"There's a point of view from many people in the fashion industry that having real leather or fur pieces adds a kind of elevated conception," she said. "Everyone is always trying to look like their outfit costs more or have more worth or more value to it, especially during economic hardships, people want to make sure they're putting money into something that will last."
Hilgart understands that perspective, which is why it has taken her this long to come up with looks that she hopes will make the fashion world and consumers take notice, she said. Creating garments of high-tech materials to convey the indulgent look of high fashion took months of research, especially for someone with no formal training in fashion, she said.
With coats and skirts starting at $200, Vaute Couture's price tags are also typical New York Fashion Week, at least on the low end of the scale. Hilgart said the prices reflect the quality of materials and the cost of paying workers a living wage to produce most of the garments in Brooklyn, where she lives. (The line's knits come from Maine.)
"I knew I had to design something that would be innovational for the entire industry. Not using animal fibers was an opportunity to look past what was just good enough to make something truly superior," she said.
But even attendees of Wednesday's show who were receptive to the concept acknowledged that it's an uphill battle to change an industry or consumer behavior.
Simply making animal-free clothing available is a big step in the right direction, especially if it's hip and stylish, said Dakota Kim, a freelance fashion writer who attended the show so she could write about it on her blog, Fashtronaut.
"I think that (animal-free clothes) really came to the forefront with Stella McCartney and ever since then it's been a big deal. It's more mainstream and the clothes are just so young," Kim said.
Fur coats and leather pants are easy enough to cut out of your wardrobe, she said. But everything else? "It's hard to cut all that out."