Why you need to break up with your dry cleaner


Originally appearing in US Vogue, this article highlights some of the key concerns not just Ms BROWN has, but many others, when it comes to dry cleaning.

How many fashion girls does it take to clean a T-shirt? It’s a riddle that co-owner of Kirna Zabête designer fashion boutique, Beth Buccini found herself debating with three other stylish women. She argued that her T by Alexander Wang jersey shirts needed to be hand washed; another insisted that they were best dry cleaned. “It’s ridiculous—we’re talking about a simple T-shirt here,” Buccini says.

It doesn’t help that the care instructions inside clothes are getting more difficult to decipher. (There are 43 international laundry symbols on the list Buccini keeps plastered to her washing machine.) With this much anguish over the care of a simple tee (Wang advises either hand-wash or dry-clean), the fall collections are set to trigger a tidal wave of anxiety. Comme des Garçons’ oversize two- dimensional coats would barely make it through the door of a subway car, let alone a washing machine, and the enchanting lace sheath dresses at Erdem were coated with high-sheen latex more commonly associated with surgical gloves than with the clothes hamper. Even something as basic as a Céline sweatshirt was bonded with fur and leather. When fabrics are this high-tech and complex, the first thought that springs to mind is, How do I dry-clean them? Except now, many women are dispensing with that question for one reason: They’re washing them themselves.

Having worked for Chanel, Valentino, and now Oscar de la Renta, fashion-merchandising executive Brandi Barrett has a closetful of pieces that require special care. Her monthly cleaning bill was beginning to become a luxury in and of itself, not to mention the fact that her clothes would often come back looking dingy or smelling of chemicals—one of the most toxic offenders being perc.

Labeled a “hazardous air pollutant” by the Clean Air Act and a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cleaning fluid is due by federal law to be phased out in dry cleaners located in residential buildings by 2020. In the meantime, about 80 percent of dry cleaners are still using it; even “green” or “organic” alternatives are widely unregulated. So Barrett did what most women would consider unthinkable and took matters into her own machine.

"The first piece that I washed in my LG was a Chanel tweed jacket—I was absolutely nervous,” she says. “I put it in a mesh bag on the delicate cycle, using a wool and cashmere shampoo, air-dried and then steamed it.” The result? A jacket as new as the day it was bought. Dermatologist Lisa Airan, M.D., is just as fearless, throwing Givenchy wool pants, a Lanvin silk dress, and mixed-media Sacai tops—all of which come with dry-clean-only labels—into the wash. So how are so many women defying the care instructions when manufacturers are labeling newly developed textiles with more caution than ever?

Read the full story from the October 2012 issue of US Vogue here.

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