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How Sustainability is Triggering a Positive Rethink on What’s Fashionable

Vivienne Westwood.

There are tailored and bold- shouldered suits on the style horizon; a taste for military. and utility; a crush on the color pea green; and when it comes to dress-up, balloon-skirted gowns and combat boots that signal “empowered.” Yet one of the most vital trends emerging, one that is influencing our buying and wearing habits is “repeat chic.”

Artistic Director of Givenchy, Clare Waight walking down the runway at the  Givenchy show.

Unlike runway-driven trends, this vogue starts in our own wardrobes. We are learning how to re-appreciate what we already own, figuring out – in the words of tidying expert Marie Kondo – what “sparks joy” – and styling items in multiple ways. Where once the onus was on a seasonal makeover and wearing brand new, repeat chic is about buying less, buying better, and increasing the life span of a wardrobe. The design objectives are deeply rooted in 20th-century fashion when world wars and material scarcity made repeat chic a necessity. Coco Chanel made her modernist uniform of a collarless jacket and skirt relevant over many decades. Christian Dior issued numerous iterations of the bar jacket and the maison Alaïa continues to recalibrate its stretch knit ballerina dress, biker jacket, and skater skirts.

Lebanese Shoe Designer Jennifer Chamandi.

There are multiple triggers behind the trend. Resource scarcity, over consumption (one garbage truck of discarded clothing is burned or landfilled every second), rising prices, and a tidal wave turn against excess in favor of pared-back elegance (adopt the Mies van der Rohe 1947 maxim “less is more”) are powering the repeat chic movement. But the biggest shift is in mindsets. We’ve all experienced that squeal of irrational panic: “I’ve got nothing new! I can’t wear that again. I’m so over it…” as we feverishly count outfit outings on our Instagram feeds. In hindsight, being ingenious with your wardrobe and re-wearing pieces you love will signal true chic, not laziness.

“There is perhaps a preconception in the Middle East that you can only wear a dress once in the same crowd,” starts Lebanese designer Racil Chalhoub. “The mindset is connected with how people shop. Women travel to Paris and London knowing they have this many dinners and occasions. They buy specifically for those events, with items handed over to daughters once worn.”

Chanel Runway.

This summer, Chalhoub dug deep into her closet to rewear a Gucci dress to the wedding of Elie Saab Junior and Christine Mourad in Beirut. “I ‘crushed’ on it and knew I was not going to get bored,” she says of the blue mousseline dress with a bodice featuring an embellished tiger. “I take pride in repeating as I have spent money on my wardrobe,” she says. Pride is a great motivator – it’s what makes repeating chic. With Bianca Brandolini d’Adda, Karolina Kurkova, and Sara Sampaio among the 1 200 guests, the style stakes were high over the three days of festivities. Influencer Lana El Sahely decided to rewear her Elie Saab engagement dress to the wedding. “Old is gold,” wrote a follower. “What’s better than an Elie Saab dress? A vintage Elie Saab dress,” wrote another, suggesting that regional attitudes are evolving.

Like many forces for change, the motive starts from within. Entrepreneur and designer of 13BC, Cherine Magrabi, regularly plunges into the back of her wardrobe. “Getting rid of a showstopping piece isn’t going to save the environment. We need to look at this challenge another way today. Conscious and responsible buying is the best place to start. Thankfully, there are brands that are empowering consumers and influencing us all to give our shopping habits a rethink,” she says.

The British royal household is a bold influencer of the repeat chic movement, with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge championing multiwear style. The royals’ pragmatic approach is deeply rooted in the protestant belief in modesty. Excessive vanity is frowned upon and in today’s transparent global culture, it risks appearing tone deaf. July’s Wimbledon was a good window, with the duchess wearing a vivid green Dolce & Gabbana dress with pearl buttons first seen on the royal tour to Canada in 2016. Meanwhile, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wore a white cotton shirt by Bahrain born-and-raised designer Misha Nonoo. Style watchers will be on the lookout for how she reappropriates her pre-pregnancy wardrobe that included standout pieces from Givenchy and Erdem.

Left is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Rewearing a Dolce & Gabbana Dress at this years Wimbledon Championships with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

In this zeitgeist, everyone can become her own editor. Lebanese financier turned shoe designer Jennifer Chamandi follows Kondo. “Everything has energy, including clothes. We should treasure them and treat them with value and respect and not like they are disposable,” says Chamandi, who has refined her wardrobe to minimalist classics from Stella McCartney and Max Mara. She stands by Coco Chanel’s eternal maxim “simplicity is elegance.”

Doyens of style are great teachers too. Layla Moussa, founder of the Jeddah boutique The Establishment, remarks, “I consider dressing up as a very intimate pleasure, and I like to do that myself – no stylist, no apps. Dressing up is like eating and should be done using your five senses. If I buy the showstopping piece of a collection, I generally don’t wear it that same season. I buy it because it’s beautiful, not because it is ‘the piece.’ I don’t care about what I should wear when, so I don’t archive or get rid of a garment just because it is not fashionable.” She counts YSL tuxedos, early Margiela, and Yohji Yamamoto among her treasures. “In a way, my wardrobe reconsiders itself. I just enable it,” she adds.

We can’t change habits overnight, but designers are working hard to help, concentrating not on wild stylistic swings but on a consistent, cohesive evolution in style. Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, Virginie Viard at Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Hedi Slimane at Celine, Stella McCartney, and Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen are among the many advocates of slow luxury. “I want these clothes to be valid in 10 years’ time,” says Gabriela Hearst of her subtly toned, lightweight tailoring, rib knit dresses, and investment leather. From the new guard, creatives including Roni Helou, Marine Serre, Abadia, and Bethany Williams are upcycling fabrics to lower their environmental footprint.

Jumpstart and dive in. Locate a tailor and see what can be transformed and start switching pieces around. Learning new ways to tie, twist, layer and combine will re-energize. Once the hangers are rattling, you know you are winning. Kismet is waiting.

Photographs: Getty, Indigital

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