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The story behind Prince Charles and YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group's The Modern Artisan fashion collection

By Heather Cichowski

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Prince Charles launched his sustainable fashion collection, The Modern Artisan, on Nov. 12. The highly anticipated line is the result of a partnership between the Prince of Wales and his charity, The Prince's Foundation, and YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group and its Chairman and CEO, Federico Marchetti, with artisans at Dumfries House in Scotland and Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

The 18-piece The Modern Artisan range (10 womenswear, 8 menswear) celebrates the skills and craftsmanship of British and Italian artisans and sustainable practices. It also merges modern data with traditional skills, resulting in beautifully tailored garments that buyers will cherish for years.

The eco-conscious collection dropped across YOOX NET-A-PORTER's websites, including NET-A-PORTER and Mr. Porter. And profits of The Modern Artisan range will be donated to The Prince's Foundation to enable the charity to develop and deliver training programs that will help preserve traditional textile skills.

YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group Chairman and CEO Federico Marchetti and Prince Charles greet each other for the final collection review at Dumfries House. Photo: © Mike Wilkinson

HELLO! Canada spoke with Federico about how The Modern Artisan collection came to be, how the coronavirus pandemic impacted it and what's next.

HELLO! Canada: How were the artisans chosen?Federico Marchetti: From the very beginning we knew that the artisans selected for this special training programme were truly dedicated to their craft and passionate about honing and enhancing their skills to prepare them for their future careers. After all, when The Prince's Foundation posted the advert for applications in the U.K., we purposefully didn't mention YOOX NET-A-PORTER. Many since have told us that they could never have expected all that we had in store for them!

Italian Modern Artisans outside of Dumfries House in Scotland. Photo: © Mike Wilkinson

Promising applicants who progressed through interview stage were then invited to a skills day at Dumfries House for a production challenge – they created a Harrington jacket [a lightweight, waist-length jacket] with very few instructions. That way, The Prince's Foundation team could see how they approached new challenges, their openness to learn and collaborate with others and, of course, their existing knowledge and skills, before the final group of students were selected.

In Italy, we worked closely with the esteemed design school Politecnico di Milano to identify students demonstrating high levels of potential, based on the university's recommendations.

MORE: Prince Charles releases The Modern Artisan fashion collectionEach of the 10 artisans has their own unique story, with many coming through unusual career paths, from Andrea De Matteis turning from law to fashion in Italy, to Graeme Bone, one of our British Artisans, who after finishing school spent 10 years working as a steel erector before retraining in fashion. Now, Graeme is going on to set up his own business – in fact, I'm going to be one his very first customers, having commissioned a kilt from him! To the outside world, it may seem like construction and fashion are worlds apart, but to Graeme, he sees both as very creative industries – he's just swapped steel for silk and cashmere.

This resonates with me and the founding principles of this project, which is all about bring seemingly opposite concepts together – namely artisanship, with data-driven design and technology. Overall, it was encouraging to see emerging talent from such different backgrounds with different life experiences to bring to the table, turning to fashion, a sector in which diversity of thought can only be a benefit to empower creativity.

How did the teams in Italy and England work together? Did the pandemic change the way they worked or impact the vision of the collection? The project began in Milan, with the Italian students leading the design work between Politecnico di Milano and YOOX NET-A-PORTER headquarters, and culminated in Scotland, with the British students leading the manufacturing work at Dumfries House. However, throughout the process, we made sure each student had a full view of the end-to-end process of creating a sustainable luxury collection. The artisans used Zoom and WhatsApp to collaborate, to share ideas, problem solve, demonstrate new techniques, learn from tutors and experts and celebrate successes.

British Modern Artisans working on the collection in the Dumfries House Textiles Training Centre. Photo: © Mike Wilkinson

While the design development of the collection pre-dated the pandemic, as with many projects across the industry, COVID-19 led us to decide early on to pause production of the collection over the summer. When production resumed, the students were still able to continue the project and work collaboratively via technology – even during time of global disruption.

It only supports my belief that technology should play a truly vital role within the luxury fashion industry – as it did for this project from the very beginning – allowing the students to connect from Italy and the U.K. and through the YOOX NET-A-PORTER data and AI workshops we provided for the students, as they set about designing the collection to ensure it would resonate with our four million plus customers’ long-term preferences and be worn and loved season after season and year after year.

What are some of the ways the artisans' skills are highlighted in the garments?During manufacturing, the artisans based at Dumfries House learnt advanced technical production skills such as sewing, pattern drafting and quality control, while also developing the expertise to handle wool, cashmere and silk fabrics to ensure garment finishes meet the requirements of the luxury market. It was a truly fantastic opportunity for the artisans to work with the highest quality natural materials, most of which were single-fibre, organic, local and traceable from suppliers such as Johnstons of Elgin [in Scotland] and Centro Seta [in Italy].

(L-R) British Modern Artisan trainee Jillian Halfpenny, Federico Marchetti and The Prince of Wales in September 2020. Photo: © Mike Wilkinson

While the customers who receive the finished pieces will clearly see in person the high level of skills of the British artisans who hand-crafted the collection, the talent of the Italian artisans is also clear from seeing the collection altogether online. Working closely with buyers from across YOOX NET-A-PORTER brands and The Prince's Foundation, they have created a collection that not only works beautifully on its own, but is reflective of what our customers want. It sounds simple enough, but utilizing data and AI to inform design is somewhat ground-breaking. Despite only just graduating, I really believe our artisans have created a collection in a way that could and should be a blueprint for the industry going forward.

What do you hope shoppers and people take away from the collection in terms of craftsmanship and sustainability?I see a future for the fashion industry with fewer collections that last for longer, meaning less production, less waste, more creativity and more sensitivity. I hope we can empower more mindful purchasing enhanced by technology: Buying quality products that last – pieces that can be cherished for a lifetime and beyond. To me, that is true luxury, and it is increasingly important to our customers. The Modern Artisan collection truly encapsulates this purpose, and I am sure our customers will understand this.

Federico Marchetti demonstrates the Digital ID of a finished garment to Prince Charles. Photo: © Mike Wilkinson

We are continually looking for ways to empower our customers to make conscious and sustainable choices, offering transparency around the provenance and history of garments. The Modern Artisan project brings this ethos to life, reflecting the shared values of myself and His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. In fact, each piece is equipped with a digital ID, meaning our customers can discover the full story behind the piece and the artisans that designed and made it, along with detailed care and repair advice to ensure the pieces will last forever.

What are the next steps of the project? Will more artisans be able to apply and join?It has been a delight to see the journey of The Modern Artisan project and the teams at YOOX NET-A-PORTER and The Prince's Foundation look forward to continuing this collaborative work in a long-term partnership that will create many more opportunities for the next generation of artisans across Italy and the U.K.

The final The Modern Artisan collection. Photo: © YOOX NET-A-PORTER

Our next step will see us sharing the project and collection at Homo Faber 2021, an international exhibition in Venice organized by the Michelangelo Foundation, which showcases the world's best craftsmanship and artisans.

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