The New Stella McCartney?

30 August 2011

Cornelia Guest, one of New York’s most ethical socialites, talks to Melissa Whitworth of Telegraph about the launch of her collection of vegan handbags.

BY Melissa Whitworth

If Bill Clinton can go vegan, there is hope for all of us: Cornelia Guest launches a line of cruelty-free handbags.

“I like the term ‘cruelty-free’ better, that’s really what it is,” says Cornelia Guest of her new line of vegan handbags.

In an interview with the Telegraph, one of New York’s swans as Truman Capote called the city’s socialites, describes the ethos behind her collection, which launches this Autumn at Bloomingdale’s and on (which ships to the UK).

“I want to give people an intelligent alternative,” says Guest. “Everywhere now people are watching what they eat and what they wear. It is becoming more and more important to the consumer that fashion is cruelty-free. It is work in a progress.” Even “Bubba” Bill Clinton just announced that he is on an almost entirely vegan diet.

High-quality eco-friendly materials are more luxurious than ever, says Guest, who has been working with suppliers all across the globe, meaning leather doesn’t have to be the only answer in the luxury accessories market.

The vegan luxury accessories market has been, until now, dominated by Stella McCartney’s collection. Her Falabella faux suede shoulder bag costs $1,045. Guest’s bags will be aimed at the middle market, with everything in collection costing under $300.

“I am a huge fan of Stella McCartney. What she is doing is incredible but her bags are expensive. I wanted something more affordable for myself and for my friends. That is very important right now.”

Guest is the daughter of the late C.Z. Guest, “one of the monarchs of New York society” who counted Capote and Cecil Beaton amongst her closest friends. She wore Mainbocher, Givenchy and Adolfo (an apprentice to Cristóbal Balenciaga). British Vogue said C.Z. had ”the face of a flower.”

But alongside designers who would become fashion legends, Cornelia also spent her childhood surrounded by animals.

To that end, the welfare of animals and her love of fashion have become intertwined. Guest has a vegetarian cookbook in the works; the photographs will be taken by Bruce Weber.

“In the world that we live in it is impossible for me to say I am completely vegan. I am vegetarian and my huge beef, excuse the pun, is cruelty towards animals. I want to show there is a different way. Leather is a by-product from the meat industry and the factory farms.”

Guest is not the only stylish woman who has demanded her accessories be cruelty-free. In 2008, Nathalie Portman launched a vegan shoe line with the New York label Te Casan. Now, as ambassador for Christan Dior and the face of Miss Dior Cherie perfume, she has the design house custom-make vegan shoes for her.

“One of the things that’s been so nice is that Dior made all of the shoes for me with no animals and no leather or anything,” the actress told WWD in December 2010. “They remade all of my shoes so I can wear Dior shoes without taking lives.”

Whatever luxurious, cruelty-free fabrics the house of Christian Dior is sourcing, we can bet that Guest will hunt them down, such is her zeal for high-quality leather alternatives.

“Every day I learn about resourcing fabrics,” she says. “It’s like being in a candy store. I sit on the floor of these warehouses and sift through different sorts of corks, PVCs and faux leathers in every possible texture. So much of it is recycled.

“I love using woods, organic cotton, so many things available to us. I don’t know where it could go and it morphs every day. Right now I am using sustainable PVC that is also recyclable. The faux leathers now are incredible quality. You can’t tell the difference and it’s just as – and even more beautiful than – any leathers I have seen.

Guest has started small with just six pieces in the collection. She has focussed on bags that are workable from day to evening – there is a clutch that fits into a large “Nicholas” hobo bag. All her designs are classics – “but with a twist, I have never been hip”, she says.

“It used to be very hard to find things that are beautiful but aren’t leather, but I am going to change all that.”


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