Chicago Fashion Focus Week: Vert Couture

Zuzanna Skwiot

Black is the new green. And in the case of the latest Chicago couture, eco-friendly clothing has become a front-runner and one of the most fashionable and popular trends on runways and sidewalks alike. 

Eco-fashion relies on animal cruelty-free textiles, organic cotton and low-impact dyes that when combined, create clothing that is designed and made in a way that leaves the least impression on the environment and creates clothing that will last significantly longer than regular designs.

Heart, one of Chicago’s most prominent lines, is a staple in the eco-fashion movement in the city.

“We’re just so blessed that we’re coming up at a time that it’s also coming up in the collective consciousness,” says Christina Noël, one of the designers for the eco-friendly line.

Noël and her team, along with several other designers recently participated in Chicago’s Fashion Focus week, which hosted its annual celebration of the newest and most highly contested fashion trends. Its weeklong display of fashionable highlights at Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park included shows devoted entirely to amateur designers, Mario Tricoci creations and eco-friendly clothing.

The Vert Couture eco-fashion show and benefit highlighted several local designers who have brought their environment-friendly ideas and designs to the streets of the Windy City. The show featured everything from ball gowns and cocktail dresses to men’s underwear collection and accessories.

Along with her other two designers, Jenny Greco and Lisa Selby, Noël showcased Heart spring/summer 2012 wardrobe. It included light colors and flowing fabric that accentuated the figures of the models.

“The images were from all over the world and we felt that there was this otherworldly feeling to them and they make you think of travel and exploration and adventure,” said Noël, immediately following the runway show.

The concept of travel and movement is not entirely unfamiliar to Noël. Before she joined with Greco and Selby, she was a professional photographer who created abstracts of foreign environments.

“While I was in college, it was on a lark that Jenny had asked me to shoot her fashion portfolio,” says Noël. “Then flash forward to nine years later, I had a gallery show and I had these huge abstracts from Africa and there was so much movement and it felt like they were suffocating on the wall.”

“That’s when I had my eureka moment, she adds. “I saw them moving on dresses and skirts and camisoles.”

With that, Heart was created. Soon after, Noël partnered with Greco and Selby and created a line that would respect the environment and use only low-impact materials.

“It’s our duty to educate our clients as to where their dollars are being spent and what a difference it actually makes,” says Noël.

Since most of their clothing is made from rare, vintage pieces and is manufactured locally, the price for each individual piece is more than that of an item from a regular boutique or department store. A dress from Heart averages at about $200, but can also range upwards of $700.

Noël says, however, that a green piece of clothing will easily outlast anything from a chain store and are, after all, good for the world. By bridging the line between luxury and sustainability, the team wants to show the city how making a small change in their clothing choices can help the world in the greater scheme.

“If they invest in a piece that will outlast the trends, that it’s different than fast fashion or something that you can get at one of those quick shops that it’s good for one night,” she adds.

“I think it’s a marvelous way of showing people that they can make a difference and I think we can all learn from fashion,” Joyce Kagan Charmatz, President of Keep Chicago Beautiful, an educational organization that focuses on teaching groups about the environment and a sustainable city. The non-profit organization also served as this year’s charity in the Vert Couture show and received all of the proceeds from the night. 

“Our mission is to improve our environment through education, public awareness and community involvement,” says Charmatz, who also attended the fashion show.

“The fact that they could do these things with eco-friendly fabrics and reusing and doing something different with them, it’s so extraordinary and fun,” adds Charmatz. “That’s what fashion’s all about.”

And making Chicago aware of its impact of the environment is a joint effort between fashion and non-profit educational work.

“We hope to help people know how they invest their dollars and how that actually effects the local economy, global economy,” adds Noël. “I would say that Jenny, Lisa and I have just lived with a smaller footprint our whole lives. We are always interested in reusing any materials that we have or repurposing, being makeshift here or there.”

“And that this is just now becoming in vogue is a blessing to us because it’s what we’ve always known and what we’ve always done,” she adds.