This Monday is Earth Day, which for people like me means that for the past few weeks emails have been flooding in touting this new eco-friendly line and that new sustainability initiative; this new textile recycling opportunity and that new clean water commitment. Their arrival at this time each year has in recent times become a truth as reliable as death and taxes, and the fact that after hemlines go up, they come down.
As reliable is that, as the above starts happening, my own temperature starts to rise, and I begin muttering and banging the keyboard and otherwise acting highly irritated by fashion’s muddling of the issues. My pet peeve is lexicographical flabbiness (sustainable manufacturing, for example, being different from sustainable business, though you can have an entire conversation with someone about “sustainability” before it becomes clear you are talking about two separate things), but it’s also hard not to make snide comments about the fact that so many websites seem to equate Earth Day with the opportunity to create slideshows of models posing naked for Peta. I know it’s no worse than Mother's day or Father's day or Valentine’s day, but still. It seems like this cause, of all causes, should not be reduced to a marketing opportunity.
On the other hand: if it raises awareness as well as sales, is it bad?
This is what I was thinking the other day, anyway, when I happened upon one of this year’s weirder Earth Day-related fashion moments: the May issue of L’Uomo Vogue, the Italian men’s fashion magazine run by Italian Vogue chieftain Franca Sozzani. The theme of the publication (because these days glossy magazines love a theme) was eco-sustainability, which was predictable enough, given the timing, but the cover model was not: New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
There he was, standing tall in suit and tie, chin raised, staring meaningfully forward. He looked pretty good. But he didn’t look much like his cover colleagues on the news-stand – Beyoncé on UK Vogue, Emma Watson on GQ or Leonardo DiCaprio on Esquire. It was hard not to wonder what he was doing there.
After all, Mayor Bloomberg tends to like fashion in a municipal way, as opposed to a personal way (he often makes public jokes about his own poor dress sense, and famously alternated the same two pairs of dress shoes for 10 years).
Indeed, over his three terms he has done a lot to keep the industry in the city, from helping the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) find a home for fashion week at Lincoln Center; rewarding fashion moguls for their investment in real estate (he gave Ralph Lauren a symbolic “key to the city” at the opening of its enormous new “traditional” limestone flagship), and facilitating the city’s Fashion’s Night Out event. But he tends to do all this in his office; you don’t see him, like Boris Johnson, pedalling around the city to demonstrate the genius of a bike-share scheme. So finding him on the cover of a style magazine primarily read in places very far from his city was a little odd.
At least until you read his interview, which was all about Bloomberg’s work as chairman of C40 Cities, or the Climate Leadership Group, which is, according to their website, “a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change”. Fair enough.
However, in the piece itself I was struck by the fact that, while Bloomberg talks generally about the importance of greening up cities, he doesn’t address any specifics about fashion and the urban environment – a subject one would think (OK, I would think) might be the natural meat of a discussion about sustainability in a fashion magazine.
He talked, for example, about the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but not the fact that a large chunk of the small businesses in New York are dry cleaners, which employ chemicals that are not exactly environmentally friendly; he talked about creating green buildings, but not changing consumption patterns; he talked about Hurricane Sandy and changing sea levels, but not about encouraging New Yorkers to run all their washing machines on cold cycles.
Which made me think of a few things about this conjunction of cover model, cause, and magazine, many of them, admittedly, cynical. To wit: first, that this was the usual example of a glossy magazine snagging a well-known figure for their cover by avoiding the complicated specifics, and said figure being attracted by the fact that fashion can be a fantastic springboard to the world of international glossy consumers.
Second, that maybe this was like Hollywood celebrities doing commercials in Japan (minus the giant fee, of course): appearing in an Italian publication saves Bloomberg the ribbing he might get for being on a fashion mag at home, and gets him in front of a different audience.
Third, that it also allows him to discuss an issue he cares about, free of the current speculation in New York concerning: 1) what he is going to do next, since his term is about to end; and 2) who will succeed him as mayor. Local fashion is already focused on the next occupant of City Hall, after all: last week I went to a lunch hosted by US Cosmopolitan for Christine Quinn, the city council speaker who is currently the leading candidate for the post-Bloomberg city, an event also attended by designers Derek Lam and Maria Cornejo, and jeweller Philip Crangi. Quinn wore (she revealed) a jacket from Elie Tahari and jewellery from Alexis Bittar and David Yurman, New York names all. But I digress.
Which is my point. On the one hand, I think it’s good the L’Uomo Vogue cover actually made me stop whining and started thinking. But on the other hand, I’m not sure it made me think, ultimately, about the sort of stuff that Bloomberg and Sozzani intended. Or did it? I can’t quite decide.