Compassion’s Night Out: SF Vegan Fashion Show

Models dressed in eco- and animal-friendly garb clap at the SF Vegan Fashion Show. All of the models were either vegan or vegetarian, doubling the amount of veggie pride on the runway.

Call it Compassion’s Night Out. On Saturday, October 2, the City by the Bay hosted its first ever vegan fashion show. Set to the music of DeVotchka with SF’s fog blanketing the Golden Gate Park venue, conscience—and couture—graced the runway.

Taking place in the 60’s-mod SF County Fair Building, Rory Freedman (fashionista and vegan icon, co-author of the Skinny Bitch book series) emceed the event and told the audience that this was not a normal fashion show where they would indulge through looking at beautiful people and beautiful clothes. While beauty and indulgence abounded, a sense of ethics underpinned the evening. The fashion show featured nationally recognized cruelty-free clothing, shoe and handbag designers, including Pansy Maiden, Reco Jeans, Lion’s Share Industries, Vaute Couture, Melie Bianco, Cri de Coeur, and Mission Savvy.

Karine Brighten, the San Francisco-based event planner who volunteered her time and services to produce the show, was surprised the event was the city’s inaugural vegan fashion show. Paying attention to the fact that more and more individuals are seeking eco-friendly fashion options, Ms. Brighten said the evening was a great way to showcase “ethical fashion as part of a holistic lifestyle, not just a trend.”

One of the highlights of the evening was the work of Laura Collins, designer and creator of Pansy Maiden handbags. Describing her work as minimalist and utilitarian, Ms. Collins’s bags are a marriage of consciousness and quality, heart and function. The designer primarily uses organic twills, canvas and denim for her chic and sensible accessories and wishes to begin incorporating micro suede and faux leather into her line.

Laura Collins, designer of Pansy Maiden handbags, models one of her designs.

Debuting in March 2009, Pansy Maiden has since gained popularity after being featured on Alicia Silverstone’s blog. In her successful near-two years in the industry, Ms. Collins has often had to answer one question—the origin of the name of her company.

“Pansy Maiden” was the name of Ms. Collins’s maternal grandmother, and the designer thought the name had a great ring to it. After creating a restaurant for her dolls named Pansy Maiden’s Place as a child and an unsuccessful all-female high school punk band called the Pansy Maidens, the designer was happy to pay homage to her grandmother with a concrete project. “It’s nice to have a creative pursuit I can actually call Pansy Maiden in honor of her,” Ms. Collins said.

Ms. Collin’s bags (ranging from clutches to totes, shoulder bags to weekender bags) were paired with several of the designs. High-end yet simple Melie Bianco handbags and sassy and classy Cri de Coeur vegan shoes also complimented the runway garments with great success.

Other gems of the night included vegan graphic t-shirts from Seattle-based Lion’s Share Industries as well as dress coats and outerwear from Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart, founder of Vaute Couture. The Lion’s Share Industries tees were vibrant and youthful but would go well in any eco- or animal-conscious person’s wardrobe. Five artists were commissioned to design a shirt that said “vegan” in words or pictures for the company.

Left: A model wears Mission Savvy.
Right: Maré Odomo’s tee from Lion’s Share Industries completes a distinctly American look.

Maré Odomo, one of the designers, offered a punk-y yet compassionate tee titled “
Who Cooks for You?” Mr. Odomo is, among other things, a cartoonist inspired by Pokémon. His design, featuring an owl silhouetted against a black wintery background, is eye-catching. The image itself is reminiscent of the mystique of the “Gotta Catch ‘em All” franchise, yet with its ecologically-conscious and animal-friendly message, the tee is a sophisticated commentary rather than a campy reference.

Ms. Mai-Ly Hilgart delivered high fashion on the runway with her beautiful garments. The looks were playful yet mature, modern in their design and materials yet classic enough in their look. Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn would have worn Vaute Couture, even if they were not vegans or tree-huggers in their days. Described on as proving that “compassionate style can be cute, chic, and sexy,” Ms. Mai-Ly Hilgart’s collection was show stopping. Designed to be eco-conscious yet able to survive the rough winters of Chicago, quality is not sacrificed in the collection. Ms. Mai-Ly Hilgart’s designs are as much a celebration of fashion as are the designs of Dolce & Gabbana.

While many of the Vaute Couture designs were winning, the Bomono and El coats were the most notable and the most titillating. The Bomono is called such because it is a hybrid bomber jacket and kimono, thus it is both comfortable and demure (to borrow language from the Vaute Couture website). The jacket is
Top Gun meets Tim Gunn. The Bomono in ivory luxe that graced the vegan runway would surely have made Nina Garcia smile.

The Bomono was one of the most exciting styles of the evening. The jacket is a glamorous synthesis of conscious, retro, modern and chic.

The El coat was more mature and more Jackie than the Bomono but was just as exciting. Actress Emily Deschanel on
Bones wore the El coat, thus the style is a triple threat—it has a presence in the vegan network, the fashion mafia, and in pop culture. Along with the Bomono, the El in luxe gray was a darling of the night’s event.

The El coat in all of its glory.

t-shirt was also featured in the Vaute Couture collection. It was a simple brown number with a reference to The Simpsons printed in large, fuchsia letters: “I Do Win Friends With Salad.” If Lisa Simpson can expand her social network despite her vegetarian ways, then this t-shirt’s message serves as an excellent summary for the fashion show: While salads build friendships, eco- and animal-friendly clothing designs have the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry. Vegan fashion already has a place in the heart of consumers, vegan and non-vegan alike. With that fundamental step already complete, what’s left for this movement is the mainstream market.

The SF Vegan Fashion Show was a wonderful night for the fashion-forward and environmentally conscious. When asked what a vegan fashion show looks like, Rebecca Bolte, a photographer for Lion’s Share Industries, responded, “It looks rad!”

Ms. Bolte’s words could not be more true.

Dixie Mahy, president of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society, made a surprise appearance at the end of the fashion show. Ms. Mahy has been a vegetarian for 53 years and a vegan for 33 of those years. She brought her own funky style and pure feistiness to the runway, leaving the male model that escorted her to the stage in edamame dust.

Scott Hovdey
BARE Reporter

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