1.618 – A Sustainable Future

northmodern met up with Barbara Coignet, founder and director of the sustainable luxury fair in Paris - 1.618. Read the Q&A here and meet them at northmodern!

Utilizing her background in fashion marketing, Barbara Coignet has fought relentlessly against old ways and closed minds in her quest to bring sustainability to the table in the world of high-end design. Since 2009 she, along with her employees at her self-owned Parisian agency 1.618, has worked with close to 140 brands in the worlds of fashion, jewellery, interior design, hotels and mobility. Her daily responsibilities entail handling the communicative and strategic liaisons with the brands, as well as organising events and partnerships with private and public collaborators.


Why did you decide to start 1.618?
“It was during a time when I was very concerned with the changes in the world and new economies. I began asking my PR clients in the fashion business about their commitment to sustainability. But the designers’ attitude was that you can either be creative, or you can save the planet; they didn’t believe it was possible to combine creativity and quality with sustainability. I decided to find examples to prove them wrong: Look at this building, this bag, this item. In the process I began collecting attractive and sustainable brands from all over the world. That was the birth of the 1.618 project.”


What was the core notion driving your process from then on?
”There are products out there which adequately reflect one’s environmental and social conscience. It was a whole new world to us, so we decided to organise an event to show that an alternative economy and sustainable lifestyle is possible, even if you like comfort and quality.”


How do you decide which brands and companies to work with?
“Well, we like to work with brands and companies who wish to accelerate the process. If a brand wants to participate, we can help them realise their commitment in a modern way by creating communication tools for them; through eye-level talks to guide them about what luxury means in the 21st century, and which values fashion brands today should adopt. The others, which are already modern with strong commitments, can be selected to participate in our events or enter our webguide. The aim is to help the brands express their stories and commitment, using the storytelling behind their products. That’s what we do, all day long.”


Would you say that your values and attitude nudge manufacturers in a more sustainable direction?
“We have several different ways of being ethical. When selecting brands, we go by modernity and aesthetics. Secondly, we send them a large sustainability survey, which they must answer. Our in-house panel of sustainability experts then judges these. This tells us if the brand’s commitment is strong enough, and whether they are being honest about it. This is a way to ensure that the brands we work with are truly engaged.”


For example?
“The French jewellery brand JEM uses fair trade gold and only select suppliers with clean and socially responsible ways of extracting gold. This attitude continues all the way through their supply and delivery chain, from manufacturing and packaging to deliveries. On our side, we ask our partners and suppliers to work in new ways when setting up events and fairs with us; for instance, we insist that there is no night work, which helps save electricity. At all levels of the process we choose partners with the right solutions to our demands.”


What is the consumers’ role in this?
“The consumers now have the power over the companies: They ask questions about the brands’ dedication. Affluent consumers still have €10.000 to spend on a handbag, but now they want to know about its origins, which is quite new, especially in the luxury market. And the brands have to answer – and tell the truth. Otherwise the consumers will find out and cause a backlash. Transparency is crucial: If a brand does not communicate its dedication to sustainability, people will assume it has none.”


Do you present all the brands under the same umbrella, so to speak?
“Not permanently. They participate when it suits the occasion, or whenever we both feel there is something to gain from collaborating.”


Which brands will you be showcasing at northmodern 2015?
“We selected about 25 brands to display our vision of the new lifestyle through jewellery, fashion design and mobility to represent different domains. Many of them are Scandinavian. We have some new and exciting brands for this year’s fair.”


What does the Copenhagen design scene mean to international brands?
“Some of the brands have joined 1.618 because of Copenhagen. They know that Denmark is very concerned with sustainability, so they hope that the buyers will be flexible to work with and comfortable with the idea that sustainable luxury is the new modern. It’s a cultural thing. So for our brands the Danish market is very attractive.”


How did you prioritise the space in the Crystal Hall area and curate the exhibits?
“On the floor we’ll print the most important terms that make up the 1.618 ecosystem of ideas. We have a partnership with Miniwiz, an architectural bureau that works exclusively with trash, and they do it in an amazing way. They built a canopy that covers our exhibition area. On the display floor, we mix the different types of brands and products in ways, which will be interesting. We also have a wall of screens, where the brands can display behind-the-scenes films about the making of their products. Each story is unique.”


You can also experience Summerbird and their organic chocolate at the 1.618 area – read more about them HERE