Barbara Coignet shares with Olistic her vision of a new responsible luxury
Barbara Coignet, founder of the sustainable luxury agency 1.618, sits with Olistic to discuss her commitment and her career as a woman entrepreneur.
She is the founder of 1.618. Since 2009, her creative agency has brought together ethical brands committed to a new definition of luxury. For Barbara, beauty rhymes with sustainability and innovation reveal emotion. Olistic the Label joined the 1.618 community last January, a perfect opportunity to revisit Barbara’s commitments and discover her personal journey.
- Can you tell us more about 1.618 and what the agency stands for?
1.618 is an agency involved in the growth and recognition of ethical, inspirational and inspiring creative brands. I strongly believe that creators have an incredible societal role. At the foundation of 1.618 is a desire to stand for young stories and not only for the traditional actors of luxury. 1.618 is my way to bring logic back into the world of luxury. For too long, I have perceived the dichotomy between commercial realities and communication, many are obsessed by image products without any commercial reality. Thanks to 1.618, the actors of sustainable luxury acquire the visibility they deserve. We put them in the spotlight for their customers and the public, but also for investors or department store buyers. We are like brand agents, connected by the same passion, by our ethical commitments and our transparency.
- How did this idea of bringing together sustainable luxury players with such diverse territories come about? How many brands are now members of 1.618?
I was first fascinated by fashion, by designers and their gesture, their perspective on materials. In front of all that I always feel, as if in levitation. Gesture and intention then meet the spirit, in fashion but also in design. For me, it is essential to make these stories bloom and to tell them, something editors have less and less the opportunity, but also the desire, to do. The majority of the written press being in difficulty, it has sacrificed these pages, these embodied stories, it has undeniably lost in quality.
From the beginning, the 1.618 community was about the art of living: fashion, of course, but also hotels, beauty, mobility … today we explore 8 territories. Our members are all making efforts to move forward towards the best with common sense. Brands like Nout, are innovating to create enchanting fragrances that are good for the skin and for the environment. Even when it comes to niche markets, all this can redirect attention to our efforts and inspire established groups and brands in the industry. As of today, we have selected 300 brands that fit our criteria and we only have experienced 2 disappointments.
What we seek to define is simply whether or not a brand, in this day and age, is approaching the requirements for a smart future.
- You created 1.618 more than 10 years ago (in 2009), were you a precursor?
I am an entrepreneur at heart, I have this spontaneous need to dig into an intuition. Since I was a child, I have been guided by this desire to chase my dreams, to do what I wanted and to give myself the means to do it. I co-created my first company while I was still a student. I’m comfortable in the shadows, I like to reveal others, from being a press agent to founder of 1.618 it is still the case.
When I went to meet my past clients, I faced the reality. They told me: “We can save the planet or we are creative.” I perceived a total rejection of sustainability by luxury brands. But my core desire was, first of all, motivated by a personal quest, a rather selfish aspiration and not a mission. My initial thought was: I would like to live in a world where beauty is present and creative, but not at the expense of the environment. I have studied this a lot and have collaborated with sociologists: eco-responsibility is intuitively perceived as contrary to desirability, to frivolity, but also to lightness. It can bring anxiety because it is linked to major environmental issues, the opposite of what fashion or luxury conventionally celebrate.
- How to ensure the authenticity of brands’ sustainable commitments? Has 1.618 become a certification?
The luxury of tomorrow is the intelligence to do things differently, to convince by establishing a new vision, but first to seduce by its desirability.
All members are above all creative and aesthetic brands, and then comes the commitment that gives meaning to this beauty. From the very beginning, we set up a committee of experts in sustainable development. These seasoned professionals are still with us today, such as Camille Rojot, an expert in responsible sourcing and cofounder of Origem, and Elisabeth Laville, founder of Utopies and an expert in sustainable development strategy. They are the one to validate or invalidate the responsible approaches of the brands we spot. I immediately realized that the subject was too vast and too serious to pretend to master it.
We are not a certification entity, but we ensure that the stories told by the brands are true, we read between the lines and our requirements have become stricter over the years. We have developed several questionnaires with specificities per domain. Concrete actions and socio-environmental commitments are put into perspective with 8 selection criteria which goes from sourcing to packaging and innovation. This is necessary, because everyone is positioning themselves on the subject of sustainability and I see frightening drifts, greenwashing is at its peak! Our approach is demanding, but also human, we are not here to judge, we encourage brands that wish to perfect their approach. We establish discussions in the long run.
- Joining 1.618 is a pledge of recognition and a real support, if you could help yourself by going back a few years, what advice would you give yourself?
The difficulties I encountered at the beginning have unfortunately not changed much. We are dealing with people from the Old World who occupy essential functions, they are anchored in their reflexes and reassure themselves by maintaining their habits. I wouldn’t change the substance of my actions, but perhaps my way of doing things by being more surrounded, and less candid. I always had the will to move mountains, but I was further ahead of my time than I thought. Everyone says that being a pioneer is an advantage, but you are mostly terribly alone. I trusted my intuitions, perhaps I should also learn to observe, to wait, that would have been less disappointing and would have cost me less, personally and financially. Sustainable luxury is not obvious to everyone, to prove its raison d’être I wanted to quickly make a stand.
- What fashion piece in your wardrobe is your favorite?
I love reworked men’s shirts but also jackets. I love rather masculine and comfortable wardrobes that have an eye for detail, but especially classic-looking pieces that aren’t really classic after all.
- How did you discover Olistic the Label?
It was about three years ago. On multiple occasions, different people, whose opinions I respect very much, suggested I take a closer look at her eco-friendly luxury ready-to-wear collections. What I instantly noticed were the elegant finishes that flirt with couture.
- Why did you choose this Cygnus shirt? What does the Olistic wardrobe inspire you?
I love the couture gestures, the neat cuts and the obvious modernity of this top. I’m attracted to the construction of a garment, and Olistic’s minimalist approach speaks to me a lot for that. I appreciate the natural materials transformed to perfection which are fully in line with the 1.618 philosophy. First you notice a beautiful dress, a style, then you notice this handcrafted wool, the finishes and details worked with care. It is the demonstration that it is possible to create beautiful and meaningful pieces.
- What is your slow ritual to reconnect with yourself?
Just like a child, I have a great capacity for wonder. I am constantly moved by my environment and especially by the forest to which I have a strong attachment. I grew up in Milly-la-Forêt and I now live outside of Paris so that I can get to the city quickly while keeping a connection to nature. It is essential to escape, in nature or through travel. Seeing the world is deeply regenerative.
- The strength of 1.618 is also its community, how are these encounters made possible?
1.618 is also the community of our teams and member brands, it is an influential, committed network sharing the same values of kindness. We gather French companies, international ethical brands and all of them are not at the same stage of their development, it is a richness for each one to share their feedback, their questions…
During our events, all these actors of sustainable luxury reluctantly leave each other and extend these meetings by initiating collaborations and common projects, as JEM and Olistic did during an event gathering their collections and communities. We have extended these encounters with our “Between Us” events. These connections make sense, because all the member brands have a common vision and know they are sincere, which reassures them. These encounters are now digital but we can’t wait to get together again. In fact, these brands are each other’s best ambassadors.
- What is the next step for 1.618?
We launched the 1.618 marketplace to bring this community to life in a commercial way, because the power of transformation comes through all of our buying actions. We want to be a media brand to show alternatives to the public thanks to another form of language. This is a way for 1.618 to extend the voice of our member brands and to fight greenwashing. We are going to put the stories of 1.618 brands in the spotlight in our upcoming guide, we have thought of it as a real narrative display for the community. We have beautiful things to reveal through words, written, but also told and we are currently working on a podcast.
- Which woman would you like to read here?
Alice Audouin! Alice is a member of our expert committee and the founder of a consulting agency. Above all, she is the initiator of Art of Change 21, which helps build a bridge between Art and major environmental issues by making artists the investigators of the ecological transition.
Thanks to Barbara Coignet for her answers and for receiving us at the agency 1.618.