Bono got up from his seat in a private lounge at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and unzipped his jeans. Then he pointed to a few lines of poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke printed on the inside of his left pocket.
It shouldn't be surprising that the lead singer of the uberband U2 goes around with poetry on his pockets. But now, so can followers of fashion as Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, join forces with New York-based jeans designer Rogan to launch an eco-friendly, socially conscious line of casual clothing called Edun ("nude" spelled backward).
The trio appeared at a launch party at Saks on Friday afternoon to promote the Dublin-based line, which is also carried by Barneys New York. They formed Edun to provide employment for African garment workers, whose plight has worsened with the end of the international Multifiber Agreement, which set textile quotas.
Since the quotas were lifted Jan. 1, cheaper goods from China and India have been crowding out garments from other Third World countries. According to Edun Chief Executive Richard Cervera, the line is manufactured at carefully screened factories in Lesotho, Tunisia, Peru, India and Portugal
Bono, who has waged a high-profile campaign to reduce the debt of Third World countries, said he began looking into encouraging trade to help Africa's economy after talking with a U.S. Treasury Department official in the waning days of the Clinton administration. "The real scandal is trade," he said before the party. "And that's where the real progress is to be made."
Shortly after Bono and Hewson launched the company a couple of years ago, a U2 stylist suggested they meet with Rogan, who was known for jeans favored by rockers, made from organic materials. His Edun collection for men and women features low-cut jeans with a trademark leaf stitched on back pockets as well as flowy dresses and coordinating pieces in cotton and silk -- waifish poet's blouses, hoodies and T-shirts printed with back-high insect wings or Rilke's poetry. Edun pieces range in price from $45 to $300.
Rilke is one of Bono's favorite poets, and while Rogan does the hands-on designing, the threesome agreed on the line's overall aesthetic: It's post-bling style -- glamour for the real world, not club culture.
"There's a more mysterious thing going on with women than you see in the shops," Bono said. "It's not outdoors, backpack, which is very cool, but you don't have to go there to have this return-to-nature aesthetic. You don't have to go there for the new kind of femininity.
"The college students and people we know are bored with club culture. They're going out into the country on weekends. There's a new respect for nature. But it's very important to us that this doesn't veer into tree-hugging, sky-kissing, brown-ricing. This is fashion."
It's also an example of what Bono and Hewson are calling "conscious consumerism." They contend that shoppers are becoming more concerned with who and what goes into producing their clothes.
"I want to buy clothes for my children, but I want to know they weren't made by somebody else's children," Hewson said. "I think that's where people are heading."
Bono compared the change to the growing demand for organic food. "Ten years ago, the idea that mothers and fathers would go into a supermarket and pick up a tin of beans and see what preservatives were inside, that would never happen. But I can tell you it happens in Dublin now. It's a shift in thinking, the idea that you might have a stake in the story of the clothes because you're part of the chain. Shopping has become politics."
Bono may be cutting a fine figure in global politics, but he's leaving the actual designing to professionals. "I don't really do fashion, as is obvious," he told the crowd at Saks. "I am the man who brought you the mullet."