French style epitomises sustainable fashion

Chloe at Port Eliot Festival 2016
ph. Elizabeth Cooney

Just outside the small Cornish town of Saltash is the historic Port Eliot estate which has hosted its namesake festival for the last twelve years. Originally a literary festival, Port Eliot now includes a programme of music, art, food and fashion. The last of which has grown especially in the last few years with editors, bloggers and designers including Chloé’s creative director Clare Waight Keller attending. After visiting last year’s festival, Waight Keller with French fashion house, Chloé, teamed up with festival director Catherine St Germans to organise a whole itinerary of talks, performances and installations in the festivals ‘Wardrobe Department’.

Port Eliot Festival 2016
ph. Elizabeth Cooney

On Saturday morning, fashion fans gathered to listen to British Fashion Council’s Ambassador for Emerging Talent, Sarah Mower in conversation with Waight Keller to talk about Chloé, her career and French style. The Chloé brand was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, who wanted to create a brand that spoke to the women of the time about what they really wanted to wear. “A lot of what she founded was the idea about fashion in reality, it was about everyday clothes. So clothes that, although there were exceptional pieces; dream like, aspirational clothes, at the same time it was about everyday pieces like the crepe de chine blouse”.

Sarah Mower and Clare Waight-Keller Port Eliot Festival 2016
ph. Elizabeth Cooney

The crepe de chine blouse Waight Keller talks about represents the way French women dress and an ethos on which the Chloé brand was built. “It’s about those everyday things that are beautifully made. The one thing I would say about French companies is that they really care about the basic, classic things that you are going to be wearing for years and years. Those things are taken care of and designed in such a way that even if it is a big investment, you’re going to wear it over and over again. There isn’t a throw away mentality. I think [Agnion] liked that iconicness with some of her pieces. The blouse was one of the first things she felt to strongly about.”

When looking into the Chloé archives, you begin to see that Aghion’s ambition is ingrained throughout its collections; from designer to designer. In the Drawing Room of the main house at Port Eliot, was an installation of six Chloé dresses from across the decades. It is apparent, that the essence of the Chloé brand is captured in each dress; timeless, bohemian and typically French.

Chloe at Port Eliot Festival 2016
ph. Elizabeth Cooney

Agnion’s image of the Chloé woman dresses with what Waight Keller describes as classic French style. “What I’ve realised about French women, is that they’re very edited about their style… They do not have lots of clothes. It’s about owning your own style. Ultimately that’s what French women do; they realise what looks great on them, they’re really edited about what they select, they normally pick quite qualitative pieces, they’ll invest in a €300 or €400 blouse because they know they’re going to wear that for ten years, and they’d rather do that then buy the £50 one.”

In a journey for clothes that are more conscious, we should all adopt the French attitude of ‘less is more’. Ethical fabrics, sourcing and garment after life is of course important, but swapping the cheap thrill of cheap clothes for beautifully made, carefully designed clothes that last a lifetime is also an important part of the puzzle.