LONDON — There were no cutting ties at Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the U.N. climate summit being held there until Nov. 18.
For the official group photo at the opening ceremony on Monday, political leaders and representatives from 190 countries posed in their best formal suits to debate climate change adaptation, climate finance, decarbonization, agriculture and biodiversity over the next week.
The somber image is miles away from the more relaxed scene at the 48th G7 Summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi; Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; German Chancellor Olaf Scholz; U.S. President Joe Biden; then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stood on a piece of wood plank in crisp white shirts with collars popped open and no neckties in sight.
That affair was an ephemeral breath of fresh air from the usual hustle and bustle of political uniforms.
At Cop27, it was back to business and formality as a majority of the leaders opted for the safe, classic suit in black, navy and gray.
The standouts at the summit were the leaders from the Arabian Peninsula and African continent wearing traditional dress from their native countries.
Crown Prince and deputy Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah; Saudi Arabia Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, and Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa all donned their gold trimmed bisht (a cloak typically made from camel hair and goat wool) worn with a keffiyeh and agal, the traditional scarf with the black cord accessory to keep it in place.
Director-general of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wore a navy blue wax print top and skirt with a matching gele, a traditional head tie.
“As a whole, it feels stiff, detached and traditional, with the only strength of personality or presence coming from the leaders wearing more elaborate clothes,” said Peter Bevan, a London-based menswear stylist.
“It seems the western world is out-of-date, in stark contrast to those who are clearly proud of their culture.”
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen wore a dusty pink double-breasted blazer with a pink T-shirt and small beaded necklace. Her uniform of statement blazers with black trousers has been standard since the early 2000s when she was part of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.
Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who did a U-turn on his decision to attend the summit, arrived at the airport in Sharm El Sheikh wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up paired with navy trousers and Oxford brown shoes.
Sunak, a sharper dresser than his predecessor, later donned a black suit with a printed turquoise necktie for the official photo. He has been a great supporter of British tailoring, eschewing Savile Row and opting for a young, low-key tailor such as Henry Herbert, who makes a large portion of his suits.
A few days earlier, Sunak was mingling with Stella McCartney during a reception hosted by King Charles at Buckingham Palace for Cop27.
“I do think it’s not the end of the tie and they’re not dying. I’m hearing from clients and people that they are buying ties more now because they’ve always been a really beautiful thing that doesn’t cost too much money that you can collect and spice up your wardrobe with,” said Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, creative director of Edward Sexton.
The intention of buttoning up at the Cop27 is a sartorial message from the world leaders that they’re aware of the current issues surrounding everyone, such as the cost of living crisis.
“We’re currently in a state of crisis — recovery from the pandemic, to rapidly rising energy and gas prices which is forcing some European countries to return to coal fired power generation, and some are even facing food shortages, so the leaders are perhaps trying to send out a strong message that they’re serious about dealing with the significant problems at hand,” Bevan said.
Even though fashion doesn’t always take to the main stage at these summits, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment will be presenting the Green Fashion program at the conference.
The program was set up in 2018 by three native youths to tackle and raise awareness around ethical fashion practices in Egypt.
If the political leaders leave with one thing on Nov. 18, it should be the acknowledgement that fashion is as much a part of the climate change conversation as gas and oil.