Stella McCartney: Fashion with a conscience

FASHION FORWARD is a phrase synonymous with "cutting edge" -- and it's a term that definitely describes the celebrity designer Alina Cho has been watching: 

Buckingham Palace, 2013: Stella McCartney, the daughter of music royalty (yes, her father is Sir Paul) was recognized as fashion royalty, when Queen Elizabeth II honored Stella with an OBE, an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

"I was very lucky to get the Queen, I have to say, 'cause some days you don't get the Queen," McCartney said. "Yes, I got the Queen!"

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Designer Stella McCartney.

CBS News

"So I go up and she goes -- and I'd just done the 2012 Olympic Games, drop the mic on that -- and the Queen looks at me and she says, 'So, you seem very busy.' And I was like, Oh my God, I was not expecting the Queen of England to say that I was busy. And I said, 'Well, not quite as busy as you, ma'am.'"

Hard to believe, if you saw McCartney in the final moments before her most recent runway show. The venue couldn't have been more glamorous: the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. For fashion, this event is the Super Bowl and World Series combined.

Still, amidst the chaos, McCartney wanted her team to remember: All you need is love.

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Designer Stella McCartney with correspondent Alina Cho.

CBS News

"My adrenaline's going," Cho said. "I can't imagine, you seem pretty Zen!"

"You know, I'm fine," said McCartney. She says at her firm, "we try not to take ourselves too seriously. But you know what, having said that, it's pretty stressful and pretty crazy. So don't believe anything I just said!"

International fashion critics were shoulder-to-shoulder with the world's most important retailers, and McCartney's celebrity friends, including actress Salma Hayek Pinault and singer Kylie Minogue, and Stella's husband, Alasdhair Willis, who's also in fashion.

Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld were in the crowd, too, though the comedian wasn't there for the clothes. "I like the walking, yeah," he said.

A little more than just walking, of course -- the runway represents months and months of work for a show that lasted minutes.

"I think you always think it could be better," McCartney said of the result. "It's never finished."

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Models present creations by Stella McCartney during the women's 2018 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show in Paris, October 2, 2017.

Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

It's a work ethic passed down from her parents.

Stella's mom, Linda Eastman, was an American photographer and musician. She and Paul, both vegetarian, raised their family in London and on an organic farm in the English countryside.

She was also raised on the road, where her parents toured, post-Beatles, in the band Wings.

"There were stage outfits in the wardrobe, you know, my mum's thigh-high glittery boots," McCartney recalled. "And then the other side was sort of Fair Isle knitwear from Scotland or corduroy trousers or jeans from horse riding."

McCartney was also inspired by her father's classic, tailored look -- and the unconventional life her parents led.

Cho asked, "At what point did you realize, 'My parents are famous'?"

"I think I always knew it. But it was just the norm, you know? It was this kind of mad upbringing where one minute you're hanging out with Michael Jackson, and the next minute you're back on a horse in a field or, you know, getting on a school bus."

As a student at school, McCartney began to draw. "I was sketching always. I was 12 when I made my first jacket. And then I went to Paris when I was 15. I went and interned for Saint Laurent and Lacroix."

"What do you remember about those days?" Cho asked.

"I remember being really out of my comfort zone. You know, it was the first time I'd been away from home. I was in Paris, and I was young."

And ambitious. She studied design at one of the world's most prestigious fashion schools. But she didn't let on that her father was a Beatle.

When she entered Central Saint Martins, she did not enroll as Stella McCartney. "No, I grew up always using a different name, really, going into school. I was always Stella Martin!" she laughed. "I was always aware that I wanted to try and do things on my own merit, you know? 'Cause otherwise you're quite insecure. You spend your whole career trying to think, 'Did I get this because of that, or did that happen because of this?' And I think you get to a certain stage where you just want to walk in the door with a clean slate and with no kind of baggage or heritage, to a certain extent."

It wasn't always easy, especially at first. In 1997, at age 25, Stella was named creative director of the French fashion house Chloé. The industry was skeptical, to say the least. Some, like designer Karl Lagerfeld (who held the same title at Chloé years before) aired his doubts in public.

"You know what he said, obviously," said Cho.

"You're going to tell me …."

""I think they should have taken a famous name, and they did -- in music, but not in fashion.'"

"I remember when he said that. Look, I was just, like, 'This is amazing, Karl Lagerfeld is even uttering my name!' But I was very naïve. And I think that that naïveté served me really well. Because I just designed, and I just thought, 'Nobody's gonna know. Nobody'll watch this.' And let me just do what I would instinctively do."

It worked. Under McCartney's direction, sales at Chloé quadrupled, and in 2001 she launched her own label. Her name is now on everything from perfume to sunglasses to platform shoes.

McCartney's brand uses no animal products (for example, her famous Falabella handbag looks like leather, but is actually a coated canvas). Until recently, that was unheard of in the fashion industry. "I do look at my upbringing; I think it enabled me to not have to compromise," she said.

McCartney says fashion is one of the least environmentally-friendly industries in the world -- and she wants to change that: "There's a cheap price put on an animal's life in the fashion industry. So I'm here to suggest that maybe it is broke, and it needs fixing."

Cho asked, "Wouldn't it be much easier to use leather or fur?"

"Yes, it would; it would be much easier," McCartney replied. "And we'd probably be a much bigger company if we did so. But you know what? Life's too short. And I love the challenge."

She's worked closely with tech companies to develop new fabrics, like man-made silk, and materials made from ocean waste. "For me," she said, "that is the future of everything."

It's fashion, with a conscience. And it all comes back to how she was raised. Stella's mom was able to see her daughter's first show at Chloé, and then died from breast cancer not long after, in 1998.

When asked what she thinks her mother would say about her success now, McCartney replied, "You know, I think she'd just want me to be happy and healthy. But I think at the end of the day, because she's a mummy and I'm her baby, I think she'd just wanna make sure that I was doing okay."

"And your dad seems to think it's really pretty great, doesn't he?"

"Yes, I think he's very proud. And I think ultimately as a child, you only ever really want to make your parents proud, right? And now I just want to make my kids proud, and my husband, and the people that I encounter."

      
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