Responsible Luxury: Can We Indulge Without Excess?

My Introduction to Thierry Mugler

A fashion exhibit at the Musée de Beaux Arts was my first introduction to the term ‘responsible luxury’.

Checking out Thierry Mugler’s Couturissme, a provocative collection of 150 garments from 1977-2014, I learned something about the designer I didn’t expect.

Thierry Mugler: Couturissme

I actually knew very little about him.

Not only was I pleasantly surprised by the overt sexuality in his designs, but his shameless incorporation of BDSM drew me in.

But there was something else that caught my attention.

Two words: responsible luxury

Why did this resonate with me?

My Connection to Sustainability

I was drawn to his use of metal, latex and faux fur, but baffled by the concept of indulgence without excess.

I grew up in a household whose mantra was REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE.  We washed and reused plastic bags.  My mom mended the holes in our socks.  Our compost fertilized the garden.

I’m ashamed to admit, but I was embarrassed by the thrift and second-hand clothing stores my mom so kindly exposed me to.  I would have been mortified to be seen by a classmate.

Back then, I equated second hand clothes with frugal parents and denial of name brand clothing, required for social status and avoidance of being bullied.  Even though I was a secret freak, I wanted to conform.

Despite fighting against this concept, I remember finding a silver tube top in Zoryanas that became a staple of my dress-up box.  The seed was planted.  

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Infographic

Sustainability in my Personal Life

I took these values forward, now reflected in my wardrobe and lifestyle.  I still recycle EVERYTHING!  I will carry around a small piece of paper to get it home safely to the recycle bin.  

I couldn’t be more thankful.  As much as I was a princess, rebelling against conscious consumption, I always believed in the value of self expression.  Some of my most unique, interesting clothing was found thrifting.  

Now some of my main hobbies revolve around this way of life.

Sustainability is Fun!

I was more than thrilled to discover BUNZ (for those who aren’t familiar: it’s a no money trading platform) bartering my excess chia seeds from Costco for plants, furniture and chocolate!

I also love dumpster diving, hooked on finding brand new make-up, chocolate advent calendars and a whole lotta quality fruits and veggies.  I don’t do it because I have to, I do it for the love of a treasure hunt.

I imagine I’m not the only one missing the days of clothing swaps.  What’s better than a curated collection from your closest pals?!

And even though stores have reopened, vintage shopping and thrifting for faux fur coats and metal mesh has been on hold.

But when I started designing I suddenly had whole new challenges to confront.

How do I balance my ethics with my concerns about consumerism?

My First Days as a Designer

I’ve actually been making jewelry since I was 11.  Selling beaded jewelry, then hemp chokers popular in the 90’s.  My mom was so kind to let me tag along to her craft fairs where she sold her own handmade goods.  I remember doing pretty well! 

But I got discouraged picking up the hobby up again years later, this time using metal chain.  The shiny gold plating of the chain would wear off, silver would turn black and links would break.

For anyone that wears costume jewelry, any of this sound familiar?!

Conscious Creator

The discovery of brass launched me full force back into jewelry making. 

Having gone out of style after the 60’s, its abundance in thrift stores made it easy to create jewelry with unique chains that were vintage and repurposed.

Brass is a solid metal.  As an alloy of copper and zinc, there is no plating to wear off.  And no nickel to cause contact dermatitis- an itchy rash that can turn into a nickel allergy.  Yes, it tarnishes, but so does silver!!

Being the same colour as gold, it has a lux vibe without the price tag. Because fashion is a privilege, I wanted to choose an affordable metal.  It’s durability gives jewelry a long lifetime, keeping it in your wardrobe and out of the landfill!

Without knowing it, my own values led me to design jewelry with sustainability in mind.

Sustainability is Sexy

Discovering repurposed materials (mostly while thrifting on vacations) led to the birth of Lord Violet, becoming the core of my line.  

Urban Source in Vancouver was my first introduction to recycled leather.  If you haven’t been, they source diverse and unusual manufacturing discards ideal for creative projects, and eliminate over-packaging by stocking in large barrels and selling in bulk.

Urban Source VancouverUrban Source Vancouver

Leather is one of those luxurious materials that has ethical concerns.  But upcycling another's slick jet black scraps alleviated those concerns, unleashed my creativity and becoming my canvas (literally!) for endless pendants and earrings.

SULTRY Recycled Leather EarringsSULTRY Recycled Leather Earrings

Shiny and intricate metal mesh from vintage metal mesh purses abundant in thrift stores was that added inspiration to make some unique jewelry.

CLASSY BITCH Metal Mesh Choker

CLASSY BITCH Metal Mesh Choker

Getting playful with thrifted brass chains helped me decide which best fit my line.  I have a blast literally digging through the floor to ceiling boxes of vintage jewelry supplies, hitting up CJS in New York.  

CJS Vintage Jewelry Supply Store

But it’s not always fun and games...

The Learning Curve

As a self taught entrepreneur, you have to learn some hard lessons.  

My first mistake: overproduction.  My worst nightmare.  I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing my designs to life for them to not find a home.

I thought I tested the market at my first Royal Bison.  After doing fairly well, I hunkered down and created 10 of each design.

But one market was not enough to know what people wanted from me.  And I learned not everything I loved to make will sell.

I still have some of those designs!

My second mistake: recycled packaging.

I take alot of pride in the jewelry I make, but it wasn’t reflected in my first couple online orders.  Shipping them out in envelopes I collected over the years didn’t reflect my aesthetic or impress my customers. I couldn’t be more grateful for their feedback that humbled and pushed me to improve.

I’m still struggling to find the balance between attractive and eco friendly packaging. 

Eco- Friendly Framework

After some time and experience, I learned what worked.

Every entrepreneur has a responsibility to find a balance between vision and sustainability.

Along with using repurposed or recycled materials, I now do small batch production for markets.  All my collar necklaces are made to order through my websites.

The launch of my next collection CELESTIAL RODEO for FW2020 sees the return of repurposed materials, central to my line.  Recycled leather makes a comeback for fringed tassels, and blue goldstone for some outer worldly metallics.  As a synthesized stone, goldstone is a more ethical option, evading the environmental and social issues related to stone mining.  

Creation of an environmentally friendly framework early on was important to me.  This involves:

  • sharing information that makes for informed buying decisions
  • transparency of where I source my materials 
  • addressing how the supply chain (how and where we get our materials) needs to reform

Education is an important first step, just the act of sharing the concept of slow fashion helps emphasize the amount of skilled labour to produce one garment and how fast fashion prices can’t possibly be ethical.

But let’s take this back to Thierry Mugler...

I’m sure you want to know by now:  What is responsible luxury?

Responsible Luxury is the balance between creating goods that excel in quality and craftsmanship, without sacrificing our values and harming our communities or the planet.

So how did Thierry Mugler incorporate this into his legacy?

After releasing one of the first haute couture perfumes, Angel in 1992, he broke age old codes with an 18th century tradition of perfume fountains.

Designing ‘The Source’, his perfume bottles too beautiful to be thrown out, can be refilled.

 Legend has it that Queen Marie Antoinette even had one of her own. 


Sustainable luxury is to create connections between products and the Planet”

-Thierry Mugler

Not only does it save bottles from ending up in the landfill, but refills are more cost effective than a new bottle, saving money and the planet!!  Two things I love!!

The Source Perfum Fountain by Thierry Mugler

Fashions Greater Global Impact

Because the fashion industry is one of the largest consumer industries, our practices actually have an impact.

It not only affects the environment, it also impacts our communities and social well being.

“Quintessential characteristics of luxury goods made them more sustainable than mass market goods” 

Even Etsy has a #makeitmeaningful campaign, encouraging value driven shopping behaviours and a connection to what we buy.  They are seeing the desire for purchases that give a meaningful experience but also make an impact.  

Because people shop with their values now, we are seeing a huge shift towards handmade goods because we have control over our own supply chain.

The beauty of responsible luxury is that its evolution brings consumers into the equation.  It “reflects the desires of individuals and communities and adopts them as partners”.

 -World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

This is very exciting to me as an eco-conscious person and designer.

 Slow Fashion Icons

Ethical Hedonist 

I am pleased to be part of the makers movement.  As an ethical hedonist myself, I take joy from subverting capitalism and making my own rules as an entrepreneur.  

I’m willing to fight a little harder than take the easier, less expensive road, that is often the least sustainable.

I very much consider Lord Violet to be a responsible luxury.  At first I struggled with whether that fit for me.  It’s just so #extra.  But that’s who I am, and have always been.  An ethical hedonist, eco conscious consumer and designer, I create jewelry with an eye for perfection and longevity but also an indulgent look and feel.

Hopefully you are now familiar with the concept of responsible luxury, it’s positive impact on the planet and how the inherent practices of the makers movement merges the privilege of fashion with conscious consumption.  

I would love to know- who are your favorite ethical designers, eco friendly products, and past time activities?  Please comment below, or share this blog with someone who loves 

Next month, I hope you will join me for an eco-conscious Gift Giving Guide, right in time for holiday gift giving!!

Until then, take care and consume responsibly.

 <3 Nicola

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