The varying descriptions of the dresses are quite troubling indeed. While we as vintage dealers are clearly appalled at what has happened, this just goes to show you how many people haven't a care in the world for pieces of history. I, too, would love to have a market for my damaged, unwearable vintage. Using these pieces for up-cycling makes perfect sense, but ONLY if they are damaged beyond repair.

Anne, Vintage Baubles said...

Regardless of what either party now claims, I find it hard to believe that damaged-beyond-repair dresses were for sale in this boutique. Even dresses with ripped netting or a few stains are not "unwearable." You can replace netting, you can generally work with staining, and a vintage piece does not have to be in pristine condition to be eminently wearable. I suspect these dresses were in at least repairable condition for them to have been for sale in a well-known, respected, and apparently upscale shop. I believe the shop owner's comment that they were her best dresses has been deleted from FaceBook (at least, I looked for it and can't find it). Prior to the backlash against this "upcycling," I hadn't read anything, anywhere in the myriad of published articles stating that these dresses were unwearable. Needing repair is a far cry from being unwearable. And, even if these were damaged beyond repair (but come on, ELEVEN totally unwearable dresses in the same shop?), wouldn't it have been better to donate them to a museum for display? Any way you look at it, it's a gigantic waste. Why not take one damaged gown and restore it? Surely that would have been less work than pulling apart 11 pieces and constructing an entirely new one. And the end result would have likely been much more pleasing and period appropriate.

You know, money is nice, but integrity and respect are better.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thanks for your comments Anne. The FB comment is still there. You need to scroll down a bit on her page where she links to the Lee Green article. Click the link that says "View all 10 comments" and you'll find it.

13bees said...

a tragedy, indeed. made worse by the fact that the final product is pretty hideous.

Anne, Vintage Baubles said...

Thank you, Jody, for directions to the FaceBook comment in question--I am such a neophyte when it comes to locating information there....

elena daciuk - fabulous finds said...

such a waste...truly...i am not a vintage dealer...but have always had a love for vintage...when i talked to two of my girlfriends about this story...they just didn't seem to think it was a big deal...and that we should focus on the fact that the dresses were in fact re-used...athough they both are not women that wear vintage...i thought they would appreciate the fact that these dresses were in fact...part of our history...and now gone...

funny how there are so many varying opinions...of course...we have not seen pictures of the 11 dresses...but two facts are glaring...the description of the state of the original dresses keeps changing...and that comments are being blocked...unfortunately these two points...don't look well on an otherwise innocent party...

great post jody...i'm attaching it to my fb page where i originally posted the article...

HappyGromitLA said...

Thank you so much for investigating further and posting on your blog. I have to agree with the others -- clearly the first response from 360 Degrees was the honest one. I mean, logically, why would a store like that be selling dresses that were "destined for the landfill"? It makes no sense.

While it would be wonderful if this inspired people to take really unusable vintage pieces and rework them, I suspect what will instead happen is that people will think that every fine vintage piece should be "recycled", i.e., destroyed. I wrote this on C.A.'s FB page, but look what happens with vintage jewelry already -- I've seen beautiful pieces taken apart just so the designer can harvest one particular type of stone. Very sad.

Shelley said...

If the original dresses were still wearable in their original state, then it's hypocrisy to claim the new dress is 'green'. I would be sad to think that the 'current fashion' was more important than preserving vintage dresses.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thank you for your thoughts. Elena, it makes me sad that people don't get the issue. I live in a Victorian home built in 1895. In the 70s, all the original woodwork and moldings were removed by a previous owner in order to "update" the home. That trim is now irreplaceable. That is the type of thing happening here.

HappyGromit, I see more and more of this type of thing happening. If you look on eBay, it's easy to find vintage "mini" dresses in which a major portion of the skirt of a long vintage dress has been cut off and tossed. It's not reversible and it's not cool.

The Kerrs said...

It is heart breaking to cut up something beautiful and old. I do it with sheets all the time for my sewing projects, but those are used to sew vintage patterns with and I feel like that's doing them justice in a way. As I posted on Vintage Vixen's FB page the other day. I purchased a lard size 50's satin and embroidered tulle dress at an estate sale for $1. I have tried everything but beating it with a rock down by the creek to get the rust (must have been on a mettle hanger at some point) and 60 year old armpit sweat stains out of the top half of the dress, but they just WOULD NOT come out. The skirt had two or three tiny holes in the tulle and some stains with I was able to remove. So I did eventually end up cutting the skirt off of the dress and making it into a skirt. I figured, this way it has many more years of special occassions it can enjoy instead of just sitting in a trunk because it can't be worn. So rarely do I see actual pretty pieces that are larger than a 24 waist, I couldn't let it langish in darkness. I have enough unstained pieces from the top to make a matching bag or trim out a new blouse to go with it and I think that is what I will do with the pieces. Only the horrid orange stains across the bust will go in the garbage... haha and not even then, I'll throw those in the scrap bag to be used as stuffing.

stephanie said...

So the guy recycled vintage fabric.
Still seems all good.
As he noted, there are thousands upon thousands of vintage dresses out there in all states of wearability or lack thereof.
He still recycled & used vintage.
I don't get what the big deal is...????

bonnie said...

Wow...are there really millions of 1930s gowns just lying around??? Tell me where please!!

Hoping that the designer is being truthful about the condition of the original gowns and not trying to cover his rear.

Ant Queen said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm so glad that I asked the question about the state of the dresses on the 360 Degrees Vintage facebook page. Aside from getting that initial, and what I think is an honest response, it did seem to go a bit viral from there. I'm glad that you were able to get a response from Gary Harvey and I hope in time there is a response from Livia herself. I too am sceptical of the backpeddling on the state of the original dresses. It really feels like they've been caught out and are trying to save face.

This article in the Huffington Post shows another defensive response:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/livia-giuggioli/livia-firth-oscars-dress_b_830782.html#248532

To quote Lucy Siegle in the above article:
"The pieces were damaged to such an extent and or so tiny that they had little to no chance of resale in their original state - sorry, there are not enough costume museums to accommodate. Rot on a hanger or make sustainable style history? You decide."

Firstly, a frock being tiny is not a flaw. The growing waistline of the Western population, now that's a flaw! I disagree with the all or nothing "rot or be recycled" claim. There are many things that can be done with vintage gowns that are damaged that are less wasteful. And as others have said, I doubt something with "little to no chance of resale" would be stocked in a vintage boutique.

The good thing about this, and the reason I'm glad I asked the question on facebook and posted the response on other vintage pages, is that the more people who make blog posts questioning the ethical and sustainable credentials of the dress, the more it will hopefully prompt other people to think about it rather than just blindly praise a designer dress on face value.

casey said...

Yay! Comments are working again. ;) I think it is sad that potentially still-wearable gowns were sliced and diced for something "current". What happened to the idea of "old Hollywood elegance"? Certainly since her husband was being nominated for a film set in the 30s, wearing an actual 30s gown wouldn't have been a faux pas--and still GREEN! It just is sad that the dresses were probably still usable and weren't destined for the dump heap. I'm all for reworking pieces that are clearly damaged beyond repair/restoration (such as the commenter above stated in the case of the 50s dress). I redid a 40s day dress last year. It was a late 40s crepe number, but had a hole almost halfway up the longer skirt and significant staining on the bottom/hem edge. But the bodice and upper skirt were still great; not to mention the skirt was a great print! So I just rehemmed it shorter into a mid-40s length. East and saved the integrity of the dress and gave it a new life. I've done some stupid things with vintage in the past, but am now much more hesitant to start slicing and dicing a piece that can be salvaged.

♥ Casey

HappyGromitLA said...

Our hostess's comment about her house made me want to elaborate further on the effect that media attention can have on forming people's opinions regarding style. I live in Los Angeles--we bought our 1930 house in 1995 and at that time, there were many period homes that still had original baths and often, kitchens. No more. Finding a house with the original anything is almost unheard of. And I blame, to a large extent, HGTV. Show after show presented "vintage" as something undesirable, and even more powerful, something that devalued a house. So out goes all the beautiful old stuff. Again, if this way of approaching "recycling vintage" gets any traction, the kind of eBay items that C.A. mentions will become endemic in many venues.

Roseana Auten said...

Well, I just don't like the result. Like most projects that involve cutting up an old dress or dresses, it just doesn't do a thing for me. I'd like to be surprised, one day.

Post a Comment