Photos by Amanda Coen for Ecouterre
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart debuted the first all-eco, all-vegan collection at New York Fashion Week to critical acclaim. We caught up with the cruelty-free designer at the New York City Garment district facility where Vaute’s production takes place, to discover the unusual muse behind her collection, how her label has evolved from outerwear to a full-fledged ready-to-wear line, and why fashion is the perfect platform for her animal activism.
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Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this collection?
I started out by thinking about something that made me feel really warm and happy. Usually that comes from childhood. I loved Sailor Moon when I was a kid, but I never watched it. My mom is Taiwanese, so when I went to Asia I would get a lunchbox and stuff like that. I had just seen pictures, and that was it. I knew I loved the fit and flair and the colors and the hearts and stars and all of that.
What did you learn as you began to dig deeper?
I started doing research after I had already chosen the design to be Sailor Moon. I looked at the story. It was never really translated for me. The story kind of blew me away. It’s essentially this normal earth girl who tries to save a cat that’s being abused on the street and then the cat turns out to be a magical cat. It turns her into Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon turns into a soldier for love and justice, which I thought was kind of amazing. She and her friends are normal earth girls who have the responsibility to save all the different beings of the universe and the world. I love that. There’s a clip that says, “Even with just a little more courage than the average person, anyone can be a soldier for peace.” I think that’s so true. People just need a little more courage. So, anyway…
How do you feel about this collection being the first vegan line that’s going to be shown at fashion week? It must be exciting for you.
I’m excited. I started the label because I knew that there were things missing in terms of garments and fabrics that would show people there is no reason to wear animals. I had to start with outerwear because that was the hardest thing- to find something that was warm and pretty and totally animal free. When I got the chance, since I started getting staff last year, I’ve had the chance to develop more and work on more fabric research. I’ve developed a whole collection of brand new fabrics and silk alternatives and wool alternatives, all of which are prettier, better, and good for the environment. It was a very natural thing to say that this would be the first solo show at fashion week. I just want to show that we don’t have any excuse to wear animals.
Do you have a favorite look from this collection or was there a certain fabric that you really enjoyed working with?
It’s fun seeing [the collection] on the models and together because it brings more life to it. I surprised myself with [the] sweater dress, which I really love because I think it’s really fun to wear a dress even when it’s cold out. I love slouchy. I’m a little 80’s inspired, usually. I also really like how the velvet overalls came out because they’re slouchy, too. You have to see them on. They have a nice almost falling-off look. [In terms of fabric,] I really like washi paper, which is a Japanese origami paper, because it has structure to it.
The pinnacle piece, because it’s Sailor Moon, is [the 100% recycled satin high-waisted] dress, which we did in two colors. It has the heart cutout, its fit and flare, and has a massive bow on the back. That’s more like a signature piece for the collection.