Cecilia Bönström on Sustainability, Style, and the ‘Chicest Salad’ You’ll Ever Make!
Time to pause this year gave Zadig & Voltaire’s artistic director Cecilia Bönström a rare opportunity to reflect, read, and reenvision her purpose. The result? Projects near and dear to her heart—including her first-ever sustainable collection, inspired by the style maven’s own aesthetic, bien sûr! The Daily caught up with her ahead of its unveiling.
How have you been?
I’ve been really good. In life, you better have been born optimistic, and I’m lucky that I was. It gives me the energy to move forward. The spring, for everybody, was tough because of the confinement. Somehow us Europeans took it with a certain patience. I’m Swedish, so I have a Nordic brain and function, so I accept what happens. But even French people accepted it in a calm way.
Did you spend confinement in Paris?
We went to our country house in Normandy. It was a scary moment. It was so new for all of us to see people dying and the financial insecurity; that was stressful. But from a personal view, I was blessed. I was in the countryside, surrounded by trees, horses, and good, good food! I thought I was supposed to eat rice for two months and the markets would be closed, but we were lucky.
How did you keep yourself balanced?
I became a student again! I slept for as long as I could to catch up with all those years of working and stress. You’re always on the move and running after something, but when suddenly everything stopped, I said to myself, “Let’s take this as a gift to be a bit selfish and stop looking at the watch.” It was a beautiful moment to be more concentrated on my children, too, and have quality time with them.
Did you pick up any new hobbies?
I was reading a lot of books. Zadig has a literature prize; one prize called Zadig for young writers, and Voltaire for the more established. I had eight books to read as part of the jury. I also picked up cooking again!
Any special recipes you can share with us?
One of the best salads I invented is with green beans, boiled for seven minutes and chilled. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Then take fresh goat cheese, cut into small pieces, and some fig, cut into four. Grill some almonds briefly and mix those in. It’s the freshest, chicest salad you can ever find!
How did you stay connected with your team and customers all over the world?
People invited me on many Instagram Lives, and my message was that, yes, this is terrible. It’s a pandemic, but we’re lucky it has happened now as we’re still in contact with friends, work colleagues, and family. We’re lucky to live in a moment where we can communicate.
How did Zadig parlay that message?
Thanks to being connected, I could be in meetings with my team and move forward on projects. Chris [Tate, CEO] had the idea for the Art Is Hope project. When he proposed the idea, I immediately said yes. Of course, you can live without art, but it’s a bonus to life. It can shock you, please you, it makes you move forward, it stimulates you.
Has the project been successful?
The project had a big positive reaction. We’ve worked with the artist Jormi, dancer Benjamin Millepied, and other artists on different collaborations. I think it has been a great success. When things are done with heart and when you do projects that are true to you, I think then people feel it. Zadig is not just fashion, it’s a house and it’s a tribe.
Tell us about the new bags!
I’m proud of them! Since I entered the company, I was concentrating on honoring the past, the history, and the silhouette. In the past seven years, I focused more on me. I was obsessed with creating a monogram. It’s hard to create something timeless that’s also aesthetic. The Z and the V are very graphic letters. My teams have been working so hard, and I was always turning it down. Suddenly, one girl brought something to me and I loved it. It’s a big step for me! It’s selling well. When a fashion house makes a monogram, it’s putting us on an international level.
What else are you working on at the moment?
As the women’s collection is working so well, they also gave me men’s! It’s busy. I’m finishing Fall, and I’m working on Spring ’21. And I’m creating a capsule edit of 15 pieces, which are made from sustainable fabrics. It’s inspired by me and my wardrobe from Zadig & Voltaire. The fabrics that I’m using, it’s taken me years to find them. We’ll maybe show it over a private lunch in my apartment in September. It’s not a show; it’s a private moment.
Will you show at all this year?
I’m not going to do one in September. As we’re inspired by French philosopher Voltaire, we like to be free, rebel, and make decisions at the last minute. We’re also building out our showroom in Paris so we can show digitally.
Was sustainability always on your mind?
During confinement, you realized how small and microscopic you are. We realized we’re not eternal, and we’re on a planet that’s not ours. We’re guests here, so we should be cautious and conscious. Fashion has a moment to realize that we should find new ways to produce. This year, I thought, “Cecilia, you have to hurry up!” At one point I wanted to change, but I never really had the time to make those decisions.
How are you planning on changing?
I’ve hired an external team that’s helping to guide me. We want 50 percent of the main collection to be sustainable fabrics. We’re also thinking about the air, water use, boats instead of planes.… It’s going to take at least five years.
It sounds promising!
Fashion is part of culture, with creative people working behind it. It’s a beautiful way of expressing creativity; you can’t forget that. It’s part of a dream. Many in this generation, we didn’t realize that we were using up the world’s energy. We were all naive, but now it’s so clear. Obviously, I don’t want to make fake promises. It’s a big mountain to climb!