It has been 11 years since Suzy Amis Cameron, wife of director James Cameron of Avatar (2009) fame, launched the Red Carpet Green Dress (RCGD), a global competition encouraging young designers to design sustainable outfits that are red-carpet worthy. When RCGD first started, the word sustainability was not one that you heard coming out of the mouths of celebrities as they were asked by entertainment reporters on the red carpet, “Tell us about what you are wearing?” Now, things have changed. From repeating clothes and wearing designs from young independent eco-conscious designers to upcycling garments, celebrities are taking a more responsible approach to red-carpet dressing. Previous winners of the RCGD have had their designs worn by Netflix’s popular series Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez and former Bond girl and Black Widow (2021) actor Olga Kurylenko.
The guidelines are quite stringent, with designs having to be made of sustainable materials. RCGD’s partners are Austria’s TENCEL and CLO Virtual Fashion, the multinational technology company known for its 3D garment simulation software. Winners receive a cash prize and mentoring from the RCGD team which hopefully leads to their outfit being worn during awards season. The designs of the 2020 winners will be unveiled at the RCGD event slated to be held in September this year in Los Angeles. It was meant to be held as a pre-Oscars event earlier this year but was postponed, complying with global COVID-19 safety protocols
The winning gown entry for 2020 is the creation of a young Indian designer based in Chennai, Sanah Sharma Mehra, a Pearl Academy graduate, who runs her own design studio and takes a very academic approach to fashion. Having been a guest lecturer on cutting techniques for Iowa State University at the age of 23, her research is part of the official syllabus for its Experimental Pattern Cutting Course. “The wonderful thing about this gown is that it is going to be made in beautiful environment-friendly Tencel fabrics and the design is completely zero-waste,” says the winner. Her label Sanah Sharma stocks on several digital platforms including Etsy. She adds, “Additionally, the dress has been designed keeping circularity in mind. So if the seams are taken apart, the dress can very easily be converted into handbags, table linen or another dress too.”
The team at RCGD has received applicants from India in previous years but Sharma Mehta is the first winner from the country. Says Samata Pattinson, RCGD’s CEO, “Having representation from India is also exciting for us. We have previously worked with Priyanka Bose. She inspired me to look at the incredible textile makers and cultural heritage. Sanah's concept was so brilliantly devised and executed even in an illustration form. It was actually breathtaking and unanimous. Sanah’s dress is a perfect symbiosis of fashion and sustainability. It's also highly intelligent and thought provoking.” A British-born Ghanaian, Pattinson is a previous winner of the award herself.
“My approach to design has always been about being a go-giver because I think that’s the way nature functions. If we are a representation of nature and our clothes are a representation of us, then we surely need to start creating and responding like nature,” says the winner. She set up her own lab in 2019 to research manufacturing, and all her designs are locally made. The twenty-something designer believes it is her interest in research that gave her an edge. “There has been a constant overlap of academic research and fashion design that I think not only shaped my career, but also my human element.” For Sharma Mehta, academia and aesthetics go hand in hand.
Of course, she also understands the power of celebrity and how red-carpet dressing can change the image of a fashion design house. “As an individual working in the sustainability space, I would love to see celebrities and influencers who champion the cause, people who resonate with that go-giver perspective, wear my designs.” Her celebrity wish list includes Michelle Obama, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Diipa Büller-Khosla, Dia Mirza, Anya Gupta and Aditi Mayer. “In my opinion, the concept of sustainability has very little to do with products and material things. I think it’s all about the mindset we have towards our processes, products and people. To me it’s not about having a zero footprint. It’s more about being mindful of every footprint I leave behind.” As for details on the gown, it does have embellishment yet stays true to the minimalist identity her brand is known for. “Unfortunately, I cannot reveal any more just yet. You’ll have to wait for the big reveal in September.”