We’ve long admired the artful decadence of prominent Swiss photographer Michel Comte’s fashion oeuvre. Its intimacy and edgy glamour resonate with the Complete Unknown design aesthetic. With sustainability as one of our values, imagine our delight in discovering Comte’s commitment to climate change activism. Flipping the script on a career enmeshed with celebrity culture, he's taken his photographic badassery to new heights– documenting from above, the devastating environmental impacts of global warming on the glacial landscape. He uses his art as a conduit to increasing awareness of the magnitude of this critical issue of our time.
Raised in the countryside near Zurich in a family of visionary adventurers, (his grandfather, Alfred, in 1912 became the first to record glaciers from the air and later helmed the pioneering aviation company that would become Swissair) Comte has always been a forward-thinking, keen observer of the environment. In 1975, before starting university, he presented a prescient essay, "Water is the Oil of the Future" at The Club of Rome, one of the first organizations to take up the mantle of environmental issues. While trekking the Tibetan Himalayas in the 1980's, a chance meeting with Chinese scientists developed his awareness of threats to the natural landscape. Privy to the stories and images of his grandfather's early explorations, he was startled by the gravity of glacial decimation over the past century. He has, even as he rose to prominence for fashion campaigns and celebrity portraiture, continued his travel to document the rate at which the glaciers are retreating.
An Artist’s Silent Reminder of the Future
On the heels of the United States pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, Comte's two major exhibitions last year, both opened in Italy, are exquisite and haunting, a call to action. The phrase "glacial pace" takes on new and urgent meaning. With "Light," he projected footage of glaciers onto the façade of the Zaha Hadid-designed Museo Maxxi and inside installed glass sculptures housing shards of ice kept at arctic temperatures. In "Black Light, White Light," at Triennale di Milano, he continues the exploration of declining glacial environments through large-scale sculpture, photography, and video projections, inviting the audience into the dark stillness filled with melting glaciers. Comte calls it "a silent reminder" that "we really have a responsibility, it’s a reminder of where we are heading..."
With the exhibitions traveling globally in 2018, Comte is sounding the alarm – we can't refreeze a melted glacier – but we can with immediate action, mitigate its effects.
Complete Unknown’s Commitment to the Environment and Artisanship
Complete Unknown strives for low impact and sustainable methods in creating our products, each hand-embroidered, sewn and assembled from non-leather, cruelty-free materials by artisans in India. In honoring this commitment, we also revive the diminishing hand-embroidery industry by employing "karigars" (expert craftsmen) displaced by the proliferation of machine embroidery. These skilled artisans led by master embroiderer Aftab Khan in Lucknow, India continue a centuries-old engagement with the craft, their lineage reaching back to regal vestments of Mughal rule in the 17th century.
In Kolkata, West Bengal, a center of culture and artisanship, Aftab Warsi and his family-owned factory execute assembly and finishing of Complete Unknown handbags. Initially specialized in leather goods, the team underwent three years of training to hone their skills for application to non-animal materials. Warsi's passion for impeccable craftsmanship and sustainable production methods mirrors ours. Most of the steps in production are executed with great care by hand— the ultimate luxury—artisan-crafted with reverence for the Earth.
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