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"I think it's, for us, a real triumph of trying to get to grips with what it to be a rock 'n' roll band playing in a stadium in the turn of the millennium." — Edge, on PopMart

Stream of Conscience (Part 1)

Vogue
Stately, strong-voiced Paul Hewson, a.k.a. Bono, descended from the stairhead toward the beginning of an Irish day -- bearing not his sunglasses, amazingly, but his thick, strong-gripped hand, extended in gracious welcome. With Ali Hewson, his wife, working at her desk, with his daughter about to sit down to piano lessons, in a house that feels vast and yet warm only partly because of the fireplace that is crackling, he intones, in a somewhat gravelly but still immediately recognizable rock-star voice, "Come and have a look."

At which point, grabbing coat, he walks, semi-solemnically, down his stairs, out onto the terrace of the Hewson's little guest house, a terrace that sits high over the Irish Sea, that looks east toward Europe and, to be metaphoric about it, the world, which is what Bono, as is well known, is always looking at. He strolls relaxedly through his little guest house, its bathroom wall decorated with host-sanctioned graffiti, scribblings of the likes of Brian Eno, Bill Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Michael Stipe -- Stipe having mischievously signed in a corner, along, as his host gleefully notes, Bono's crack.

Out on the sea-facing terrace, Bono offers the complete ocean vista and points out the sights in the half-moon bay, including the nearby home of the Edge, a.k.a. U2's guitarist, and a mile or so away, a little Martello tower. A Martello tower, as any fan of obscure Irish literary landmarks will tell you, is a small military turret, one of dozens built along the Irish Coast from 1804 to 1815 to defend the country against a Napoleonic invasion. Since abandoned by the military, they have tended to be inhabited by Irish artists and writers and musicians -- a group including Bono himself, not to mention the writer whose writings haunt Dublin and Ireland and all things written about them for better if not worse: James Joyce. "When I owned one, I went and read all about them, 'cause I wanted to know all about them," says Bono in an excited version of his Dublin brogue. "And I went inside Joyce's tower. And I saw Joyce's guitar!"

Yes, it's true: James Joyce had hoped to be a singer, a tenor, a rock star of sorts, and today, as Bono heads back to the house, as he walks his way back up the green hill to find his wife and set off in the family car and peregrinate the hills of Ireland, Bono is hoping to be in fashion. And his wife wants to be in fashion, too, the implication of their desire being that Ali and Bono are about to take a trip to the country to thank the man whose home inspired the launch of their new fashion line, this home being a manor house on a 5,000-acre estate beautiful enough to inspire a thousand designers, a place called Luggala. "It's the artistic epicenter" is how Bono describes Luggala. Bono and Ali's new line, called Edun, is designed by Rogan Gregory, and on Edun's behalf they are about to transport a very old bottle of very find Armagnac, in thanks for the inspiration to the lord of Luggala, a man named Garech Browne.

Behind every strong, smart, quick-witted mother and wife who has, aside from raising four children, run campaigns against British nuclear-reprocessing plants and driven ambulances to Chernobyl, is a rock star. Or at least alongside her, which is where Bono is today. Bono leaves the Maserati in the suburban Dublin driveway and shrinks into the passenger seat of the toy-infiltrated station wagon. In addition to two teenage daughters, the Hewsons have two even younger sons. Ali is wearing Rogan jeans under a blue slip by Yohji Yamamoto, a simple black Prada sweater, and a black Prada coat. Bono is wearing jeans, an earthy green-and-black sweater by Lainey Keogh, the Irish designer and brothel creepers, the crepe-soled black suede boots. And then, at last, sunglasses.

"Ready, B?" Ali asks Bono. "Yes," Bono says, and the two are off on their accidentally peripatetic journal into the Wicklow Mountains. "Wicklow's the Garden of Eden, isn't it? Sorry, I mean it's the garden of Ireland," says Ali, tongue slipping on account of maybe too much fashion excitement.

But as the motorways of dear old dirty Dublin fade in the rearview mirror, as the lowlands become uplands and the great gray woolly clouds kaleidoscope the sun across the hills, a mention of Eden seems apropos: It rains, it drizzles, and the sun breaks through paradisically gold, all in the space of a few minutes.

"We get four seasons in one day," says Ali.

"It's so inspiring and so beautiful," says Bono, leaning back in his seat, completely relaxed-seeming.

Like the warrior who never gives up, or at least like a bard who won't stop singing, Bono is back. There's the new CD, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, another home run for U2, fueled by the Edge's still-searing guitar and Bono's autobiographical hymns to his late father. There are the U2 iPod commercials, which are to music what the Sarah Jessica Parker Gap ads are to fashion. And this time Bono is working the entirely new (to him) field of fashion to prove a point about the possibilities of leveling the lopsided trading situation of the world. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (2003) by helping cancel Third World debt, and he's criticized the Bush administration for its lack of alacrity with regard to African aid. He's used his rock 'n' roll pulpit to grab evangelical Americans by the lapels of their Sunday best and force them to see what's going on. Now he's combining his homeworked savvy about the financial situation of the developing world with his supreme rock star-status to sell a clothing line made in factories in Africa and Peru -- a practice of what he's been preaching. Today he's driving into the hills, but in a recent meeting in New York with a fashion executive he was overhead to say, "Politics isn't sexy. Fashion is sexy."

And it's a mom-and-pop fashion label. Ali Hewson is the Penelope to his Ulysses, the less-seen strategist who, as opposed to "International Rock Star," signs "Mother" on her passport on purpose. Ali Hewson may not be a household name in America, and she may, impressively, mostly shy away from the limelight everywhere, but she is known in Ireland, at least, as an activist in her own right, if not the linchpin in the Bono operation. She has worked to shut down an English nuclear-reprocessing center that contaminates the Irish Sea. A film that she narrated, Chernobyl Heart, about Chernobyl's lingering human devastation, won an Oscar last year. ("Bono woke me up and said, 'You've won an Oscar,'" she recalls, "and then later I said, 'Wait a minute, does this mean I won an Oscar before you?'") Once the name Ali Hewson surfaced in the papers as a candidate for the Irish presidency, and the name was taken very seriously. In the case of Edun, she's the one talking to the business people every day, calling Bono in when necessary. "Ali's very good with the dog whistle," says Bono.

Naturally, Edun is no Britney Spears-wear. It's the opposite of the typical celebrity clothing line, in fact -- a celebration of craftsmanship and organic farming and absolute uncelebrity-ness. It is a company that creates clothes based on a simple but globally unpracticed concept: fair trade. An apparel factory in Tunisia, another in Peru, and a plan that uses capitalism but flips capitalism on its head -- a plan that starts with what the factory makes and then takes that to the world, rather than planning to find the cheapest factory in the world and move on when another factory charges less. "People are saying, 'Can you help us get globalized?'" says Ali. "They want to be globalized."

"They are against the abuses of it," says Bono, "and they are suffering the abuses of it. But trade is good."

Meanwhile, Rogan is not the typical designer. Rogan Gregory is a creator of street-smart fashions that are still somehow natural clothes -- high-end and high-concept pieces that thrive in the streets of the Lower East Side but seem rooted in something by a forest-based indie rock band. As it happened, Rogan and his team, before Ali and Bono ever happened into their lives, were already looking for a new way to do business and had just produced a certified organic cotton label called Loomstate. "I look at what people do best," says Rogan, sitting in his Tribeca studio one recent winter morning, "and work from there."

"It's about redesigning the design process," says Scott Hahn, Rogan's business partner.

"The conscious-commerce model, that's the way we do things," Rogan continues. "People can like it or not. That's our mission, to find sustainable models of doing things -- that just goes without saying."

The genius part of the Hewson-Rogan partnership is all about serendipity, because when Ali was out looking for a designer who might be able to help her and her husband design a fashion label, they found a designer who was already thinking along their lines. "There was definitely an alignment," Rogan says.

Cut to the Rogan showroom, two years ago. See Ali enter, on a tip from U2's stylist, Sharon Blankson, who is with her that morning. See Ali's eyes light up in the Tribeca showroom, which is as much a gallery as a showroom, with found-object sculpture by Rogan, things that look like Andy Goldsworthy let loose in an abandoned Home Depot. Imagine the other side of the room, where Rogan and Scott Hahn are a little freaked out, since Ali was her usual unannounced and unrecognizable (in the United States, anyway) self. Rogan is thinking, Who is this person?

The last thing that happens in this silent, Tribeca-situated style-related pantomime is that Ali freaks out -- internally, of course -- when she discovers that they have a line that's all organic cotton. "I thought, Oh, my God!" she remembers. "Alarm bells were ringing, and I though, Maybe we're too late. Maybe the horse has left this stable." She left the shop, troubled.

"So we rang them up the next day," Ali continues, "and Sharon explained to them what it was about. And they were very open."

Ali brought Bono the second time. He loved the operation, loved the clothes, and expresses that love in a way that means the fashion writers and fashion publicists of the world now have to worry about their jobs: "It completely made a lot of sense to me because I love middle America. I love the West. I love the Midwest. I love to travel. I love travel, concrete, the road -- you know, Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles. So I'm in a designers' showroom where I feel for the first time a new American aesthetic that's a development from casual and workwear. You can see the aesthetic, and it's clear. It's travel. It's the real America. And you can see it's got the aesthetic, but it's looking for a philosophy. And they're starting to wonder. Can they make organic jeans? They want to do that. They're already there. So when we walk in the room, we say that's what we'd like to do -- you know, it was the easiest conversation of our life."

All that was left was for Ali and Bono and Rogan and his team to meet in Ireland a few months later, which they did at the Clarence Hotel, the old Dublin inn that was once a dowdy place for priests and punks, until Bono and the Edge bought it and made it into the coolest place for priests and punks in all Dublin, a lap of luxury on the Liffey. Ali was happy with the chemistry. "There were similar spirits, and our desires -- well, I mean, we're worlds apart in a lot of ways. We're two people coming from Ireland, and two guys, two New York designers -- but there is a lot of common ground."

"Common values," says Bono.

Over the course of a few days, they hammered out a business deal and then were left only with the not-so-small detail: Rogan had to come up with some clothes.

"And I was like, OK, well, which direction are we going with the designs?" Rogan remembers.

So they took him for a drive into the hills, the same drive they are on today in their family car -- the drive out of Dublin and up, up into the Wicklow Mountains, the drive from Dublin gray, from ticky-tacky roadside development, to euphoric green. "Nature is my religion," Rogan says, "and it helps me a lot from a design standpoint to have some landscape to latch onto."

The name Edun, by the way, is nude spelled backward. Nude being the name of the Dublin organic-food chain in which the Hewsons have a share. The name was Ali's idea, and Rogan agreed, which settled it. This is not to imply that Bono is laissez-faire about all this, despite the fact that Ali is so thoroughly involved. On the contrary, says Rogan.

"Bono's inspiring," says Rogan.

"And what he really recognizes is that the biggest scale that you can get requires the simplest idea," Hahn says.

"And he has this ability to connect with people," says Rogan. "It's kind of amazing. You can't even get down the street and he's talking to everyone and asking them questions. I know how this sounds, but that's what he does. He really makes you feel good about yourself."

Team Edun is already receiving good orders and good vibes. "I like the idea that the clothes are being developed for the greater good," says Julie Hilhart, fashion director of Barneys. "And I also like the clothes. They're very stylish. They're things you want to wear." "They're not in-your-face" is how Michael Fink, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, describes Edun. "They're instant best friends. They look great, feel great, and the cause is great."

Rogan has never appealed to a very wide audience, and Bono wants to change all that, for his and his wife's sake, for the sake of the factories, for the sake of Rogan.

"We want to give Rogan a hit single," Bono keeps saying. Another thing Bono is saying lately is this -- "Shopping is politics."

So off into the hills, into the Wicklow Mountains, where on this Irish winter afternoon, Mrs. and Mr. Bono have just entered Roundstone, the highest village in Ireland, a geography of rolling green that is as subtly beautiful as it is iconic, a landscape that naturally blew Rogan, who had never been to Ireland, completely away. "I couldn't believe it," he recalled shortly after returning. Ali and Bono sit for lunch in the Roundstone Inn, the bartender waving them in semi-nonchalantly, a patron choking discreetly on his Guinness. Ali takes the soup, Bono the stew. The fan who screws up the courage to approach is greeted cordially by the husband and wife -- they act like the world's most gracious celebrities, if not Ireland's, and they are certainly among Erin's most fashionable.

"Ali's seen probably as one of Ireland's most stylish women," says Ali's friend Mariand Whisker, a former L.A.-based designer who recently returned to Ireland to create phantasmagorical Indian-influenced fashions in the Irish capital city near the Artic, "but in a very unique way, in that she knows what she wants to wear -- it's her own style. It's not a designer kind of style. That's why I love working with her. Nobody says, 'Oh, she's wearing a Mariad Whisker.' I mean, my collections don't bear any resemblance to anything that's going on in fashion."

"They know exactly what they want, and they are quite focused in their desire. They aren't excessive or OTT" -- that's over-the-top, if you don't speak fashion. "They are subtle," says Lainey Keough, whose little shop on Dawson Street in Dublin is one of the epicenters of Irish fashion -- which, like Rogan, is earthy, somehow steeped in nature.



[Continued in Part 2]