Stella McCartney has tapped into a growing trend—literally.
The British nameplate announced Wednesday the launch of the world’s first luxury garments derived from Mylo, an animal-free leather engineered by California startup Bolt Threads from the branching root network that sprouts mushrooms.
Combining “deep science with high-fashion design,” the two pieces demonstrate the viability of this next-generation technology as a replacement for both animal-derived and synthetic hides, smoothing the way for future commercial possibilities, according to the brand, which famously eschews leather, feathers, fur and exotic skins in favor of cruelty-free and sustainable alternatives.
“I believe the Stella community should never have to compromise luxury desirability for sustainability, and Mylo allows us to make that a reality,” Stella McCartney, the label’s namesake designer, said in a statement. “These rare, exclusive pieces embody our shared commitment with Bolt Threads to innovate a kinder fashion industry—one that sees the birth of beautiful, luxurious materials as opposed to the deaths of our fellow creatures and planet.”
The items comprise a black bustier top and a pair of “utilitarian” trousers that Stella McCartney says were informed by “effortless sensuality and [its] signature dichotomy of feminine and masculine attitudes.” They were handmade at the brand’s London atelier by laying panels of the mycelium-based material over recycled nylon scuba, combining an “avant-garde perspective with an athleticism” that keeps with the aesthetics of its summer and autumn 2021 collections.
While neither of the pieces is for sale, the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton partner, a founding member of the so-called “Mylo consortium,” which also includes Adidas, Kering and Lululemon, plans to integrate Mylo into future offerings.
Stella McCartney is no stranger to Mylo, either. The first product created with Mylo was a prototype of the luxury house’s Falabella bag, which debuted as part of a 2018 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
“Creating new, high-quality biomaterials is a major technological challenge and a massive opportunity for people and planet,” said Dan Widmaier, CEO and founder of Bolt Threads, which got its start creating the spider-silk-like Microsilk using genetically modified yeast and bacteria.
“I am incredibly grateful and humbled by Stella and her team for their long-term partnership and support in bringing Mylo to the world,” he added. “The material used in these two garments not only represents a huge step forward in both aesthetics and performance of biomaterials, but also marks the beginning of the rollout of product-ready Mylo. This is tangible progress toward large-scale production where Mylo can make a significant positive impact on our planet.”
Mylo, according to Bolt Threads, offers the performance benefits of animal hide without the material’s social and environmental burdens, including polluting tanning practices that can jeopardize the health and safety of workers and local communities. And though leather’s proponents say the material is a byproduct of the beef industry that would otherwise end up in the landfill, its associations with planet-warming methane emissions and deforestation in the Amazon have been hard to shake.
There’s another reason why Bolt Threads calls Mylo the “unleather.” Unlike with cattle, which take years to raise, Mylo only needs two weeks to grow.
But Stella McCartney isn’t the only luxury stalwart to dip into non-animal leather. In 2018, Hugo Boss introduced a men’s sneaker made with Piñatex, a leather alternative derived from the fibers of the pineapple leaf. The following year, Chanel trotted out a gold boater hat made from the same material.
Last week, animal activists cheered when Hermès clad its Victoria bag in Sylvania, a mycelium-based alternative leather produced by MycoWorks in its California facility, then tanned and finished in France by the luxury house. The collaboration, according to the companies, was three years in the making and the “the result of a shared vision for growing the future of materials and a quest to unlock new design possibilities.”
“MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermès: a strong fascination with natural raw material and its transformation, a quest for excellence, with the aim of ensuring that objects are put to their best use and that their longevity is maximized,” Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès artistic director, said in a statement. “With Sylvania, Hermès is at the heart of what it has always been: innovation in the making.”