You wouldn’t catch Fred Astaire in the 1935 men’s dressing gown at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. It’s a classic repurposing, made from a crazy quilt during the Great Depression.
The piece is in the show “Eco-Fashion: Going Green” at the institute’s museum, which displays more than 100 garments, accessories and textiles illustrating the relationship between fashion and the environment.
A couple of eye-opening statistics help make the point. About 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles, and the U.S. keeps that witch’s brew boiling by consuming 84 pounds of textiles per person each year.
While looking at the good and bad ecological practices of the past 250 years, the show flags a few heroes. There’s Stella McCartney, fashion designer and daughter of erstwhile mop-top Sir Paul. She works in faux patent leather and organic wool when she isn’t campaigning for cruelty-free materials. Ali Hewson, wife of U2 lead singer Bono, founded the eco-label Edun, which promotes sustainable economies and fair trade.
Another example of recycling -- one of the six themes along with sourcing, dyeing, craftsmanship, labor and animal welfare - - is a 1760 robe a la francaise, the oldest dress on view and an early model of sustainability. Woven by hand and very expensive, this type of gown was often reworked to be worn again.
The 1943 Madame Gres coat predates the use of ersatz fur by about 30 years and made a virtue of necessity. During the cold winters of the Paris occupation, most fur went to the frauen of German officers.
In the 1990s, pressure was put on high-end designers -- not least by urban guerrillas dousing mink coats with red paint -- and faux fur was embraced by Oscar de La Renta and Dolce & Gabbana, whose works are on view.
Closing the exhibition is a stunning evening dress by Carlos Miele. Known as the “Fuxico Gown,” from the Portuguese word for “gossip,” it was hand-stitched by Brazilian women who chat while they work together.
After this Bambi homily, you may feel the need to abuse a small creature or two. Head to El Quinto Pino for the sea urchin Uni Panini and some light-as-a-feather salt-cod batons. There are only 16 seats, so be prepared to eat while standing -- as Bambi did.
“Eco-Fashion: Going Green” is at the Museum at FIT. Seventh Avenue at West 27th Street, through Nov. 13, 2010. Check the website for the talk and tour with museum curators. Information: +1-212-217-4558; http://fitnyc.edu/3662.asp
El Quinto Pino is at 401 W. 24th St. at Ninth Avenue. Information: +1-212-206-6900; http://www.elquintopinonyc.com/
(Lili Rosboch is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)