fighting for a more sustainable industry at the copenhagen fashion summit

During the fourth Copenhagen Fashion Summit last week, it was the country’s activist princess who made the boldest impression.

by Anders Christian Madsen
19 May 2016, 2:42pm

HRH Crown Princess Mary

Under the moniker Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the Danish capital hosted its fourth international conference for sustainability in fashion last Thursday, co-sponsored by Copenhagen International Fashion Fair. Some 2000 people congregated at the Concert Hall where presenters Amber Valetta and Derek Blasberg, and industry heavyweights including Renzo Rosso, Nadja Swarovski, Suzy Menkes, and Vanessa Friedman took part in talks and conversations about "responsible innovation," in the words of the summit's slogan. But amongst all the international names it was a Dane — at least by citizenship — who left the biggest impression with the foreign press: Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, whose British icon status at Hello Magazine and The Daily Mail represents the least of her accomplishments and increasing influence in the field of activism. Her Royal Highness opened Thursday's summit with a poised and on-point speech about the facts we're facing in the fight for a more sustainable fashion industry. She knows a thing or two about it. For years the Crown Princess has topped Vanity Fair's Best Dressed list, and when the Duchess of Cambridge married Prince William, Karl Lagerfeld advised her to look to Mary for style advice.

Taking to the stage, the Tasmanian-born princess — who is married to Frederik, the future king of Denmark — wore a white ensemble from H&M's sustainable line. (As an industry pioneer within the field, the Swedish high street giant co-sponsored the event.) HRH set the tone for a day of discussions: "One million trees are cut down for fabric production. 75 percent of garment workers are women. Consumers in the UK have unworn clothes worth £40 billion," we were told throughout the day. What resonated most with the international audience was the Crown Princess' straightforwardness. Here was a princess who didn't just give an opening speech about the event in question, and didn't limit herself to the topic at hand, but effortlessly and with much determination embraced all the causes for which she works so tirelessly — in one powerful speech. "The unattractive reality for many is excessive hours, dangerous working conditions, physical abuse, and lack of protection," she said. In her native Australia, her extensive travels around third world countries and relentless efforts to educate and influence poverty-stricken parts of the globe about human rights and environmental issues have often spawned comparisons to Princess Diana.

Suzy Menkes and Renzo Rosso

Two weeks before Copenhagen Fashion Summit, HRH visited Burkina Faso to fly the flag for equality and address female genital mutilation and witch hunts in the country, one of the world's poorest. The week after, she opened the IDAHO conference against homophobia in Copenhagen. "Every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity," she said. "But around the world, too often this assertion doesn't hold up." Then, just days after the sustainability summit the Crown Princess opened Women Deliver, the international conference for women's rights, which happened to be hosted by Copenhagen this year. Her increasing and very international activism in recent times is symptomatic of a willingness to raise her voice on the global platform in a time when being a princess and a royal fashion icon simply aren't enough. As a princess with an English-speaking background, Mary possesses the right components for international fame and influence — even if she's the Crown Princess of a tiny Northern European kingdom. And by engaging in major issues close to her heart, she fills the gap left by Princess Diana, which no other Anglo-born royal has managed — or perhaps quite attempted — to step into.

The evening before the summit, Mario Testino opened an exhibition of his works in Copenhagen, which included a number of portraits of Crown Princess Mary. That same evening, he reportedly shot her and the Crown Prince for Australian Vogue before they welcomed the summit's speakers to Amalienborg Palace for an intimate dinner. (She wore another sustainable dress by H&M.) As things go with this princess, however, the glitz and glamour wasn't what made the news during the summit. It was the bravery and boldness of a princess from a constitutional monarchy bordering the fine lines of politics and cultural criticism with such grace and determination. Fashion — the topic of the summit — will always need royals to prance around in its creations and get the sales going, but in a princess, who so effortlessly merges her roles as fashionable figurehead and activist, Denmark and Copenhagen Fashion Summit couldn't have wished for a better representative. As distinguished speakers followed her opening words, discussing the overwhelming problems on the road to a sustainable fashion industry, solutions were hard to find — even if the points made were good. You couldn't help but think that the fieldwork of an activist like Crown Princess Mary, who travels to the roots of the problem — around the world, wherever they may be — is the kind of hands-on approach we need to multiply in an industry that likes to do the talking but doesn't always want to do the walking. 

Vanessa Friedman


Text Anders Christian Madsen

sustainable fashion
Copenhagen Fashion Summit