Landscape designer Edwina von Gal and sustainable fashion researcher Kristine Harper are unearthing ways to soften the boundaries between man and nature and ensure that our aesthetic choices are not only visually pleasing, but multi-sensorial and conducive to good health and well-being.
In last month´s Tastemaker Conversation we spoke with these two inspiring women about the correlation between aesthetics and sustainability and the need to retrain and reacquaint people with the true definition of beauty
Kristine is the author of Aesthetic Sustainability and Anti-trend, and writer of the blog The Immaterialist. Harper’s main research areas are resilient design solutions, sustainable living, reduction of consumption through design, permaculture, cultural tendencies and trend research, and the preservation of endangered crafts-traditions. She has worked as a lecturer of Sustainable Fashion at the Copenhagen School of Design and Technology for a decade, and continues to teach her theories on design, aesthetics, and sustainability at various international design academies.
Edwina is one of the country’s most lauded landscape experts, having built her name conjuring gorgeous settings while honing environmentally friendly techniques. Along the way she has attracted legions of influential supporters and clients, among them Cindy Sherman and Ina Garten. In 2013, Edwina founded the Perfect Earth Project to promote toxin-free landscapes for the health of people, their pets, and the planet. She is the 2017 recipient of Guild Hall’s Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for the Visual Arts. In 2018 she received the NY School of Interior Design’s Green Design Award and The Isamu Noguchi Award.
Redefining the Definition of Beauty
What makes a beautiful garden? Throughout modern history, the landscape industry has pushed society into a design aesthetic that not only depends on chemicals, but draws down biodiversity. The constant clipping, supression and cutting that comes with an obsession with controlled gardens that “seem more like a room inside a house” is a harming process, as opposed to the innate healing characteristics that come with nature.
In order to help tilt the balance back towards gardens as positive contributors to the life, health, habitat and biodiversity of our world, Edwina founded the Perfect Earth Project and 2/3rds 4 the birds, which promote toxin-free lawns and native-plant landscapes for the betterment of people, pets, and the planet.
Reframing the concept of beauty is turning out to be the key component of the education process. Edwina wants us to look at “perfect” green lawns as toxic. She wants us to see beauty in the leaves that fall on the ground and become nutrients for the trees; she wants us to embrace an aging landscape as opposed to admiring the optics of manicured, decimated and static nature. And, in much the same way she wants others to share her disdain for chemical gardens, she wants them to learn how to have a dialogue with nature and listen to plants. Only then will they understand that real beauty comes from native plantings or, as she puts it, “right plant, right place.”
Covid has served as a double-edged response to her overriding mission, explains Edwina. While some people have become even more controlling and careful in the way they design their landscapes, others are finally letting go of their unnatural approach and discovering how fulfilling and exquisite it is to allow nature to express itself naturally.
“I hope those who take the nature-based route are the ones who ultimately win”
What Edwina does for the land, Kristine does for garments. Her mission is to promote a greater understanding of aesthetic value as the key to achieving a more strategic and sustainable approach to fashion design.
Kristine believes that the only way to encourage sustainable consumption and usage of products is ensuring that these products are aesthetically nourishing. After all, as she explained in our conversation, it is the differential factor between what we readily dispose of and what we maintain and treasure over time. She delves deeper into this topic in her book Aesthetic Sustainability: Product Design and Sustainable Usage.
It takes a cultivated eye to realize what an aesthetic product is beyond its superficial appeal. Sometimes, the care taken to create it is not evident until the purchase is done. To overcome this challenge, Kristine encourages sustainable businesses to apply better storytelling strategies.
“It is a key factor to connect with consumers. Spending time and effort communicating where the product came from, how it was crafted, who created it… not just with words, but with pictures, videos and other elements”.
She is convinced that once consumers learn how to decipher and appreciate the look, feel and history of a truly aesthetic product, they are willing to pay more for it. They understand its inherent value.
Among her many projects, she works with artisans and weavers in Bali to support and promote their beautiful crafts.
Pauline concluded the interview with a reminder of how luxury historically was defined: “True luxury products were and always will be those that are hard to find, hard to make and last forever”.
Is there anything more aesthetic and sustainable than that?
Part of the process of developing our own Aesthetic Intelligence is getting attuned with our sense of emotional connection between different stimuli. Taste Hacks offer shortcuts to understanding a person’s likes and dislikes, and they provide a tool for us to explore our own emotional responses to objects and experiences. As in every Tastemaker Conversation, Pauline Brown asked the guest speakers what some of their Taste Hacks are.
Who is your Style Icon (The person that has most influenced your sense of your own aesthetics)?
Edwina (EvG): Thomas Church, landscape designer. He had his own trajectory.
Kristine (KH): I am specially inspired by the Rise farmers in Bali, where I live. The way they work with layers to protect themselves and the way they use patterns transmits such an incredible style.
What is your Beauty Mark (A possession that you cannot live without – one that continues to have auratic power over you)?
EvG: I would say all my plants. And if I had to pick a product, it would be a hat I own which gets better with age and shapes my face incredibly.
KH: The kimono I am wearing right now. It is from a vintage shop I bought in central Copenhagen a decade ago. It is so versatile, perfect for warm/cold, formal/informal environments, and it never gets wrinkled!
What is Your Eye Sore? (A product that you continue to own and use, despite the fact that it evokes negative feelings such as irritation, annoyance or even disgust)
EvG: Any product that can only be made out of plastic. My garden baskets are a good example. In order to survive the outside weather and support all material, at the moment they only come in plastic..
KH: For some reason, chairs and tables in Bali never seem to match in height. It happens everywhere! Whether this is a functional design error or just that I have a different body type than Balinese people I don´t know..
In your wildest dreams, what would your Last Supper be? Describe the environment and setting.
EvG: My last supper will be in my home. It is the place I will stay forever. I’d hire someone local to cook things from my own garden.
KH: It would be in BambuIndah, a restaurant in Ubud, Bali. They have flowers everywhere. It runs down to the river. Everything is made with bamboo. The sunset is beautiful, and they have exquisite vegan food grown in their backyard.
What is your Room with a View? If you had to pick one room – whether it be a bedroom, kitchen, office or otherwise – that you could envision living or working in for the rest of your life, what would it be?
EvG: It would be my own home. I am fortunate enough to live in a very special place, overlooking the Acabonack Harbor, a northern nook on Long Island’s South Fork, in New York. The house, designed by architect Marcel Breuer, is tiny, yet I have enough land to garden. I take care of it and it takes care of me.
KH: Again, somewhere in Bali. It would have no walls, such as the place I am staying in right now. This is possible due to the climate and allows you to spend most of your time outside hearing the sound of nature.
Rise farmer in Bali (left) and Thomas Church, landscape designer (right)
Edwina´s hat (left) and Kristine´s Kimono (right)
Room with a View
Edwina´s home, designed by Marcel Breuer (left) and Kristine´s home, in Bali (right)
About our Tastemaker Conversations
This is a summary of one of our Tastemaker Conversation, a series of live events within the A.I. Labs foundation course where Pauline Brown interviews the most prominent aesthetic geniuses on the way they apply their own A.I. to their life and business. Click here to enroll in the course.