SUNDAY TIMES - Sustaina-Belle: Emma Watson uses Disney role to highlight the beauty of eco-friendly fashion
Sunday Times Fashion By Nadia Neophytou, 2017-04-09 00:00:00.0

Sustaina-Belle: Emma Watson uses Disney role to highlight the beauty of eco-friendly fashion

Emma Watson wears a Calvin Klein dress made out of recycled plastic bottles.
Image: Supplied

Even before 'Beauty and the Beast' began breaking box-office records in the US and around the world, Emma Watson knew there would be a lot of attention focused on the live-action adaptation of the beloved Disney classic.

In taking on the role of Belle - the biggest part she's played since the Harry Potter franchise ended - the 26-year-old actress placed herself, wittingly or not, back in the spotlight. She decided to use the opportunity to highlight a cause that's become dear to her - next to women's rights, of course - eco-friendly fashion.

As Watson, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, began embarking on a press tour around the world, she opened an Instagram account, called it @the_press_tour, and started posting pictures of her ethically considered fashion choices for each city.

In one post, she revealed that the custom-made Louis Vuitton dress she wore to a press junket in France was made of recycled polyester created from used plastic bottles. The account has drawn more than 470,000 followers. She also posted that her earrings were from SA jewellery brand Pichulik, which supports local, female crafters and uses re-purposed materials.

This isn't the first time Watson has gone the sustainability route, having made the decision to go eco-friendly in 2015, when she took up the Green Carpet Challenge.

Created by Livia Firth, Oxfam Global Ambassador, Watson wore fashion made of kind-to-the-Earth fabrics for the red carpet of the premiere of her film Regression.

As she told CNN: "The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry. It has such a big environment impact, a big human impact. It's not enough for me anymore to know that (something is) a beautiful piece of clothing; I need to know that it's not leaving a negative mark on the planet."

Watson was initially inspired to get involved with the Green Carpet Challenge after watching The True Cost, a documentary about the social and environmental impact of our clothing purchases.

Last year, she chose to wear a Calvin Klein dress to the Met Ball that was made of recycled water bottles, and consisted of various pieces that could be worn together again in different ways.

As her career has developed, she's become the poster-girl for Firth's consultancy, Eco-Age, which is looking to change the way the world sees fashion.

But in garnering publicity for Beauty and the Beast, arguably Watson's most publicised film since Harry Potter, she has a larger spotlight to shine on the trend. She's using that to show how luxury and glamour have taken on new definitions among A-list stars.

Firth, who undertook the Green Carpet Challenge herself during 2011 when her husband, Colin, was nominated for an Oscar for The King's Speech, has praised Watson for being such a passionate advocate for the cause. But the relationship between Eco-Age and Beauty and the Beast doesn't end with the young actress.

Signalling a first for the entertainment and fashion industries, Disney has followed through on a commitment to creating sustainable items as part of its merchandising for the film. It's the first time a major company such as Disney has taken on such an endeavour.

 As with any other film it releases, Disney places emphasis on items it can tie into the release of the film. It commissioned a collection from Christopher Kane (see dress and shoe below) to mark the release of the new Beauty and the Beast.




The Scottish designer says he often looks to film for inspiration in creating his designs and was excited to take up the challenge posed by Disney.

Working in partnership with Eco-Age, Kane produced a 33-piece collection, ranging from ready-to-wear to accessories, all crafted with sustainability in mind.

"Belle is such a great character," says Kane, who was allowed to see parts of the film before the rest of the world so he could draw on the inspiration he needed. "I didn't want to do the yellow dress!" he said at the film's NYC premiere, referencing the iconic gown Belle wears in the animated 1991 film.

He says he focused more on her down-to-Earth nature. "Not Belle the princess," he says. "To me, growing up, she was a normal girl with huge aspirations. Being from Scotland, from a small town, I felt I could relate somewhat."

He looked to Belle's confidence as another point of inspiration. "She always speaks her mind, and that makes her a wonderful character to base the collection on."

Firth agrees: "Belle is a very strong character. If you think about a 'modern-day princess', she would probably be very passionate about sustainability and the clothes she wears."

Kane worked with Firth to create two specific items that are eco-friendly and certified as such. The capsule collection is available on Kane's e-commerce site, as well as at the London flagship and in a selection of department stores.

Kane has used recycled cotton for the super-soft tees and sweatshirts, as well as using organic silk, custom-designed lace and rubber from his Spring 2013 collection.

Beyond his foray with Beauty and the Beast, he believes it's an ethos he and other designers need to continue to run with. "It's about working with the best suppliers and having a hands-on relationship with people. We're not a throwaway-product sort of business. We're a luxury brand, and I want things to last a long time. People invest in a piece of clothing that they expect to last, so that's why we're in the business of doing that."

Firth believes this is just the beginning of making sustainability in fashion the norm. "The red carpet is the most powerful communication arm that exists," says Firth. "It's not about, 'What are you wearing?' It's 'Who are you wearing?' 'What are the hands behind your clothes?' 'What stories (do you want to tell)?'"

On a larger scale, it's about making your voice heard and standing up for what you care about. "We all need to be more vocal and radical these days and be creative in how we think, as well as how we design."

To that end, Firth's consultancy will stage a new awards show later this year - the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, in partnership with the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, a nonprofit that promotes the Italian fashion industry.

The sustainability focused event, which debuts in September, will feature Italy's most famous luxury labels, including Gucci, Fendi, Armani, Prada and Valentino, looking to become "the Oscars of sustainable fashion".

And who knows, perhaps before she wins an Oscar for acting, Watson may just bag herself an eco-friendly one.

WATCH the trailer for Beauty and the Beast


Emma Watson: a feminist hero in a fairytale world

Starring in a "tale as old as time" has not been a seamless role for Emma Watson, who in 2014 became the face of the UN Women's HeForShe campaign which urges men to stand alongside women in calling for equal rights.

After all, the story of Beauty and the Beast, which came from a traditional fairy tale written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740, was meant to prepare young girls in 18th-century France for arranged marriages.

Some commentators have pointed to Belle's courageous feats in the 1991 animated film as examples of the agency she has, and say this makes her a feminist hero in a world of fairytale women who are constantly being saved by handsome princes.

In the new film they believe this goes further, with Belle being made an inventor, and helping girls in the provincial town where she lives to read. But other critics say this doesn't change the ending of the story, where Belle essentially falls for her captor, and the Stockholm syndrome issues it poses.

Director Bill Condon says he worked with Watson and co-star Dan Stevens on their dialogue in hopes of refining their complicated affair in an attempt to steer it away from victim and kidnapper.

'Beauty and the Beast' is in cinemas on Friday, April 14.