Ali Hewson first met Gregory in New York around 18 months ago. She and U2′s long-standing stylist were researching ideas for the band’s look for their current album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The Rogan label had been contemplating business initiatives that twinned “aesthetic innovation and social activism”. Ali and Bono were thinking along similar lines: they already had an involvement with a Dublin-based chain of ethical, healthy fast-food restaurants, Nude. Wanting to expand their socially aware activities, they were advised that the best way to help Africa free itself from the poverty/debt trap was less to do with aid than trade. Says Ali, “Africa wants to stand on its own two feet.” And making clothes is something Africa has the resources to do, and do well.
Lest all this conjure up images of dull-but-worthy items – shapeless smocks or scratchy hemp-wear, say – take note: Edun’s clothes are very cool. Bono says: “The clothes have to look as extraordinary as the tale they tell.” As we might expect from the design brains behind the hottest jeans around, Rogan Gregory has created a range that is free-flowing and quietly seductive – cute skirts, hooded tops and buttoned vests in soft colours and finishes. It’s a reaction, he says, to the “plastic bling-bling thing”. Hence the “back-to-nature” name.
Hence, too, the location for the Vogue photoshoot for this story. The Luggala estate in the mountains of County Wicklow belongs to a member of the Guinness family – a friend of Bono’s and comprises 5,000 acres of wild Irish countryside, a short drive from Bono and Ali’s place outside Dublin. After a series of business meetings last year, http://gnet.org/defy-aging-and-tired-eyes-remain-the-fairest-in-the-land Bono and Ali took Gregory there for a visit. The grandeur of this remote setting, with its 1,000 head of Sika deer and its own lough (lake), had a profound effect on the designer and how he and Ali shaped the first collection.
Sitting by a crackling log fire in the house’s drawing room, gazing at the art- and music-loving owner’s Francis Bacons and Lucian Freuds on the wall, Gregory says that the Luggala estate has “that ethereal feel, with the mist and the moss and rocks. It’s definitely otherworldly, and really romantic. It has a real enchanted feel, too. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been before.”
“‘Nowhere I’ve Ever Been’ – I’m gonna write that song…” muses Bono from behind his perma-fixed Miu Miu shades, to laughter all round. This interjection is typical of the charismatic 44-year-old. After a day in his company, it’s apparent that he likes nothing better than entertaining, whether it’s the world’s stadium masses or a group of friends, collaborators and strangers gathered in a cosy room in the Irish countryside.
“They like me for my ideas, and I stay away from the clothes,” he jokes. He’s clearly passionate about this new venture and its benefits, devoting time to it while U2 are in the middle of a hectic round of global promotion and limbering up for another year-long world tour. Even after this photoshoot, Bono will disappear for an evening meeting with a colleague from DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa), the lobbying organisation he co-founded in 2002. Ali, responsible for the managing of Edun and driving it forward, is a well-known and much-loved figure in Ireland on account of her many charity works.
For all three kindred spirits, Edun is about doing their bit, but stylishly and for profit. This is not a charity case, nor a militant “anti-globalisation” initiative. “We’re not trying to be in any camp,” says Ali. “We’re just trying to do the right thing, and effect some change. We’re offering a choice: these clothes are made with respect for the people who created them. You can buy them and know that you can feel good wearing them.”
In practical terms, U2 are planning to incorporate Edun clothes into the merchandise on sale during their world tour, which starts in March in California. They’re also in talks with other bands Bono mentions Coldplay and REM – to do likewise. Will we see Bono wearing them?
“Listen, I come from punk rock, I haven’t a hippy bone in my body,” he grins. “But I’ll be wearing these clothes.”