Take some sumptuous high court style mixed with a streak of dandy equestrian chic, filter it through a romantic lens of soulful Deep South and what do you get? The dreamy designs of eco-fashion auteur Jeff Garner, the man behind Prophetik.
Garner’s “Courtly Love” collection for Fall/Winter 2012, which closed Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver, was as much cotillion as it was hoedown. As a hemp “carpet” was unfurled down the runway an opera vocalist took to the mic. A movement of classical music was played before a bluegrass trio heralded in the first princess-model to float down the catwalk.
What followed was a succession of hems and trails sweeping the floor, perfectly executed tiny pleats spilling obediently from tight bodices, ruffles both grand and petite portraying a perfect balance of flirty and coy. There were prairie dresses and empress waistlines, kilts and flouncy skirts, waistcoats and pocket vests, jodhpurs and riding boots, peplums and plaids—many of the looks accented with vintage riding boots and dramatic jewels fit for a tsarina.
Garner started his Prohetik label nine years ago in Franklin, Tennessee. His signature nods to the horse set and historic costume are all imbued with down home southern comfort. Since the beginning, he has maintained his focus on unusual natural fibers and earth-based dyes. In fact, he grows his own dyestuffs in a community garden in Tennessee.
The way in which the hues take to the hemp-silk blends in many of the pieces sets his work apart from the others, eco-friendly or not. And his dedication to sustainability runs deep.
Garner joined a small group of us for dinner (and a hike atop Vancouver’s snowy Grouse Mountain, but that’s another story) before the show to talk about his approach. He sees “sustainable” as starting with fabric. He stays away from over-abundantly used cotton, even organic, and instead opts for linens and flax, which he notes, just feel amazing (as he offers the cuff of his lilac, ruffled linen sleeve for a touch). He is also constantly pushing the envelope with other fibers. Garner said,
I like cactus silk and seaweed fabric, which is like linen—it holds color beautifully, it’s a little stiff, but can work really well. Hemp is my favorite. It holds color 10 times longer than other fibers. It doesn't deplete the soil. And it’s very durable. I ride my horse in hemp pants, they last a 100 times longer than stretch riding pants.
For this collection he used hemp-silk blends for a number of the garments, and introduced a new hemp-wool plaid. And to watch his fabrics drape and swish down the runway, one immediately senses that Garner is on to something. To see the earthy, textured textiles pleat and flow so beautifully was refreshing. And true to his word, the way they hold color is obvious, as evidenced by how saturated yet luminous the fabrics appear.
The designer considers each element of his work with sustainability in mind. Whether incorporating heirloom textiles, like family quilts, or extensively sourcing eco-friendly components, like naturally-shed ostrich feathers, every last bit is thoroughly thought through. Of his many tricks, one of the coolest is his use of substantial, industrial zippers, which run up the backs of many of his dresses. While many eco-designers rely on reusing vintage nylon zippers, Garner goes for new heavy-duty metal fasteners. How is that sustainable? Not only do they look great when played against sumptuous, shimmering natural fabrics, but as Garner points out, “Industrial zippers last longer. These days if a zipper breaks, people will just throw the garment away.” Of course!
The final dress of the show (above center, with the designer) was a long, strapless looker, inhabited by the designer’s muse, southern girl Morgan Bradley (who, by the way, can hike effortlessly and contentedly through snowy mountains, in four-inch pumps…without stockings). The black and white dress was crafted from peace silk, one of his grandmother Lola’s aged quilts, a vintage pocket watch, and the aforementioned naturally-shed ostrich feathers.
Although seemingly destined for the closet of some fairytale countess, the ostrich dress will soon be delivered to the Smithsonian American Art Museum as Garner’s contribution to the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures collection.
Grandma Lola would be proud.
For more on Vancouver's Eco Fashion Week, visit the website here.