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On Wednesday, Fashion 4 Development held its sixth annual First Ladies Luncheon at New York City’s Pierre Hotel. The event, which featured a runway show of Ralph & Russo’s autumn/winter 2016-2017 collection, honored Annie Lennox, Petra Nemcova, environmental advocate Suzy Amis Cameron (wife of director James Cameron) and other influential figures in fashion and business. The honorees were recognized for their humanitarian work, demonstrating how Fashion 4 Development uses fashion to raise awareness and inspire change.
The event takes place the same week as the UN General Assembly and this year included among its guests such notable figures as First Lady of the United Nations, and wife of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Madam Ban Soon-Taek and entrepreneur and conservationist Susan Rockefeller.
Fashion 4 Development founder Evie Evangelou says that six years ago the idea of bringing fashion into the diplomatic community was still seen as “new” and “intriguing,” but now the collaboration is more accepted.
“It’s become the reality of all of these diplomats, heads of state, agencies, organizations wanting to partner with us because they’re finding what we are doing and working with them is giving them a bigger voice, a bigger awareness, a bigger inspiration and helping their efforts and their goals get accomplished faster,” Evangelou told The Hollywood Reporter, which served as a media sponsor of the luncheon.
And the latest fashion trend, as Wednesday’s lunch demonstrated, is sustainable living. In her opening remarks, Evangelou talked about Fashion 4 Development’s work with sustainability, in clothes and cuisine, in particular.
“And it’s all about the basics of food and fashion — how, in your daily life, the changes that you can make can actually create a healthier you and a healthier world,” Evangelou said. The menu for Wednesday’s luncheon was entirely vegan, inspired by Cameron’s work addressing the large role animal agriculture plays in climate change. Cameron, the executive director of Food Choice Taskforce, pointed out in her acceptance speech the global study that her team funded that found that animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to climate change, behind fossil fuels and ahead of all transportation in the world combined. Calling the findings a “jaw dropper” when speaking with THR ahead of the luncheon, Cameron urged people to take a closer look at their own meals.
“We will not be able to reach our climate goals until we start looking at what’s on our plate,” Cameron said, and later at the luncheon the recipient of the organization’s eco award urged those in attendance to pledge to make at least one meal a day a plant-based one, detailing the environmental benefits of doing so.
Cameron, who met her Oscar-winning husband on the set of Titanic, told THR on Wednesday that she hoped Hollywood would use its “power of media” to increase awareness of the connection between animal agriculture and the environment.
“They have unbelievable power, the power of media, so the more it’s put out in the world, the more people are aware of it, they’re going to start talking about it, the more there’ll be a possibility of change,” Cameron said. “If you think about an anti-smoking campaign, for instance. It took the media to get it into the public before people really became aware of it so that they could do something and make change.”
And with less than two months until the presidential election, Cameron indicated she would be supporting the candidate who actually believes in the existence of the issue she’s trying to combat.
“I believe in science, so I will certainly be supporting the candidate that is acting aggressively towards climate change and not for the candidate that thinks climate change is a hoax,” she told THR. “So really it’s showtime — game on.”
While Cameron declined to name names, Livia Firth, founder and creative director of sustainable-fashion consultancy Eco Age and wife of Colin Firth, made her strong support for Hillary Clinton abundantly clear, particularly with issues like sustainability and troubling labor conditions in the fashion industry at stake.
“Let’s hope that Hillary wins because if Trump wins we are in deep, deep s—, which you can’t publish,” she said, censoring herself. “It’s a disaster. I could never [embrace] the ethos of a divisive person whether it’s a man or a woman, and Trump is the most divisive, nasty man ever.”
Firth also echoed arguments made by President Obama and others about Clinton’s incredible level of experience.
“Hillary’s someone who was in the Oval Office for years and years so you will never find anyone – anywhere in the world, no other country – who is so well prepared for the job. That speaks volumes,” Firth said, adding that she much of the criticism Clinton receives is due to her gender.
“They accuse her of things that if it was Trump saying it or another man, they wouldn’t say anything,” Firth said.
Firth’s support of another woman makes sense given her involvement with the nonprofit organization, The Circle, which was founded by Lennox with the idea of women helping women and girls, particularly in the developing world. Firth, who presented Lennox with the Fashion 4 Development Award, spoke glowingly about the singer-songwriter’s “simple” but significant idea.
“Maybe it’s much easier than signing a check to help these women and not getting involved at all to use our professional backgrounds to actually do some important work,” Firth said of Lennox’s initial idea. “So out of this very simple concept, she galvanized and mobilized so many professional women from so many different backgrounds.”
Speaking to THR ahead of the luncheon, Lennox — who also has worked as an ambassador for UNAIDS, Oxfam, Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Campaign, Amnesty International, The British Red Cross and other organizations — talked about the role small actions play in addressing the larger problems in the world, which she noted can seem paralyzing.
“Things are not going to change overnight. But step by step there have been several things along the way that have been encouraging,” she said. “So you have to have tenacity and grit and deep belief in the issue you’re trying to represent … When I see the light go on behind women’s eyes after we’ve spoken and I know that we’ve woken something up — and it might take some time to create action but when they actually get themselves organized, they may do something like have a small event themselves to raise money and to draw their friends together, when I see these things happening … You see what’s possible. Sometimes I want it all to happen now, and I want them to raise billions to invest, but just that little bit collectively I think is really powerful as well.”
While The Circle is about women’s empowerment, Lennox said that the organization is not excluding men from their work and actually reaching out to them as well.
“It’s hard enough to get girls and women interested in the issues affecting our gender, never mind appealing to men. We’d love to appeal to men. I absolutely believe that feminism is a female and male issue,” Lennox said. “It’s really about working together, ultimately, certainly in terms of gender-based violence. You must address the perpetrators and change the minds of the men in power.”
The First Ladies Luncheon also has honored men. And on Wednesday, Unilever CEO Paul Polman was honored with the League of Gentlemen Award and joked of a need to change the name of next year’s event in light of the possibility of a female president and her husband filling the traditional “First Lady” role.
“You’ll have to change the name next year because someone else will be joining you,” Polman said in his acceptance speech. “It’s in the spirit of gender diversity that you set the example that the male community doesn’t have the courage to do that you change these titles and make them gender-neutral before someone else gets the idea.”
Nemcova also was honored for her work with the Happy Hearts Fund, which rebuilds schools in areas hit by natural disasters, the organization she founded after surviving the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The former supermodel said her Golden Heart award “merges the two worlds about which I’m the most passionate about.” In her speech and speaking to THR ahead of time, Nemcova called for a “smart response” as opposed to just a “first response” to natural disasters, in which those helping the area recover “stay there for the long run and help to rebuild schools as soon as possible because it doesn’t just help one family but helps all the families.”
Fellow supermodel and founder of the Naked Heart Foundation Natalia Vodianova received the women’s and children’s champion award for her work to build an inclusive society open to people with disabilities and special needs, through play and the creation of support services for disadvantaged families.
Rounding out this year’s honorees, Swarovski’s Nadja Swarovski received the education and creativity award and Shixi Technology CEO Mengqing Fan received the empowerment innovation award.
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