October 22, 2020

OHT-Fashion

Clothes that smile

What Emma Watson did next, from child star to fashion sustainability czar

Watson promoting Little Women in December 2019 – Patrick McMullen

Congratulations are due to Emma Watson on her new side hustle. The activist and Little Women star is the newest appointee to Kering’s board of directors. She’ll chair the luxury conglomerate’s sustainability committee, guiding conversations that will affect Kering brands including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. 

Watson is one of three new appointees; the others are Jean Liu, president of Didi Chuxing, often described as China’s Uber; and Tidjane Thiam, a former Credit Suisse boss.

“Their respective knowledge and competences, and the multiplicity of their backgrounds and perspectives will be invaluable additions to Kering’s Board of Directors,” François-Henri Pinault, Kering chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “The collective intelligence that comes from diverse points of view and the richness of different experiences are crucial to the future of our organization. I am proud to add such impressive talents to the team.” 

Kering had a headstart on sustainability relative to other luxury players thanks to Stella McCartney, who put it on the conglomerate’s agenda at a time when the word probably summoned images of hemp shirts in most executives’ minds. 

But Kering lost McCartney in 2018; the designer bought back Kering’s 50 percent stake and went on to form a partnership with rival conglomerate LVMH. Since then, she’s referred to herself as LVMH owner Bernard Arnault’s “personal sustainability adviser” and pledged to make sustainability reforms from the inside.

The Kering statement announcing the new appointments described Watson as “one of the world’s most popular actors and best-known activists”, which undoubtedly she is, to some. But it seems odd that Kering would follow the departure of a designer who is a sustainability leader by appointing to its board a… movie star? Activist? App aficionado? (The statement also cited Watson’s support of Good On You, an app that allows users to check fashion brands’ ethical credentials, as one of her qualifications. Incidentally Saint Laurent’s rating is “Not good enough”.)

Watson wore a Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles to the 2016 Met Gala - Getty
Watson wore a Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles to the 2016 Met Gala – Getty

Watson’s most visible engagement with sustainable fashion has been her laudable embrace of sustainability on the red carpet. She signed on to Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge in 2015 and took it seriously, working with stylists Sarah Slutsky and subsequently Rebecca Corbin-Murray to ensure that anything she wore on the carpet was sustainably produced (broadly meaning made to high environmental and labour standards). Apparently their vetting process for prospective looks was extensive – designers were asked to complete multi-page applications before their work could be put forward for Watson’s consideration. 

For Watson, the reasons to accept Kering’s invitation are obvious and myriad. It’s a grown-up role that’s consistent with her demonstrated interests. It’s an excellent addition to a very 2020s portfolio career. There’s probably money.

And there’s ample evidence that child stars can successfully pivot from screens to fashion careers. No doubt Watson will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who have reinvented themselves as minimal luxury specialists via The Row, rather than Linsdsay Lohan, who – well, the less said about her time at Ungaro, the better. 

Watson at G7 Advisory Council for Gender Equality meeting in Paris - Reuters
Watson at G7 Advisory Council for Gender Equality meeting in Paris – Reuters

But barring a collaboration with Zady, a now-defunct sustainable brand, Watson has never worked for a fashion business, or a business in any other industry, for that matter. It’s unclear how much she’ll actually do (Kering already has an impressive sustainability boss in Marie-Claire Daveau, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs) or, if she hopes to effect change, how welcome her efforts will be.  

Watson’s appointment, then, looks like a hopeful exercise, the casting of a magic spell that Kering will be counting on to convince Watson’s fans to embrace luxury fashion and shopping, despite a global pandemic, widespread recessions and increasing disillusionment with stuffocation. It’s not everything, but to quote Good On You’s side-eyed rating for Gucci and Bottega Veneta: “It’s a start”. 

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