Costume designer Birgit Muller, right, and patternist Angelo Santos,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Despite a growing embrace of environmentalism among many designers, so-called sustainable fashion continues to conjure notions of burlap. Awards show commentators rarely use the term — elegance just isn't synonymous with eco-friendly living.
But at the Academy Awards, Missi Pyle, part of the ensemble cast of"The Artist," will walk the red carpet in a flowing blue gown made from organic silk, hand-dyed with natural mineral pigments and lined with recycled polyester. The gown was designed by Valentina Delfino, one of hundreds of designers around the world who submitted sketches to the third annual sustainable couture competition known as Red Carpet Green Dress in the hopes of presenting their creations on the most glamorous — and watched — red carpet in the world.
Pyle is the first actress in an Oscar-nominated film to wear the annual competition's winning design. She was selected for her willowy, 5-foot-11-inch frame, her interest in sustainability — and all the attention surrounding "The Artist," which is up for 10 awards.
"Ultimately, Red Carpet Green Dress isn't about beautiful gowns," said program founder Suzy Amis Cameron. "It's really about bringing awareness to the fact that we can be kind to the planet and still wear something really gorgeous — and to then take that a step further, for people to think about the carbon footprint of their everyday clothes."
The wife of "Avatar"director James Cameron started Red Carpet Green Dress after realizing she'd be walking a lot of red carpets herself in conjunction with her husband's film, which won three Academy Awards in 2010.
Red Carpet Green Dress is similar to an initiative spearheaded by Colin Firth's wife, Livia; her Green Carpet Challenge encourages Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford and other top fashion houses to incorporate sustainable fabrics into their designs. Cameron's program, however, is a global competition open to designers of all backgrounds. Designers pay $65 to enter, and the proceeds go to help fund the private Muse School in Malibu, a nonprofit co-founded by Cameron and based on the concept of social responsibility.
"I wanted to wear a beautiful dress that had some meaning to it," said Cameron, whose 2010 Oscars gown was the first Red Carpet Green Dress winner. It was made from fine hemp silk dyed "Avatar" blue and lined with material salvaged from another dress. A collaboration of unknowns and heavy hitters, the "Avatar" dress was designed by a student at Michigan State University and built by Deborah Scott, who won an Academy Award for costume design in "Titanic." Last year's winning design came from Samata Angel, now the global campaign director for the initiative, and was hand-dyed with cranberries, hand-sewn to avoid using electricity and embellished with recycled vintage beads.
Over the last five years, sustainable fashion has been quietly growing as more types of textiles with lower environmental impacts become available and more designers and consumers embrace them. In addition to organic cottons and silks, there are fabrics made from seaweed fiber, milk proteins and wood pulp. Yet even as mass-market brands such as Nike, Levi's and Patagonia incorporate more environmentalism into their offerings, eco-fashion has yet to become mainstream.
Nonetheless, interest is growing, if the number of competitors in Red Carpet Green Dress is any indication. This year's contest saw 264 aspiring designers submit sketches, compared with 60 who submitted designs for the 2011 dress. The new designs showed a greater breadth of interpretations of "sustainable," which includes organic textiles as well as recycled and vintage materials.
This year's winning dress is also a collaboration. Miami-based designer Delfino is an unknown, but her dress is being assembled by Emmy Award-winning costume designer Birgit Muller. Pyle's stylist, Colin Megaro, was considering dressing the actress in Armani Prive until he was approached by Red Carpet Green Dress eight days before Oscar night.
"It was kismet this project came in our direction," said Megaro, who is donating his services and will accessorize Pyle with a metallic bag from eco-conscious designer Stella McCartney and stilettos from Christian Louboutin. Both designers are supporting Red Carpet Green Dress with loaned items.
On Tuesday, Megaro's West Hollywood condo was the site of the first fitting for a dress that needed to be completed four days later. Pyle was ushered into a guest room and zipped into a muslin prototype of the gown's undercarriage. The finished dress will be asymmetrical, with a heart-shaped neckline, corseted bodice and fishtail.
"I didn't know what the dress was going to look like," Pyle said. "This is going to be stupidly beautiful."