Fashion icon: such a loaded word. From film stars of past eras to today’s chameleon trendsetters, the concept has taken on a variety of meanings: once-idolised icons have given way to starlets rocking the latest runway trends. But certain style icons come to be known for more than just their ability to match a shoe to a dress. The past has gifted us with fashion icons that also inspired admiration for the way they lived their lives: from Audrey Hepburn to Princess Diana to Natalie Portman, true style icons show that beauty is more than skin deep.
Once you’ve made the decision to leave animal materials out of your closet, finding style inspiration becomes harder: cruelty-free fashion icons are few and far between. This is why event manager-turned-designer Cornelia Guest is pretty much the ultimate vegan style icon: aside from being exceptionally stylish, this ethical designer is the perfect union of true glamour (this is a woman who was friends with Andy Warhol and partied with the likes of Halston) and compassion. After taking on titles such as Debutante of the Year and Debutante of the Decade in 1986 and appearing in magazines such as Time, People and New York Times, Cornelia shed her ambitions to be an actress in favour of dedicating her life to a cause close to her heart: compassionate living.
Cornelia’s road to the cruelty-free life started, like it does for many of us, at a ‘lightbulb moment’: – When my mother (legendary 70s socialité, author and actress CZ Guest, ed) got sick, I started looking into our food supply and was shocked at how the factory farms were run, says Cornelia to Vilda. – The conditions of these poor animals are tortuous and horrific – plus, factory farms are also the number one cause of global warming. They are destroying our water and land, and in addition the fumes and gasses they emit are toxic. After finding out that factory farms are destructive on so many levels, I no longer wanted to support such a horrible industry. I decided to try and live my life in the most humane, cruelty-free way as possible.
Events with a Difference
In 2009, Cornelia founded Cornelia Guest Events, a catering company providing high-end and entertainment events with healthy vegan dishes. The number-one thing she learned from it? -That people would love to eat in a cruelty-free way today. They just don’t know how, and they are scared their food won’t be good. I think I’ve opened their eyes and shown them how to make delicious cruelty-free food that they and their friends will enjoy. They love it!
So what advice does the perfect cruelty-free hostess have for those of us that aspire to throw a truly awesome party? – Don’t overthink things. Look to Mother Nature every season because she has such beautiful things that can be used on your table. Examples: in the summer, there are flowers and during fall and winter, you have berries, leaves and so on. Use your imagination and go wild! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – you can always change things. My book Simple Pleasures has a lot of recipes that cover all the seasons.
A Fashion Line is Born
You’d be forgiven for thinking that shopping comes easier to a glamazon such as Cornelia, but rest assured that all vegan fashionistas share the same struggles. – The transition to cruelty-free clothing was not easy, admits Cornelia. – That’s why I started my accessory line. Now there is more out there and the cruelty-free word is getting stronger every day.
What was the thought behind Cornelia’s first bag collection? -I wanted to give people an intelligent alternative. I wanted to offer pieces that are affordable, beautiful as well as usable. Bags that work for the modern woman of today, whether she’s a mother or a businesswoman.
Inspiration is all around, according to this eco-designer. – All over the world, outside, inside, museums, my animals and I love all the colors of Mother Nature.
Cornelia Guest for Project Gravitas
If you are a compassionate fashion lover, you might already be familiar with Cornelia’s gorgeous line of vegan ‘leather’ jackets for Project Gravitas. -Denise Lambertson (Lambertson Inc startup queen, ed) introduced me to Lisa Sun, founder of Project Gravitas. When we met she asked me and I jumped at the opportunity. I had always wanted to do a line of cruelty-free jackets. So I am thrilled!
How does Cornelia style her creations? – I think cruelty-free jackets are very sexy. So I use them with everything, whether I’m wearing a ball gown or a pair of jeans. My jackets are fun and chic and go with everything!
From left: Olive, Lyle and Nelson, Cornelia’s three cruelty-free creations for Project Gravitas.
Discover Cornelia’s fashion line on her website.
Header photo by Bruce Weber.