A model of style and substance? Arizona Muse on carbon footprints and glamourising sustainable fashion

Arizona Muse at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards during the Milan Fashion Week
Arizona Muse at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards during the Milan Fashion Week Credit: Getty Images

She's an ambassador for some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, as well as Greenpeace. Here, Arizona Muse chats with Charlie Gowans-Eglinton

The supermodel on the soapbox is an old trope. A (very) beautiful woman speaking on behalf of the animals/environment/needy, posing for some pictures and shaking some hands, then returning to her privileged life. Not always a bad thing, if it helps an important cause to make headlines.  

At first glance, Arizona Muse fits that mould. She certainly ticks the supermodel box, having appeared on the covers of Vogue all over the world (British, French, American, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Greek, Spanish, Australian…) 40 times and fronted campaigns for Chanel, Prada and Estee Lauder. Latterly, she’s become a different kind of poster girl, the unofficial face of a campaign for reform - and bigger steps towards sustainability - within the fashion industry. 

About five minutes in, I realise that Muse isn’t regurgitating a press release. During a two hour interview given across the mid-century dining table (most of Muse’s furniture was bought second hand) in her London flat, she speaks at length about, for example: fertilisers and soil biomes; the PH levels of our oceans; recycling plants; leather tanning; zips. She isn’t just well informed; this is a crusade. 

Arizona Muse at home in West London Credit: Andrew Crowley

Earlier this month, Muse was named as a Greenpeace ambassador. She sits on the board of non-profit The Sustainable Angle, which drives sustainability in the textile industry, contributes to global catalyst for change Fashion Revolution, and joined the Extinction Rebellion protests held in London last month. 

“I hear that what is said about me most often is, when people hear that I’m into sustainability or an activist in some way, ‘yeah, but she flies all the time,’” says Muse. She does - though less, and she pushes the brands that she works with to shoot locally whenever possible. Flying across the world for a shoot is now dependant on whether she can use that time spent with a brand’s big cheeses to challenge them on their own sustainability. 

The sustainable movement is often accused of being elitist, not just because of the day to day cost of buying eco clothes or organic food, but also because of a few puritanical spokespeople exerting pressure to be perfect that ignores the reality of the 99 per cent, who may not have the time or money to live in a completely sustainable, 100 per cent ecologically-sound way. 

Muse, on the other hand, is pragmatic. “If you can afford it, do it. Be honest with yourself: what can you comfortably afford?”

In the fashion sphere, what many of us can ‘comfortably afford’ might not include designer labels like Gabriela Hearst and Mother of Pearl, which meet Muse’s standards when it comes to sustainable credentials. But also in her wardrobe are more affordable labels like Ganni, Reformation and Gant. She buys loungewear from Riley Studio, and activewear from Aeance. 

None of these labels have the cliched aesthetic of an ethical brand: “scratchy and brown and earthy looking,” says Muse. “I don’t dress like that, and I dress as sustainably as I can.” 

At our meeting, she’s wearing leather trousers from specialist brand Skiim, whose credo includes supply chain transparency and fair trade. Still, leather is a surprising choice for an activist, especially one meeting with a journalist to discuss sustainable fashion. But Muse seems uninterested in greenwashing her wardrobe, or her lifestyle.  

She eats meat, albeit only from small regenerative farms, though she gave up fish “because the oceans are so underpopulated in general”. Cy, her one-year-old daughter with osteopath husband Boniface Verney-Carron (Muse also has a ten year old son, Nikko, from a previous relationship), is still in nappies - disposable ones. They’re made from maize starch and cellulose fibre, not the conventional fabric, but cloth would be the more ecologically sound choice. But: “I got cloth nappies in the smallest size and used them straight away on my newborn; newborns soil nappies every two hours. That is not the right time in your baby’s life to use cloth nappies: it’s so much work.”

I ask her about a fluffy hat sitting on the dining table: it looks like real fur. It is. “This is something I bought a long time ago, before I knew anything about anything. I would choose not to buy a fur hat now - but Ii don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to get rid of everything you had. I do wear it, and I feel weird about it - I know I’m doing it for the right reasons, because I don’t want to waste it, fur is warm, I’m not buying a synthetic hat, I’m not buying a new hat.”

The day before our interview, it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II was going fur-free, instead wearing faux fur on occasions that called for it. But as an alternative, faux fur has its own set of problems, such as the microfibres it releases into water systems when washed, and the fact that it's made of plastic, and so isn’t biodegradable. Muse wouldn’t buy faux fur any more than she’d buy the real stuff.

Arizona Muse at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards during Milan Fashion Week, September 2019

“We should be able to walk into any shop and buy anything knowing that it is environmentally friendly,” says Muse. “That’s what normal should be. So no, we can’t be perfect, because it’s just not possible at the moment. Don’t guilt yourself. Make the steps that you can.”

One such step is, simply, buying less. At the Green Carpet Fashion Awards (started by Eco-Age founder Livia Firth), which celebrates ethical progress in the industry, Muse wore an outfit by Alexander McQueen that she’d rented from My Wardrobe HQ for the occasion. 40 or so pieces from her own wardrobe are currently available to rent on the site, which is one of a number of fashion rental platforms that has emerged in the last few years, allowing users to scratch that itch for a ‘new’ dress for a special occasion, or a ‘new’ designer handbag for a week or month, without the need to actually buy. That way, even if the pieces themselves are not 100 per cent sustainable, they’re part of a shift towards more conscious consumption.

Arizona Muse at the Telegraph's Responsible Fashion Forum

“It’s not possible right now to have an entirely sustainable wardrobe with your sense of style that you had previously,” says Muse. “Like many people, I’m not willing to shift my entire sense of style - it used not to be possible to have an entirely sustainable wardrobe and keep your style intact," says Muse. "But increasingly it's becoming possible to do both, to bring those two trajectories together: what is my style, and what is sustainable.”

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