Kering Award Finalist: Elise Comrie


Elise’s samples, dyed with tobacco- photo credit: Ana Escobar

Over the next few months, we will be introducing you to each of the ten finalists for the Kering Award for Sustainability 2016, ahead of the winner announcements in November. Since January 2016, these students have been developing and refining their sustainability projects, and presented them to an esteemed panel of judges from Kering, the London College of Fashion and each of our partner brands, luxury suit company Brioni and vegetarian, fur- and leather-free company Stella McCartney.

Material innovations and the notion of tradition- both personal and that of the brand- came together in MA Fashion Futures student Elise Comrie’s project ‘Tailored Tobacco’, which she presented to Brioni as part of the Kering Award. Inspired by the environmentally conscious philosophy of Saskatchewan in the Great Plains in Canada, where Elise grew up, this project reflected her innate sustainable and conscious mindset, and the importance of Brioni’s tradition to their brand identity.

Drawing on Brioni’s status as a tailoring and menswear brand of the highest luxury, Elise proposed the development of a smoking jacket collection, using materials dyed with tobacco. Tobacco, a plant more often associated with destructive health and social impacts, has actually been used for healing and ceremonial purposes for hundreds of years. Its use varied depended on location and culture, ranging from medicinal as a remedy for many ailments, to mystical, often used in fertility ceremonies. It also has many physical properties that add to its sustainability credentials. It uses 40% less energy in the dyeing phase than cotton, and only takes 90 days to grow the plant for harvest. The increased demand for textile products and the proportional increase in their production, and the use of synthetic dyes, have contributed to dye wastewater becoming one of the substantial sources of severe pollution problems in current times, and using dry tobacco leaves and stems was Elise’s proposed solution. She drew on her own background too, commenting that, ‘I grew up with a close-knit relationship to indigenous peoples of the region that I’m from and at a young age I learned the spiritual and healing benefits of the sacred tobacco plant. It was of prime importance to me that my history and who I am spoke clearly in my proposal. So much of the fashion industry is removed from people and their stories and I felt this to be an important aspect of my project.

After extensive research into the Brioni client, Elise realised that her approach to sustainability was going to have to be subtle in order to make it fitting for the brand. Therefore it was the link between tobacco and Brioni’s heritage as an exclusive, luxury suit company that she chose to focus on as the central theme for her project, with the concept of an elegantly understated yet luxurious idea of masculinity underpinning her concept: ‘I felt it necessary to have a masculine and yet innovative solution that the Brioni man could relate to. I felt strongly about the innovative tobacco dye as a platform to help the client relate and see the importance of sustainability, while retaining the exclusivity that they want from a Brioni suit.

Elise collaborated with Dimora Colours, the company behind tobacco dye, on her project, as well as the regular sessions with the sustainability department at Brioni, advice from Kering’s HR department, mentoring from LCF experts, and a visit to the Brioni store in London’s Mayfair, where she was given a unique and invaluable insight into the Brioni customer. It was the unique opportunity to form these bonds and receive this industry advice that attracted Elise to the Kering Award. ‘Having followed the Kering Award closely since its inception, it was a personal goal of mine to be a finalist. The mentoring phase offered to the finalists is a rare opportunity for students to have guidance at this level. Our questions as well as our innovations were welcomed and treated with such respect; it was a very positive experience.

The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion is part of a five-year partnership launched in 2014 between Kering and Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL, to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry. The partnership is three-fold and also includes an annual lecture – The Kering Talk – and a co-developed Masters’ level curriculum on sustainable design.

Keep your eye on the blog to hear about each of the other finalists, and for the all important winner announcements in November. And you can find out more about the KeringxLCF partnership here.