Mira Becker Berlin Fashion Designer
BERLIN—The Gulf oil spill is starting to hit the catwalk.
As millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf earlier this summer, affiliated T-shirts, iPhone apps, beer, books and even condoms arrived on store shelves. Now, fashion designers starting to roll out spill-themed creations, from €459 ($628) cocktail dresses to oil-stained boots.
Though the well was capped last month, oil is still washing ashore along a 965-kilometer (600-mile) stretch of coast and the spill continues to threaten the Gulf’s animal population, according to environment groups. Some scientists question how disruptive the spill will be to the Gulf’s ecosystem in the long term, but activist groups such as Greenpeace are trying to keep public attention focused on the disaster.
Responding to such concerns, Bed Stü, a high-end, Brooklyn-based shoe maker known for funky, street-inspired boots and loafers, has created limited edition pairs of faux oil-stained “Gulf Coast Cleanup Shoes,” which will be available starting in November. Kenneth Cole, the American designer known for his modern, urban aesthetic, is hawking $35 T-shirts that read “I clean up well. Support the Gulf.” The word “well” is covered in oil.
Perhaps the most striking spill-related fashion item so far, however, originated in the Berlin studio of designer Mira Becker.
Ms. Becker digitally printed two different silk cotton fabrics with actual photos of the slick to create ribbon-strapped cocktail dresses. One of the prints is a burnt orange with blue flecks, from a picture of the sun shining on the slick, while the other is navy blue with a gold streak of oil, a picture of the Gulf from a helicopter. The dresses are available for purchase in her CRUBA Berlin store, where she sells her mostly cashmere line. She plans to donate all of the proceeds to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation.
“The images of the oil in the water had a certain aesthetic,” she said. “It’s very absurd because it has a great beauty to it. And we all know how when you make salad dressing and you pour in the vinegar and the oil you get these beautiful images.” Ms. Becker, 38 years old, says she was sitting at the dinner table with her family over the summer discussing the spill when her kids asked her what she was going to do about it. “I thought, well, I could do something to help,” she said.
Political activism isn’t new to the fashion world. A few years ago, photographer Candice, who goes by one name, snapped underwater pictures of actress Keira Knightley and other celebrities as part of an ongoing campaign to draw attention to global clean water shortages. Christian Dior designer John Galliano created “Dior not war” and “Dior for peace” sweaters for the 2004 fall Paris fashion show.
Disasters such as the oil spill allow designers to identify their brands with a cause without getting caught in the political fray. Many consumers are drawn to disaster-themed merchandise by a desire to “grab back control” and show that they aren’t oblivious to crises such as the oil spill, says Gavan Fitzsimons, a marketing professor at Duke University.