Walking through Soho, I noticed a coffee shop along Spring Street and I stopped or and I bought myself an iced coffee in preparation for my interview with world-renowned fashion designer Anne Fontaine, and I felt guilty for using a plastic disposable cup for my coffee. Ms. Fontaine is well known for her take on the women’s staple white shirt, and the work she does with her environmental organization, The Anne Fontaine Foundation. Before speaking with Anne, I got to speak with the co-founder of The Anne’s Foundation, Christine Dureil, who gave me a precursor to my interview with Anne Fontaine.
When did you start the Anne Fontaine Foundation and why?
C.D. We launched the foundation exactly four years ago at the end of October 2011. Anne wanted to “give back” to her country and especially the Brazilian forests of her country. Since her youngest age, Anne has a strong interest for ecology and she became very involved. Above all she became very passionate about the forest, especially the Brazilian Rainforest, where she had the amazing experience of living in when she was a teenager. The mission of our foundation is Environment. The way we work is to build a partnership with local associations, local people, and of course local farmers: we regularly go to Brazil, and thanks to the connections and advice of our board members and the expertise of botanists – specialized in the Mata Atlantica Rainforest – we implement programs of protection and reforestation in very endangered areas. We have a nursery of trees, which we use to help the farmers replant. We provide the tools and qualification that the farmers, who usually have no money to do this, can then use and pass down to their children.
The other aspect of the foundation is education and environmental awareness we provide through artistic contests that I organize in different schools with kids.
As I walked into Anne Fontaine’s office I felt a little uneasy with my plastic ‘cup of Joe.’ and I hoped she wouldn’t notice it, but when Anne entered the room all the uneasiness melted away as she greeted me with a warm-welcoming hug and a spirit unlike anything I’ve encountered before.
You are a self-taught designer. Please tell us how you studied.
A.F. Actually I studied biology because my first passion is the environment. I came into fashion as a kind of love story because my husband is in the fashion industry. He produces shirts for men and I wanted to contribute to our family through mutual endeavor, by developing women’s fashion.
For me it’s not only something I do with passion, but it’s something I love to do for our family. I created my first collection when I was 22. Initially, I started to create the white shirt collection for women, which today grew into a full collection of pret-a-porter.
I learned Anne transforms the classic modern-day women’s white shirt into a variety of styles made for busy women’s everyday lifestyle. Her silhouettes are bold and sophisticated, executed with the inspiration of poetry from Anne’s personal life. For Anne, fashion is, “a question of style, harmony and look.” She explained to me how she wants to empower women to enhance their style without changing themselves. Her shirts are poplin made from Peruvian Pima cotton to give a comfort to the touch unlike any other.
I didn’t want to focus only on fashion, but also I wanted to get to know Anne about her philanthropy, and how she is destined to give back to the world, primarily through the environment.
When did you realize you wanted to start giving back?
A. F. I spent one year living with a Brazilian indigenous tribe when I was a teenager and it changed my life. These people are pure and they are completely in connection with nature. Through living with my tribe, I learned how important it is to be in tune with nature and our environment. As I matured, I made it a point to connect giving back with fashion, art, and philanthropy. Since 2011, we’ve planted almost over 40,000 trees to replace the ones that have be used or taken down for other purposes.
Anne’s foundation organized a workshop with kids from four to around twelve years old. They organize a workshop where they ask the children questions about trees, the forest, animals, and local vegetation. In the afternoon, they organize, with the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro, time to plant trees with the children. One of Anne’s goals is to raise environmental awareness at the youngest age, building foundations for the next generation to have awareness of how to make the environment a better place.
I asked Anne, “What role does photography and art play in saving the rainforest from deforestation?”
A. F. We work with artists who share the same passion for Nature. Many of the artists are either inspired by nature or they use biodegradable materials in their artwork. With the artist’s blessings, we organize auctions of their work. We have sold pieces in world renown auctions like Sotheby’s New York and Sotheby’s Paris. The proceeds go to local communities and associations to get involved in saving and replanting trees. Through art, primarily photography, you can reach a wider audience and touch them with the beauty of nature. We have Fashion, Wildlife, Photojournalism and lifestyle photographers. Among them, Peter Knapp, Pamela Hanson, Priscilla Rattazzi or Sabastiao Salgado, who gave the foundation very artistic photos of nature from their unique points of view. The artists come from all over the world, because it’s not just Brazil that has environmental damage. It is a worldwide issue. Through these photographers and their artwork we hope to rekindle the feeling of being alive and spark some initiative in people to make some environmentally friendly changes in their lives.
Head of The Anne Fontaine Foundation says, “It’s very successful because people are very touched and very moved by the relationship between the artist and nature, and then between themselves [and what they feel about nature].”
I asked Anne, “What can we do as consumers to help?”
A.F. Because I am very present in the stores, consumers can buy items made by the foundation in my clothing stores. Ecofriendly items like the ‘Eco-Bag’, bracelets, and t-shirts made from organic cotton. Also, on selected days consumers can enter my stores and purchase clothing from which half the proceeds go towards our non-profit foundation and support our local initiatives.
Anne has BIG plans for 2016. She will be holding more auctions and more sales promoting the chance to help give back through her foundation. I had one last question, as I always do. I asked Anne, “How has love affected your life?”
A.F. When you have a passion, really something to show, you have possibility. You have the ability to really do something special. When you work hard at something you love you will always find the happiness behind it. Being InLove means everything in life and without it you can do nothing.
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