When it comes to unexpected collaborations in the world of fashion, this might be the most surprising one yet.
In an audacious new idea – devised by Federico Marchetti and the Prince himself – the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group has joined forces with The Prince’s Foundation to launch The Modern Artisan, a scheme to train a new generation of designers and makers with the skills needed for the demanding world of high-end luxury.
In addition, by enlisting small regional manufacturers to take part in the project, the concept aims to help sustain luxury manufacturing in Italy and Scotland.
The culmination of a year's worth of work has resulted in a high-end capsule collection, which debuted across the whole Yoox Group on Thursday, November 12.
In the glorious setting of 18th-century Dumfries House in Scotland, which was bought by Prince Charles in 2007 to save its unique contents from auction, the unlikely mix of Italian fashion students, the next-in-line to the British throne and Federico Marchetti, chief executive and chairman of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, gathered to announce the collaboration.
With the house and its estate serving as the headquarters for The Prince’s Foundation, a charity set up by Prince Charles to offer education and training that supports local communities and traditional crafts, one of the outbuildings has been turned into a workshop to house the project.
The initial concept was helped devised by the royal himself – who is known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland – and, in essence, is breathtakingly simple.
The project unites 10 students from two countries and uses The Prince’s Foundation to train them to design and manufacture a luxury capsule collection using sustainable, traditional materials.
Then, leveraging the reach of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, which owns portals including Net-a-Porter and The Outnet, it will be sold with proceeds ploughed back into The Prince's Foundation to help the next tranche of students.
The six Italian fashion students taking part in the inaugural scheme – Giulia Albini, Alice D’Andrea, Andrea De Matteis, Francesca Galloni, Lorenzo Lanari and Andrea Parolini – were hand-picked from Italy’s prestigious Politecnico di Milano’s Fashion in Process programme and tasked with creating a capsule of 18 luxury essentials.
Given unrivalled access to five years of Yoox Group data, the students were taught how to analyse sales patterns to understand what customers actually want, using that knowledge to guide the collection.
The students noted a preference for classic tones of black, blue, grey and camel, interspersed with pops of warm russet tones and a yearning for good tailoring with a comfy silhouette. For the 10 women's pieces, this translated into wide-cut trousers, midi-length skirts and relaxed jumpsuits, mixed with feminine details such as cinched waists and pussy bow ties. For the eight-piece men's collection, the analytics resulted in the creation of cable-knit cashmere jumpers, padded bomber jackets and drawstring-waisted trousers.
“The Modern Artisan project harnesses big data and artificial intelligence to transform the ancient profession of craftsmanship into a contemporary career,” explains Marchetti.
Of the gulf between the old way of luxury slow fashion and the high-tech world of data, Marchetti maintains that fusing the two is a timeless opportunity. “I’ve long been inspired by uniting seemingly opposing worlds,” he explains. Most importantly, he stresses, the project has “equipped the next generation of artisans with the digital tools of the trade to navigate an ever-evolving landscape".
With the collection's creation phase falling close to the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, elements of the artist's work were folded into designs, from the rigours of engineering rethought as precise pleating to his mastery of drapery inspiring discreet smocking.
When the final designs were completed, the project was handed over to four British would-be artisans: Graeme Bone, Nicole Christie, Jillian Halfpenny and Tracey Whalen. Having undergone training with experts at Dumfries House in the disciplines of pattern drafting and industrial sewing, the team was also taught how to work with the high-end materials the collection demanded, enabling the four to hand-make each piece.
Following the sustainability ethos at the core of The Prince’s Foundation, wool and cashmere were produced locally at the Johnstons of Elgin mill in Hawick, Scotland, while organic silk came from Centro Seta in Italy. Using end-of-roll material and natural fabrics, the collection avoids man-made fibres entirely. Every item in the collection comes with a unique digital ID, which allows customers to access the piece's story, including who designed it, who made it, what materials were used and how to best care for it.
Highlighted as the start of a long-term collaboration between the Yoox Group and The Prince’s Foundation, which brings together the best of Italian and British craftsmanship, the debut collection will also go on show at the Michelangelo Foundation’s Homo Faber in 2021.
“The Modern Artisan project is a unique collaboration that champions sustainability and prepares trainees with the skills and confidence needed to gain employment in the fashion and textile industry, or start their own business," says Jacqueline Farrell, education director at The Prince’s Foundation.
"Overseeing our skilled tutors as they teach the trainees artisanal skills and traditional methods of production has, for me, been a dream come true."
With The Modern Artisan project timed to act as a finale for the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Yoox Group, its launch marks another milestone: the first-ever launch to happen across all four of the company's sites simultaneously. Given the combined reach of Yoox, Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet, these first-time designers could well find their debut collection is seen by an astonishing 4.3 million customers.
With a career head start like that, bright futures beckon for the 10 students involved. “I am confident that each and every one of them will use the skills they have developed throughout The Modern Artisan project to make a positive impact on the fashion and textile industry and help preserve these invaluable heritage craft skills,” Farrell says.
With one high-profile, luxury collection already under their collective belts, sanctioned and supported by the Prince of Wales, we would all benefit from learning the names of the students involved as, chances are, we will be seeing a lot more of them in the future.