Backstage at Vaute Couture

by D. R. Hildebrand

Last year, in early March, I took a short subway ride from the annual New York City Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea to the opening of a boutique clothing store in Williamsburg.  I had read about the designer and her innovative water-proof, wind-proof, sub-freezing-suitable outwear and I wanted to meet her and see the clothes in person.  Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, newly relocated from Chicago, was attracting evermore attention for her one hundred percent cruelty-free label, Vaute Couture—and she hadn’t yet even opened her doors.

But this was just the beginning.  Two months later, in a national competition hosted by Macy’s, Ms. Hilgart was chosen from an applicant pool of 1,800 as one of fourteen “emerging designers” with “promising mainstream success.”  The reward was a week-long workshop aimed at teaching these designers the business aspects of the industry and how to penetrate the greater marketplace.  Hilgart excelled, and less than a year later Vaute entered New York Fashion Week.

When I arrived for the fitting two days before the show I was already elated, not just as a vegan and a model but as a friend, to be a part of this experience.  There had never been a sustainable, vegan label showcasing solo at New York Fashion Week, and Hilgart was poised to correct that.  As enthusiastic as I was for this inimitable occasion, it wasn’t until I put on my “look,” right there in the factory where it was made and I saw the decency, the ethic of the environment all juxtaposed to comparable factories overseas that I realized the extent to Vaute’s uniqueness.  Much more than just the apparel itself would set Hilgart’s brand apart from the tiresome trends and the status quo of fashion’s most meaningful week.

Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

Everything, it seemed, was different.  From the subtle to the overt, Hilgart created her own rules: instead of opting for the artificial, militaristic look of sameness and severity, she chose models who were diverse and approachable and styled each one uniquely.  Instead of confining the show to a runway, which would permit the audience just a few elusive seconds to view a single outfit, she integrated a showroom design that encouraged guests to photograph, to engage, and to linger.  Instead of creating an ambiance of darkness and mystery she opened the atmosphere with music that was inviting and lighting that was serene.  And instead of having her models walk out with every imaginable being from snakes to peacocks to baby tigers in some false display of survival or allure or power, Hilgart presented dogs—in the hopes of finding them homes.

Backstage, the mood was professional yet light.  There was a clear sense that everyone involved was eager not only to create something beautiful, but something lasting.  It was a fashion show, yes; it was art and creativity and newness, of course; but it was a statement to boot, a very proud and unequivocal one with a conscience at its core.  Every element of the exhibition reflected this.  Makeup was done by DeVita.  Hair was styled by Salon Champu.  Women’s shoes were made by Love is Mighty, men’s shoes by Brave Gentleman.  Refreshments came from Vegan Treats and Vita Coco.  Sponsors included the Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, PETA, and PCRM.  From the casting director to the DJ to the volunteers and many of the models, nearly every piece of the show was fair-labor, sustainable, principled, and vegan.  As Hilgart commented afterward, “I’m not here to create fashion.  I’m here to create ethical options within fashion.”

David Raphael Hildebrand Vaute Couture

Photo by Gregory Vaughan

My own outfit exemplified this.  I wore a warm, ivory-colored organic cotton Sherpa turtle neck, a camel organic velvet coat with a recycled thinsulate quilted liner and brown tagua nut buttons, and gray waxed canvas pants, most of which was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard of.  The innovation behind each item not only made the rest of Fashion Week look lame but caught the attention of leading media as well.  By the following day CNN reported it on its homepage and soon after ran an almost four-minute televised segment on Hilgart and the unnecessary use of animals in fashion.

Notably, after commenting on the elegance and sophistication of the clothes, the news anchor concluded the story with an observation that couldn’t have better summarized the entire affair.  “Well,” she said to the correspondent, reflecting on what she had learned, “you made me think.”  As thought is the origin of compassion, that is the point.  Nothing will change without thought when it is thoughtlessness that defines the current state of fashion: exploit, waste, pollute, kill—over and over and over with a few bland modifications in color and cut so the world will clap and call it new, and ignorance will persist unchallenged.

Hilgart has chosen to think.  She has chosen to challenge.  Originality has never looked so good.

Note: For all news on Vaute Couture and for exclusive backstage footage of the show, like their Facebook page:



Vaute by Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart had their RTW launch for New York Fashion week at Eyebeam yesterday, and it was stunning. There was a huge turnout of writers, editors and buyers, fans and friends and the show featured organic, sustainable, vegan clothing and outerwear for both men and women. I was honored to be invited to showcase the Brave GentleMan x Novacas shoe and boot collection on the male models, while Monisha Raja’s Love Is Mighty collection sparkled on the ladies. The atmosphere was high-drama with contrast spotlighting in the huge space that swelled with epic music. And if all the amazing fashion wasn’t enough, there were mouth-watering sweets from Vegan Treats circulating on platters and appearing in gift bags (see below for the images and don’t lick the screen).


Vaute’s ethos is very aligned with The Discerning Brute and Brave GentleMan and it’s exciting to see such a major response to something that is otherwise unheard-of within the mainstream fashion industry. In fact, this show was making history as he first totally vegan conceived brand to show at New York Fashion Week. Even the hair by Salon Champu and makeup by DeVita were cruelty-free and vegan, as were several of the models. Adoptable dogs looking for forever homes from The Humane Society of New York and Badass Brooklyn Rescue hung out with some of the models.

Joshua Katcher backstage with some of the models.






John Bartlett Teams Up with Farm Sanctuary

CFDA award winning fashion designer, vegan and animal advocate John Bartlett has teamed up with Farm Sanctuary — North America’s largest and most effective farm animal rescue and protection organization — to create a capsule collection of tees (called “The Ambassador Collection”) that are both meaningful yet minimal. Models for this shoot were The Discerning Brute pals, the flawless Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart of Vaute Couture and dreamy Bo Roberts.

The collection launches Monday, August 6th and retails for $40. It will be sold exclusively at  10% of the proceeds from the sale of each tee will be donated to Farm Sanctuary ( to fund the nonprofit’s lifesaving work on behalf of abused and neglected farm animals.

In keeping with the clean, minimal style style of Bartlett’s Tiny Tim Collection, the limited edition collection consists of three black tees (in both men’s and women’s sizes), each features a bleached silhouette of one of the three most recognizable farm animals in our country (a cow, chicken and pig). The tees also feature a cryptic and staggeringly large number, bleached onto the sleeve. This statistic represents the current number of animals (of the species featured on the shirt) slaughtered for food in this country each year – a number that will come as a surprise to many Americans.
The shocking numbers are as follows:
  • • 9,000,000,000 + chickens
  • • 110,500,000 + pigs
  • • 35,000,000 + cows

We hope that with this collection (and with your help) we can all do our part to help lower these numbers.

Constructing the Suit: No-Bull Buttons

I’ve been in the development process for the exclusive Discerning Brute Suit Line (which will be available on soon!) and there are so many elements to making a good suit, and may of them are not at all animal-friendly. From bull-horn and buffalo buttons to wool fabric, from horse or goat or camel-hair interfacing and wool felt under-collar fabric, to silk thread, making a cruelty-free suit is no easy task. Many menswear factories are set up to provide stock-interfacing and thread  – and bringing in your own alternatives sometimes poses problems.

Things like buttons and interfacing are definitely more subtle elements of ethical fashion, but they are valid nonetheless.

What visually and texturally distinguishes horn buttons from alternatives like tagua nut, wood, plastic, or coconut? The buttons in the image below are typical horn buttons, carved from the horns of animals like buffalo or bull. Definitely not cruelty-free, and definitely not sustainable considering the ecological impact of livestock production.

Horn buttons come in light brown, dark brown, black, amber, and ivory. They usually have an organic texture (run your fingernail along the rim and it should have a tiny ridges, like a worn-down quarter, and often they appear to be marbleized. Upon close inspection, they have depth in the lighter areas, which are slightly translucent. Horn buttons are also typically semi-matte – unlike plastic buttons which are smooth and uniformly shiny, though many mimic the marble patter and colors.

Tagua Nut Buttons are a gorgeous, organic alternative to animal horn and plastic. They are also called Corozo, mococha and vegetable ivory. Tagua has been used in since 1750 for toys, beads, and buttons. The Tagua nut comes in various colors, shades, and patterns, and are considered the “ivory of wood”. Companies like Howies and Vaute Couture, who I’ve talked about on The Discerning Brute before, are now using Tagua Nut. The Tagua nut, it comes from a palm tree called Phytelephas Macrocarpa (a palm from South America). The nuts are gathered and dried out for 4-8 weeks, sorted and sliced. Their scientific name means “plant elephant” and the very hard white endosperm of their seeds (tagua nuts) resembles elephant ivory, does not break, and maintains the same properties as man-made buttons along with the texture and color patterning similar to horn.

SALE --Storewide Big Button Clearance--10 Nut Ivory/Tagua Nut Carved Buttons--13/16 of an inch or 2 cm--5 chocolate brown, 5 camelhowie_nut_buttons.jpg

The Tagua Nut is sustainably harvested, often fairly traded, and does not require the cutting-down of trees (since it comes from the tree’s nut). It also has such similar properties to Ivory that it has helped curb the poaching of elephants. What’s not to like? Definitely look for Tagua Nut Buttons on my upcoming suit line!

Vaute Couture Men’s Coats PreOrder Sale

Vaute Couture is offering an amazing deal – and you could score a warm, classic mens’ coat (100% vegan, eco, and ethical) just in time for the cold season at almost half-off if you act soon. The preorder special will start at 45% off for 1 week only, and move towards regular price every week until we’re ready to get them to ship! Click the image below for full details (featuring Yours Truly and vegan model Jayce Basques in the warm, rugged Vaute Couture Pea Coat).