Le Gout du M

Le Gout du M magazine
#03 ” le Vegetal”


Photo: @colin_dodgson
Styling: @vanessareidofficial
Hair and Makup: @irena.ruben
Production: @sparkproductions_
Creative Direction: @jbtalbourdet
Interview: @sophieabriat

Article by Sophie Abriat ( translated from French ) : When she’s not walking the runways of the Row or Jil Sander, Marte Mei van Haaster, 30, spends most of her time at Land-Ally, a hectare of land in the Netherlands, between the cities of Geldrop and Eindhoven, which she has been looking after for a year and a half now. The Dutch model has undertaken the project to transform this former agricultural site into a participatory nature reserve: "a space for inter-species collaboration between humans, plants and animals". The project was born during the writing of her master’s thesis in social design ("Design at the service of political causes, such as the ecological emergency") at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. “My research was about an alternative care system to protect nature, through the care of a community. The idea was to think about a different method than 'rewilding' [where an environment is allowed to regenerate without human intervention, so that it returns to its natural functioning], one based on creating a symbiotic connection between humans and nature, in the hope that this would restore a sense of responsibility over the natural world...". As part of her research, she met many women who owned a garden or a piece of land that they were taking care of. One of them, attracted by her project, offered her to look after one of her plots. And so they created a contract to make Marte Mei van Haaster the official caretaker of this piece of land. With an androgynous face and a graceful figure, spotted at a young age on the streets of Amsterdam, she had a meteoric rise in the fashion industry. Working close to Nicolas Ghesquière (artistic director of Louis Vuitton's women's collections) and muse for Céline during the Phoebe Philo period, she has become, in ten years, a key figure in fashion. "I'd like to work for more sustainable brands, but there aren't many of them in the high-end fashion scene. There are a lot of independent labels and small companies that base their business model on repair, material reuse, recycling and durability, but I would like to see these ethical methods become more common.” Marte Mei van Haaster has been walking fewer shows, well aware of the difficult combination between her ecological commitment and her job as a model in the service of a polluting industry. “It's a very conflicting relationship and I've often wondered if quitting modelling would be the solution; if it would take away the burden. But recently I'm trying to think about ways in which I can form an alliance with nature within the fashion industry rather than walking away from it. How can I make my voice heard? Because I feel that if everyone with something positive to say about the ecological issue would leave, there will only be people remaining who don't care.

The connection that Marte Mei van Haaster has established with nature is, as she describes, the result of a long process of a variety of experiences, such as eating the vegetables from her garden, going on holiday to naturist campsites, or living in India for a year to become a yoga teacher. She confesses to being an eco-anxious person, concerned in particular about the vulnerability of the Netherlands to the rapid rise in sea level: "It's something that can keep me awake at night.” In her reflections, she also questions the contemporary culture of high performance. "Nature shows us in its own cycles that constant productivity is completely contrary to its own functioning”. However, Marte Mei van Haaster does not seem to be naive, pointing to her own dependence on the 'capitalist system'. "I am constantly torn between two attitudes: do I accept capitalist sources of income in order to make this work possible, or do I try to detach myself from them and rely as much as possible on local and circular solutions? Land-Ally exists because people give their time to the project; they don't spend or make money here. We are so stuck in a system where we spend what we earn that the alternatives that operate on different values don't make it to the surface” Before her master's at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, Marte Mei van Haaster was already an artist inspired by nature, working in tandem with Max Daalhuizen, who is now studying landscape architecture. “We were very frustrated by the fact that every work created for a gallery or an exhibition required us to waste materials to tell a story. We thought that if we were going to make art about nature, we should have dirt under our fingernails and try to actually create works which have a positive impact on the environment. Otherwise, we were simply defeating the purpose...". In recent years, Marte Mei van Haaster has aligned her ecological awareness with a different way of life, the result of deep reflection and the reading of books such as those by Native American biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, American farmer and poet Wendell Berry or the American academic Bron Taylor, who studies "green religions". The 30-year-old model-designer designs objects to 'collaborate' with plants and animals: water dispensers made from forest clay, and insect and animal habitats using waste wood... Most of them were created during her master's degree at the Design Academy, led from 1998 to 2008 by the Dutch woman Lidewij Edelkoort, a committed fashion figure known for her manifesto, "Anti-Fashion", which evokes the self-destruction of a system described as egotistical, resource-consuming with all-powerful marketing. Today, Marte Mei van Haaster's hectare of land is managed through her foundation and the space is open to all without an appointment. At the entrance, visitors can leave their mobile phones behind and take off their shoes to walk barefoot on the land. The committed model organises workshops, meetings and other talks where everyone can get involved or meditate in silence amidst the sheep grazing peacefully in the meadows. She herself has learned to use a scythe to cut grass, to harvest dock, whose leaves are used to dye sheep's wool, and to prune willows. “Here, we don't think in terms of utility," she says. “It's not a question of making nature useful, but the fact it simply exists and that it heals.”