A Fashionable Night for Farm Animals—By Nell Alk
Two seemingly incongruous worlds collided this past Saturday night in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. At SIR Stage37, steps from the Westside Highway, fashion fans and animal lovers alike gathered to toast both.
A runway show, cocktail party and auction, the swank Fashion Loves Animals soirée at once honored designer Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart and her cruelty-free company Vaute Couture, as well as fundraised for Farm Sanctuary, one of the nation’s foremost animal protection organizations.
“Farm Sanctuary has always been my most favorite place on earth,” Leanne beamed to a captive audience following the main event. “Honestly, it’s amazing.”
Hilgart in February wowed a considerable crowd and attracted mainstream media attention when her brand became the first all-vegan fashion label to show in the history of New York Fashion Week. Her presentation—which, in addition to showcasing autumn/winter ready-to-wear, also featured adoptable dogs alongside models—secured coverage in and on outlets like US News & World Report and CNN, the latter dubbing Hilgart “the rebel of Fashion Week.” Which is, in case it isn’t apparent, a compliment. No fur, no leather, no wool, no down, no silk—nothing derived from an animal. Just innovative and attractive alternatives.
“Events like this are very inspiring. It’s a way to recognize entrepreneurs who are making a difference, by producing products—in this case fashion products—that do not cause animals to suffer. We need more of that. We need more young people to get involved in creating positive change. Leanne’s done an amazing job with Vaute Couture.”
As with her first iteration three months ago, Hilgart enlisted Joshua Katcher of Brave GentleMan and Monisha Raja of Love Is Mighty to complete her ensembles with cruelty-free footwear. Katcher’s collaboration with Novacas has in the past year yielded the most attractive men’s shoes on the market. And Raja didn’t disappoint with her eye-catching heels, each woven out of otherwise landfill-bound biscuit wrappers.
Whimsy could also be seen in Hilgart’s youthful line. Comprised of myriad sweet pieces and her classic coats, perhaps most coveted were her patterned dresses with skin-baring star and heart cutouts at the upper back.
“I just love hearts and stars,” Leanne gushed. “To have a playful element to things, that’s really important to me. I think people take fashion too seriously.”
Keeping with the evening’s theme of fun, food vied with fashion (and adorable dogs) for the limelight. Twenty-year-old chef Jay Astafa volunteered his services, churning out savory hors d’oeuvres, while pasty chef Fran Costigan pleased palates with decadent desserts.
“I really wanted to get involved with Farm Sanctuary,” said Astafa, who—beyond passing apps like cashew chévre crostini with ramps and mac ‘n’ cheese bites (both of which were ridiculously delicious)—also donated a four-course gourmet meal for ten.
Of his generous gift, which commanded a $1,000 bid-donation, Astafa shrugged, “Cooking for ten people is easy, and I wanted to do something nice for animals.”
Astafa wasn’t alone in this. Also up for auction were Love Is Mighty flats, The Body Shop bath and beauty loot and a Brave GentleMan custom tailored blazer, among other things.
Partygoers were equally smitten over the Matt & Nat handbags, briefcases and backpacks that male and female models carried down the catwalk. The mother of an intern even later tried to buy one off of Hilgart. “I’m like, I’m sorry, I have no control over that,” Hilgart laughed while recalling the incident. “People love the Matt & Nat bags.”
What’s more, unlike a lot of animal advocacy happenings, albeit comparably lovely, Fashion Loves Animals drew fashion industry insiders. So, when Baur addressed guests, many were hearing his wise words and viewing his compelling slides for the first time, which is critical.
“Every day we make choices,” he began. “It’s about living in a way that’s more humane, more kind. These animals [at Farm Sanctuary] get to be who they are. They get to express, which is part of fashion, too. Animals on factory farms in cages can’t.”
Hilgart put it quite nicely when she explained to me her aesthetic motivation.
“I’ve always loved Sailor Moon in terms of design. [But, she also has] this amazing story. [She’s] a normal earth girl [who] tries to save a cat. The cat turns out to be a magical cat [that] gives [Sailor Moon] superpowers!”
Hilgart at last brought the creative concept full circle, “I feel like, that’s what life is. If you help others, you find your superpowers. And that’s true for everyone.”
Photos courtesy of Max Gordon.