By  on January 30, 2008

NEW YORK — The message will be in the material at EarthPledge's FutureFashion show at Gotham Hall Thursday.In this case, the material is natural. Hemp, natural silk, organic cotton and vegetable-tanned leather are a few of the elements used by high-profile designers in looks intended to highlight sustainable apparel manufacturing. "The idea is giving the designers this creative project and asking, 'If you were to make something sustainable, what would it look like?'" said Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York, who helped organize the event. "It's to get the designers involved in the project and increase everybody's awareness. The whole green thing doesn't mean you have to forsake design or quality or anything." Gilhart said she raised the stakes this year by inviting international designers to join the project. The domestic contingent includes Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriguez, Derek Lam, Michael Kors and Threeasfour. European houses such as Versace, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Givenchy, Marni, Martin Margiela, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent also participated.The runway show has some high-powered industry veterans working behind the scenes. Fabien Baron designed the invitations and is doing the graphics; Alex de Betak, who designed the set using reclaimed wood, is producing, and Brana Woolf is styling. Barneys, Lexus Hybrid Living and Pure & Natural are among the sponsors. The designers have had differing amounts of experience with sustainable materials. McCartney is selling an organic collection at Barneys, Behnaz Sarafpour last season included a few items in her show that used organic materials, Duro Olowu uses recycled fabrics and Moschino was talking about the environment 20 years ago."Some people you'd think wouldn't be so excited about it, like Versace, but they were really excited about it," Gilhart said. EarthPledge, which has a collection of more than 600 sustainable materials, sent each designer a sample book and ended up supplying many of the designers, said Leslie Hoffman, executive director of EarthPledge. "The thing I see that's phenomenal is how far the textile industry has come," she said. "What I see going forward will hopefully be an explosion of new products, new chemistry, new techniques for dyeing and printing more natural or sustainably grown product."The designs will be on display in Barneys' Madison Avenue windows and could travel to the retailer's stores around the country, Gilhart said. "We're not selling the looks," she added. "The designs are being kept intact to inspire people."

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