LOS ANGELES — It's not enough that Linda Loudermilk wants to affect the way we dress. What she really wants to do is change the world.
Loudermilk bows on the runway at The Bryant Park tents Thursday with an eco-conscious women's and men's collection that is only the start, she hopes, of a movement she's calling "Luxury Eco."
It's a term she's trademarked with the intent that it will someday resonate with the same weight and impact as "organic."
While she's still working out whether this will eventually mean a designated board certifying products that can use the term, the goal is "to create a new marketplace," she said. "The idea is to get people to understand the craftsmanship and the soul that goes into these products."
To that end, for this first-time show, she convinced Aveda; Global Green, the U.S. nonprofit arm of Mikhail Gorbachev's Green Cross International; eco-commercial property developer Helena Durst, and the hybrid limousine line Ozo to join her in her cause, sponsoring the show and partnering with her initiatives for the next two years.
Ford Motors also has given Loudermilk's team a Ford Escape hybrid SUV so the crew doesn't have to take cabs or rent a van.
"We want to really break the mold of what people think environmental is," said Loudermilk, a lithe brunette who operates out of a big turn-of-the-last-century home off Hollywood Boulevard. "I wasn't an environmentalist until eight years ago and still don't really call myself that. I just want to protect the earth and respect what we are given here."
Trousers are cut from sasawashi, a Japanese leaf from the bamboo family resembling linen that has antibacterial and antiodor properties because it wicks away moisture. There is also a bamboo jersey in the line. A recent series of tunics called the Hope Series feature digitally printed images of children of the world's indigenous tribes. The silk chiffon is made by a resource that adheres to fair trade practices.
"We need to preserve the people of the rain forest, because if they are Westernized, we will all lose not only the forest, but so much of their knowledge. Then we all lose our soul."If Loudermilk sounds almost evangelical at times, it's because she believes this is not just a matter of business, but of survival. The designer belongs to a growing movement to incorporate environmentally sound resources in better and even luxury fashion. Oscar de la Renta offers a gown this fall made of hemp; Stella McCartney forgoes leather; Los Angeles-based Dosa taps a global network of craftsmen to create jewelry and clothes.
Model Angela Lindvall's nonprofit Collage Foundation, which uses interactive media to stimulate interest in social issues, is among Loudermilk's most ardent partners. A mother of two, who now lives here, Lindvall is serving as Loudermilk's ambassador. "We have the same mission," she says. "Fashion is the perfect platform to talk about a bigger idea, but still have fun. Yes, there's excess. But it can also be very influential."
And that's what boosters are hoping can happen as a new marketplace takes shape, along with evolving product.
"It's really difficult to buy into sometimes because most of what's out there tends not to be so, well, fashion," said Phyllis Reffo, the owner of Crash, a boutique next to Nobu at the Malibu Country Mart outside of Los Angeles. "That Linda's line is environmentally friendly appealed to me a great deal. But even aside from that, her sensibility stands out."
Although Loudermilk always has stood apart — there's little semblance of her Atlanta country club upbringing in her rock 'n' roll Earth mother look — it wasn't until 2002, when she was presenting her namesake line in Paris, that the epiphany hit. "I was never a granola girl. Look at me: I wear black — always. But I suddenly knew it had to be about more than the clothes."
Loudermilk's clothes and silver and gold jewelry always have reflected her years as a sculptor and an attention to tailoring from her tutelage under Richard Tyler. She left Tyler after a year to launch a collection of sculptural leather looks.
But moved by this new "spirit," she plunged herself into researching new fabrics and methods. "I was finding all different products that had a luxury feel and were environmentally sound, but they were getting mixed in with all the other eco products."A store on Melrose Avenue near the new Marc Jacobs door is slated to open next summer. Designed by architect Patrick Tighe, the large space will be a green-certified building stocked with sustainable merch — from outdoor furnishings to hair care to Loudermilk's line.
As Loudermilk and team look for investors to continue cultivating the Luxury Eco concept, the company projects it will push the $1 million mark in sales in 2006. It is available at Nexus in New York and Heist in Venice, Calif., as well as several doors abroad including Saks Fifth Avenue in Saudi Arabia, Crocus City Mall in Moscow and Mahna-Mahna, Japan.
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