LONDON – There was no severance of ties at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN climate summit to be held there until November 18.
For the official group photo at Monday’s opening ceremony, political leaders and representatives from 190 countries posed in their best formal suits to discuss climate change adaptation, climate finance, decarbonization , agriculture and biodiversity over the next week.
The somber image is miles away from the more relaxed scene of the 48th G7 Summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi; the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; German Chancellor Olaf Scholz; US President Joe Biden; Then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stood on a piece of wooden board in crisp white shirts with open collars and no ties in sight.
This case was a short-lived breath of fresh air from the usual hustle and bustle of political uniforms.
At Cop27 it was back to business and formality as the majority of leaders opted for the classic, safe suit in black, navy blue and grey.
The stars of the summit were leaders from the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent wearing traditional clothing from their home countries.
the Crown Prince and Deputy Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah; Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir and Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa all donned their gold-embellished bisht (a coat usually made of camel hair and goat’s wool) worn with a keffiyeh and agal, the traditional headscarf with the black cord accessory to hold it in place.
World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wore a navy wax top and skirt with matching gele, a traditional tie.
“Overall it feels stiff, detached and traditional, with the only strength of personality or presence coming from the leaders wearing more elaborate clothes,” said Peter Bevan, a London-based menswear designer.
“It seems the western world is overwhelmed, unlike those who are clearly proud of their culture.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wore a powder pink double breasted blazer with a pink T-shirt and a small pearl necklace. Her uniform of fashionable blazers with black trousers has been standard since the early 2000s, when she was in the cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has backtracked on his decision to attend the summit, arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh airport wearing a white shirt with rolled up sleeves, paired with navy blue trousers and brown Oxford shoes.
Sunak, dressier than his predecessor, then donned a black suit with a printed turquoise tie for the official photo. He has been a big proponent of British tailoring, avoiding Savile Row and opting for a low-key young tailor like Henry Herbert, who makes much of his suits.
A few days earlier, Sunak mingled with Stella McCartney at a reception hosted by King Charles at Buckingham Palace for Cop27.
“I think it’s not the end of dating and they’re not dying. I hear customers and people saying they’re buying more ties now because they’ve always been a really nice thing that doesn’t cost too much and that you can collect and spice up your wardrobe with,” said Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, creative director of Edward Sexton.
The intention to button up at Cop27 is a sartorial message from world leaders that they are aware of current issues that affect everyone, such as the cost of living crisis.
“We are currently in a state of crisis – the recovery from the pandemic, rapidly rising energy and gas prices that are forcing some European countries to revert to coal-fired power generation, and some are even facing food shortages, so leaders are maybe trying to send a strong message that they’re serious about addressing the important issues at hand,” Bevan said.
Even though fashion does not always take center stage at these summits, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment will present the Green Fashion program at the conference.
The program was set up in 2018 by three young indigenous people to address and raise awareness of ethical fashion practices in Egypt.
If political leaders leave with one thing on November 18, it should be the recognition that fashion is as much a part of the climate change conversation as gas and oil.