Zuhal Kuvan-Mills may be a Fashion Week Darling (she just showed her designs in New Zealand, is about to do it again here in Vancouver, and then it’s off to Paris), but don’t call her a fashion designer. “I’m an artist who makes clothes,” the Haute Couture visionary explains, adding that she has no formal education in fashion and that she sort of stumbled into the industry by accident. (She was inspired last year to turn her textiles into clothing, and Green Embassy was born.)
All photos by Stephanie Deline/She’s So Eco
A textile designer, visual artist, (http://atelierzuhal.com) farmer, and Veterinary surgeon (yes, you read that right), among other things, this woman does it all. Turkish-born and Australia-based, Kuvan-Mills’ truly organic clothing line is merely a baby – nine months old to be exact – but has already enjoyed international success and media coverage in the likes of Vogue, Glamour and countless fashion blogs. As Australia’s first internationally recognized organic clothing line, Green Embassy has made a grand, sweeping entrance into the fashion world, proving that organic fashion isn’t all granola and hemp, (not that there’s anything wrong with granola and hemp, but, you know, we are talking runway here) and showing the world that Haute Couture and Eco-friendly can indeed go hand in hand.
With GOTS Certified (that’s Global Organic Textile Standard) fabrics and garments (according to Greenambassy.com.au, “Zuhal’s textiles and designs are created by weaving, felting, stitching, knitting and/or embroidering luxury raw materials and fibres such as silk, alpaca, merino and organic cotton”- and by the way, many of the materials, including the alpaca, are obtained from Kuvan-Mills’ own farm) and a strong passion for women’s rights, fair wages and ethical treatment of employees, Kuvan-Mills has hit the nail on the head, breathing some fresh, eco-friendly air into an industry where waste, fast fashion, non-sustainable fabrics and social injustice runs rampant.
To see an artisan such as this in a prime spot at our own Vancouver Fashion Week speaks volumes as to where the industry is headed, and it’s the kind of shift many will want to witness. Kuvan-Mills hopes to educate people about the importance of not just the what and the why of fashion, but the who and where. “Who made it? Where was it made? What wages were the seamstresses paid?,” she asks, standing in the affordable luxury boutique Kitsilano Kitty’s Closet. She’s here, on the eve of Vancouver Fashion Week, giving an inspirational talk about her series (she prefers that term to the term collection, as she likes to think of her clothing as an extension of her artisan wares. Wearable art, if you will. ) Hosted by K.K.C.’s owner and curator Helen Siwak, the room is intimate, but filled with public figures in the industry, such as Eco Fashion Week founder Miriam Laroche, photographer and event promoter Andy Chu, and style expert Cynthia Pace. And everyone is listening to the riveting, beautiful woman with the exotic accent and the intense passion for organic couture.
Kuvan-Mills has a simple but poignant statement on the overused, greenwashed buzzwords “organic” and “eco”, which are terms many brands use to cash in, often failing to follow through on their claims, and seldom really knowing the true value and meaning of these words. “Nothing is organic until it’s certified organic,” the petite brunette asserts, looking effortlessly causal-chic in a pair of black coolats and an airy, sleeveless top of her own creation. Her smile, embellished with bright red-orange lips, lights up the room. Her eyes, made up with smouldering smoky shades, have an undeniable, almost childlike spark when she speaks about her work. She is beautiful. She has the room in the palm of her hand.
Kuvan-Mills insists that true organic fashion goes beyond a bit of organic cotton or bamboo. It extends, she says, all the way to the packaging, and must be traced all the way back to the farm, the farmer, and the fields. The treatment, facilities and wages of those who produce the clothing must be of the highest priority. From first stitch to final thought, Kuvan-Mills and Green Embassy embody organic and ethical in every possible way.
Endearingly and quite refreshingly, Kuvan-Mills lists the earth, its elements, and women everywhere as her influences, rather than name-dropping other designers. That alone sets her apart from the pack, lending her a charming innocence and a potent, raw honesty. It’s equal parts adorable and intriguing that she is the first to admit her lack of interest in the lingo, protocol and who’s who of the industry. In fact, that attitude may just be the key to her success, as Kuvan-Mills is not interested in putting on airs, outdoing anyone, or conforming to any standard but her own. She just wants to make art, and the combination of her beautiful creations with her grounded values means this woman is poised to be a major player in the industry – even if that’s unintentional. There isn’t a pretentious bone her body, and her ability to laugh at herself yet still take her art and ethics seriously is something so new and fresh, it’s no wonder people are responding and relating to her work.
Behind Kuvan-Mills stands a pack of gorgeous, diverse models (including beautiful socialite/philanthropist (among other things) Skye Natasha Lintott and astonishing feature model Amanda Oiom), all dressed in samples from the latest Green Embassy series, Connected to Land, which will be shown in full Thursday night at Vancouver Fashion Week. The designs reflect the series title perfectly- stunning palettes of cream, sand, and rich, earthy darks combine with modern elegant touches such as eye-catching sequin work, glass beading and Kuvan-Mills’ signature swirls. Zuhal (or “Zu”, as she is affectionately known by some of her admirers), stresses the importance of creating fashion that is not only sustainable, chic and friendly, but that is so well-made and so timeless that it can be passed down from generation to generation.
Indeed, the softly flowing fabrics, with their gorgeous patterns (some of which come from real eucalyptus leaves), artistic yet elegant cuts, and the unique mix of femininity and fierce, confident edge, are made to last and made to treasure. Kuvan-Mills strikes the ultimate balance of organic and couture, creating wearable art that is certainly high-fashion, but not so out-there that you can’t imagine wearing it to a wedding or a gala. Heck, some of her designs would work as prom dresses. And when you take a look at the professional photos of women frolicking on the beach in her designs, you can easily picture yourself strolling along the sand in a one-of-a-kind, handmade Green Embassy piece.
The Connected to Land series is a beautiful blend of art, respect for earth and animals, and fashionable yet versatile clothing that is handmade with the utmost care and thought. Green Embassy is a Fashion Week must-see, so get yourself to the Queen Elizabeth Plaza this Thursday evening. Here is the Vancouver Fashion Week schedule http://vanfashionweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/schedule.jpg
I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this brilliant designer. Er, I mean artist.
I really do mean artist. In every sense of the word.