Feast or Fashion

I was sitting at a café, having a quick bite in between meetings and runway shows. It was early February in Manhattan, the frenetic energy of NY Fashion Week thick in the air. Picking at my veggie sushi, I was confronted by my boss, RS—“is that all you’re going to eat?” I look up at her, and now the rest of our group, eyeing my lunch. I sheepishly explained that I had recently gone vegetarian (for the third time, actually). She is French, and by birthright a connoisseur of all things edible. I knew this revelation would not be greeted with approval or applause.

I became vegetarian for the first time my freshman year of high school. It was one-part animal rights; the other, I suppose could be attributed to my need to forge an identity for myself. My second run was in college. Neither lasted for much over a year. Both led to the same result of anemia and subsequent illness. Looking back, I attribute it to a bad diet. I don’t know why I figured vegetarians could live on pasta alone.

The current attempt was instigated by a book my younger sister gave me for Christmas. I unpeeled the ribbon and paper, read the title and rolled my eyes. Skinny Bitch. What’s this all about, I pressed. Just read it, she said.

I picked it up a few weeks later and found that the contents actually had little to do with what the title connotes (with exception to the sassy prose and the constant reiteration of the phrase Skinny Bitch). The book surprising promotes life-long health and veganism; not a fad diet that would result in a small ass. It goes in to depth about the affect of food on our health, cruelty to animals and the corruption of the government bodies “protecting” our food sources. It was quite affecting, and I decided to give vegetarianism another crack.

It’s amazing how curious people are about what you do or do not eat. I’ve had to explain myself many times, and will admit to being slightly embarrassed to disclose my inspiration came from a book with such a frivolous title.

Once again defending myself, I was uprooted by an unsuspecting question. “So what about your boots, belt, gloves?” I had honestly given little consideration to going vegan with the rest of my lifestyle.

I started contemplating the reality of me, a fashion devotee, shunning all animal-derived products. Sadly, this is the down side of having a little conviction—you end up coming off as a hypocrite.

The main snag is the accessibility of fashion that doesn’t compromise my style or sense of conviction. In high fashion and in the mass-market, the pickings are truly slim.

Stella McCartney is the best for this breed of uncompromising style. A life-long vegetarian, she has built a fashion enterprise offering products that are both cruelty-free and eco-friendly. She even dedicated her F/W’08 show "to everyone who believes you do not need fur in fashion." Her collection offered many ingenious alternatives to fur and leather.

Her line of handbags and footwear are made from only synthetic or natural materials like raffia, wood, faux leather, Lucite, etc. One of my favorites from the F/W’08 collection was the wooden-plated shoulder bag, somewhat resembling medieval armor, with gold, chain-link hardware.

Natalie Portman also recently launched a vegan footwear line in collaboration with Té Casan. She lamented that, "as a vegan, it's been challenging finding designer shoes made of alternative materials. This collection offers a great selection without compromising quality or style." Not so much. Her efforts are commendable, but the actual product leaves me uninspired. And at an average of $255 a pair, they are not exactly reasonable either.

From here the market drops off to small indie brands that sell equally unimaginative designs and most times using low quality fabrications. I’m not sure if inflicting blisters can truly be considered a cruelty-free product.

I’ve never owned a piece of fur and don’t have any obscene pieces of leather products (even my couches are pleather). Just your standard boots and handbags—most of which are vintage. I’m not sure if a hard-core vegan would allow this as a consideration, but it makes me feel a little better.

I have found myself torn between what I would love to do in an ideal world, and my reality. It is a major commitment to forsake all things animal derived. It has to be taken one step at a time. For now, I aim to support the cruelty-free cause, and refrain from buying any unnecessary animal products. It will be on a look and love—but don’t touch—basis. I guess until I can give up organic Gorgonzola I can still keep my vintage leather boots.

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