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A Celebration of the Nominees and Winners of the Lexus/CFDA Eco-Challenge

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The fashion industry took another step toward going green last Tuesday with an inaugural fashion eco-challenge. The purpose of the challenge, which was sponsored by the CFDA and Lexus, was to support and recognize the industry's leaders in sustainable design. A joint panel selected 10 finalists - culled from menswear, womenswear, and accessories - each of whom were required to produce a minimum of 25 percent of their collection in an environmentally friendly manner. The ten finalists were: Alabama Chanin; Behnaz Serafpour; Costello Tagliapietra; Libertine by Johnson Hartig; Marcia Patmos; Maria Cornejo; Monique Pean; Organic by John Patrick; Slow and Steady Wins the Race by Mary Ping; and Subversive Jewelry by Justin Giunta.

At the launch event on Tuesday night - held at Skylight West - each of the finalists' work was displayed in gallery fashion, whilst Fabrizio Moretti of the Strokes and 24COURT were doing the obligatory spinning. The venue was packed and the drinks were flowing, but I managed to catch up with a few of the finalists pre-announcement time. The first finalist I spoke with was the ever-effervescent Justin Giunta, whom I had not seen (or at least not spoken with at length) since I visited his studio/home about a year ago. I congratulated him of course, and he was thrilled with the honor and was very proud to see the fashion industry rewarding an "added conscientiousness." "I don't think the future generations need to pay for our vanities," he declared.

I next chatted up with Marcia Patmos (formerly of Lutz and Patmos), who recently began her own line, which she deemed a mix between "slow design," i.e. organic materials, and working with artisan communities that use minimal to no electricity. Her new collection, which will show during fall 2011 fashion week (which will be here before we know it - time really does fly faster with each passing year), still prominently features the knitwear that Lutz and Patmos was known for, but adds additional pieces (trousers, tops, dresses, etc), that can be added and mixed and matched.

Just as I was about to hunt down another nominee, CFDA Director Steven Kolb and Lexus events marketing manager Andrea Lim took to the stage to announce the three winners. And the winners were... Monique Pean, Costello Tagliapietra, and Maria Cornejo. Each designer received a $25,000 check, which will go towards their fall 2011 runway show or presentation.

I first spoke with an ecstatic Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, who quipped: "It was exciting to win something for a change, since we were the Susan Lucci of the fashion world two years in a row" (it's always a relief when people give pop-culture references that I understand). Monique Pean was more reserved but equally grateful; with the support from her win she will now be able to forge ahead with her fall 2011 presentation. She also credited her CFDA emerging designer runner-up win for propelling her career, adding that this most recent victory is "humbling. I'm absolutely thrilled."

Finally, I caught up with Chilean designer Cornejo, who conceded that it is not always easy to incorporate ecologically friendly practices into a fashion line, "but we always try to show people that it is possible." The designer, who will be putting the winnings towards her men's collection, emphasized that the best part about winning, and about this eco-challenge in general, is that it teaches the fashion community to "learn by example." It may not happen overnight, but one need only look back at the AIDS crisis to see how the fashion industry played a pivotal role in building awareness and raising funds for a problem that affected and continues to affect all of us. It may sound corny, but the fashion industry does have a conscience, and will no doubt play a leading role (if it isn't already) in the movement to preserve what is left of our environment. This eco-challenge is most certainly an auspicious start.