Christmas Party Looks to Sparkle without Sequins

Rosanna Falconer, digital strategist and co-founder of FashMash, shares her edit of ethical Christmas party dresses that are sequin-free but will still dazzle this party season.

Party season. Every magazine declares it, every shop window touts it. As December approaches there’s undeniable joy in the opportunity to socialise in the depths of winter. There can also be undeniable joy in the mood-lifting party pieces of your wardrobe. But despite what editors declare, it doesn’t have to be sequins. It doesn’t have to be brand new. And it doesn’t have to be discarded on January 1st.

Sourcing party pieces with a sustainable heart was no easy task… Glitter and sparkle seem to dominate shops this year more than ever, and I’m not going to pretend my heart doesn’t flip over the Studio 54 mood of it all. With news headlines as bleak as they are, a shiny party piece can offer brief relief. But these five looks, while delight in fashion form, have a considered ethical aspect too. My edit divides into something old, something new and something vintage. The common thread between them? Good times guaranteed. 

Germanier mini skirtGermanier hair clipEileen Fisher grey top

Let’s address the sequin conundrum first: they are plastic. Collins Dictionary’s word of the year – ‘single-use’ – reflects 2018’s increased global awareness in environmental issues… Best not see in 2019 dancing in a pollutant that cannot biodegrade. But as a life-long maximalist with a magpie eye I knew December would lack sparkle without them. Enter Kevin Germanier, the brilliant Swiss designer who I discovered when I was researching for 5 brands that are Instagrammable as they are Sustainable. This micro mini is embellished with hundreds of unwanted, upcycled beads. I added this hair clip from the same collection, made from damaged stock that would otherwise have been discarded.

This Tencel cashmere top by Eileen Fisher is symbolic of her brand ethos: a sustainable piece that will last wear after wear. The brand’s ‘Vision 2020’ lays out its plan for an industry “where human rights and sustainability are not the effect of a particular initiative, but the cause of a business well run.” The plan covers everything from fibres and dyes to staff and supply chain. My jewellery is vintage from market finds over the years and my shoes are the shoes I wore on my wedding day. I have been wearing them weekly ever since; they seem to wave a wand of fun over any evening!

Mother of Pearl gownChopard earrings

Joy in a dress! This gown is part of Mother of Pearl’s sustainably focused collection of evening wear. The brand’s creative director Amy Powney (read her brilliant Life as I know it interview) recognised the absence of ethical party wear and sees this initiative as the next step in them becoming a fully sustainable brand. Each step of the dress’s journey, from the fabric to the signature pearl-embellished ruffle shoulders, has been traced by the brand. The florals feel even fresher in the deep mid-winter.

I paired it with leaf earrings from Chopard, which committed from July this year to use 100% ethical gold. They acquire only from responsible sources, namely from either artisanal small-scale miners or through the Responsible Jewellery Council-certified refineries. For me, the gold petals echo those painted in the print and are just the right extra sparkle for such an unusual dress.

Gabriela Hearst jumpsuitAlexander McQueen clutch (vintage)

Oh, the elegance of black in party season! It’s one of the first tricks I think most of us learn to give a dress a new lease of life party after party (one LBD, many accessories, multiple looks). Coupled with the fact this is a beautifully tailored jumpsuit, I think this is one of the easiest to wear pieces in the edit. Gabriela Hearst leads the way in the sustainable luxury fashion space. She opened her first store on New York’s Madison Avenue this month to high praise from customers and the press alike; the shop has ethical credentials as impressive as the clothes themselves: 90% of the material waste generated from the build was recycled. She told Vogue “sustainability and luxury should not be competing concepts,” and this piece proves just that. It may be an investment, but it will last a lifetime.

Admittedly, a minimal black look was never going to quite cut it for me, so I looked to Vestiaire Collective (more of which later) for this McQueen ‘knuckle duster’ clutch bag, an iconic design that they re-issue season after season.

Valentino gown (vintage), Chopard necklace and earrings

The looks I have covered so far are new, but we are all aware we should shop less. The consumption that drives the fashion industry is the antithesis of sustainable. I now wanted to offer two other solutions. 

It’s been thrilling to see the concept of ‘pre-loved’ gain momentum recently, in all of its forms. I’ve always adored the treasure hunt of a charity shop or vintage shop (the since-closed, much-loved Cornucopia in Pimlico was top of my London address book as a teenager). They bring the cache of a unique piece plus the stories of its previous owner – whether told by the store staff or imagined in my mind. Sites like Vestiaire Collective, and HEWI London mean you can treasure hunt with all the size filters, search capabilities and convenience of e-commerce. I’ve used these sites as a buyer and a seller and find both options as easy as they are rewarding. 

Valentino is synonymous with its red evening dresses so this lace gown from Vestiare Collective encapsulated my idea of a timeless piece. Impossible to date to a precise era, it’s as party perfect now as it ever was and ever will be. And it clearly retains its value too (the price tag means this is a life-long investment!).

Matthew Williamson gown (from my own wardrobe)

British designer Matthew Williamson was always my favourite from the moment I saw Kate Moss and Jade Jagger on the cover of The Times in his first collection. My career dealt a fantasy twist of fate when I worked with him for 6 years, finally as his business director and today as a consultant. This meant I had access to my collections of dreams, cherry picking and investing each year (I think much of my salary went straight back into the business!). That wardrobe of kaleidoscopic colour and artistic prints gained some renown in my peer group so it gives me such happiness to lend to friends now. It really started with my wedding when girlfriends got in touch questioning what to wear. I had them over to tea and let them loose in my wardrobe. It’s continued ever since – I have skirts and dresses out for loans with friends all around the capital (and one in France!).

It goes without saying that caring for clothes so that they shine party after party is a must: hanging them correctly, checking them regularly and repairing them as required… I was taught to sew by my mother (my father is actually very good at embroidery, too!) but if I’m feeling lazy then the Clothes Doctor comes to your door. Their talented seamstresses do everything from darning a hole to tailoring to transform a piece. 

Swap shops are an inspired idea, whether over tea at a friend’s house or more officially like my friend Niomi’s next week in partnership with ClothesAid. Or take the ingenious Rent the Runway with its 10 million members, billed as the “Netflix of fashion” by its charismatic (and hugely inspiring, I’ve met her) CEO Jen Hyman. Borrow, wear, return. A simple solution for the woman who never likes to commit. On a smaller scale, I’m watching Hurr Collective closely, which launches soon as the first peer-to-peer wardrobe rental option. Meaning you can access party pieces from women you admire, or indeed your friends.

This emerald green gown launched when I first started working at Matthew Williamson in 2013. It featured in his 15th anniversary film XV, with Poppy Delevingne twisting up the Palladian stairs of Aynhoe Park, all enchanting emerald eyes and peacock jewels. It entranced me then and I’m so lucky to own it now. One of my best friends from university wore it on my wedding day and everyone from my great aunt to my youngest guests unanimously agreed she was on the best dressed list. I return to it year after year.

Shot at Southam Street, 36 Golborne Rd, London W10 5PR.
Photographer: Holly Falconer

See Rosanna’s edit of five brands that are as Instagrammable as they are Sustainable.

Inspired? Read our guide for where to start with dressing ethically and visit our full list of recommended brands.