Stella McCartney and 26 of Her Favorite Artists on the ABCs of Sustainability

Stella McCartney has taken this year’s shutdown as an opportunity for reflection.“The output for our industry is quite demanding, and there oftentimes isn’t any space to pause,” says the award-winning designer often credited with catalyzing high fashion’s emerging reckoning with its own environmental impacts. “During the initial phases of the lockdown I found myself, for the first time since my years at Central Saint Martin’s, working alone without my team.” 

Untitled, 2020 © Cindy Sherman

From this rare period of creative isolation, the first since the designer’s student days, emerged the A to Z Manifesto: a collection of new works by 26 artists—from “intimate friends” of McCartney’s like Cindy Sherman and Ed Ruscha to “next-generation talents” such as illustrator Will Sweeney and photographer Jermaine Francis—each tied to a letter of the alphabet. McCartney gave each artist a letter to define (for Sherman, E stands for ‘effortless;’ for Francis, ‘Y’ means ‘youth’) and free reign to visualize it. “For me, it was only natural that ‘accountable’ [represented by the artist Rashid Johnson in anarchy-adjacent blood-red paint] would be the first letter of the alphabet. The project just sort of grew from there,” says McCartney. Other concepts in the manifesto include ‘Progressive’ (street artist JR), ‘Question’ (musician Nick Cave and Bob Faust) and ‘Timeless’ (photographer William Eggleston). “A to Z came to me even before Covid; it has always been part of my belief system and business model.” 

Sporeburst, 2020 © Will Sweeney

Indeed, McCartney founded her eponymous label with a mission to uproot some of the fashion industry’s most entrenched—and most egregious—sustainability and animal cruelty practices. Since its nascent days, the label has eschewed the use of lucrative statement materials like leather, feathers and fur, and opting for the strict use of organic cotton. This commitment to a cutting-edge balance of exquisite design and adamant environmentalism has resulted in some remarkable breakthroughs at the intersection of fashion and science: from growing ‘leather’ out of mushroom roots (mycelium), to fake furs made from corn-based synthetic fiber, to repurposing cashmere scraps and other highly wasteful materials rescued off of factory floors.

A LOVE SUPREME, 2020 © Jermaine Francis

“As to Stella, this idea of not buying things that you don’t need, that are not environmentally progressive, is about choosing not to fill up the planet,” says Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist whose interpretation of the letter ‘O’ appears in the A to Z collection. Eliasson’s contribution, a sculpture made from pale colored glass perched on driftwood to illustrate the concept ‘organic,’ reflects the artist’s larger oeuvre of immersive environmental installations that play with elements of light, temperature and moisture. “You can make an ‘O’ by searching out the absence of something,” he says, “it is the thing that is not there which is the subject.” The same can be said, according to Eliasson, of McCartney’s fashion and business ethos: “It’s so much nicer to un-fill and un-buy. Like making works of art by removing.”

Imaginary morning eclipse, 2020 Coloured glass (pink fade, yellow, blue), silver, driftwood © Olafur Eliasson, 2020

The artworks, which will be released in alphabetical order beginning this Thursday, will be available to view on Stella McCartney’s Instagram page (for now). Eliasson’s work will appear on the 23rd of the month.