The words ‘artisanal’ and ‘digital’ are not natural bedfellows.
But a recent capsule collection and collaboration between Yoox Net-A-Porter Group and The Prince Foundation bridges the two, along with the rich heritage of British and Italian craftsmanship. The Modern Artisan Project is a programme that brings data insights to the fore alongside sustainable production. The idea was first devised by Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, and Prince Charles himself.
The partnership was unexpected for the British artisans. The collaboration with the online fashion retailer was not mentioned in the call for applications by The Prince Foundation. “When I found out, I couldn’t quite believe it and knew it was going to be a very special project. To have garments I have personally manufactured by hand and showcased to millions of customers on their websites at this early stage in my career was a dream come true,” says Tracey Whalen, one of the UK artisans.
The project united 10 students across the borders. The six Italian students from Politecnico di Milano’s Fashion in Process (FiP) research laboratory led the design of the collection. With timelessness as the key to luxury design, they were given five year’s worth of access to Yoox Net-a-Porter data, which informed customer preferences and behaviour. The artisans also learnt how to use AI visual recognition.
“Driven by the desire to create a sustainable capsule, we were able to base the architecture of the collection on customers’ tastes, offering them what they already wanted, but revisited, of better quality. This has to be a key element in every marketing aspect related to the fashion system. I find myself using it now, integrating it into the trend research I carry out to ensure I’m offering the most desirable product,” says Andrea De Matteis, an Italian artisan.
These designs were brought to life by hand and by the British artisans, who were trained in small batch production at 18th-century Dumfries House in Scotland, which is the headquarters of The Prince Foundation in Ayrshire, Scotland. They learnt advanced technical production skills such as pattern drafting, industrial sewing and quality control, and how to accurately handle wool, cashmere and silk fabrics. All of the artisans also learnt about the manufacturing knitwear at Johnstons of Elgin’s knitwear mill in Hawick, Scotland.
Across the borders, the two groups seamlessly shared their knowledge and skills. “On the one hand (we had) the British Artisans, who came with tailoring and craftsmanship skills. On the other, (we had) the Italians, who are design students specialised in product design and product development. Given this premise, the approaches are clearly different but complementary. Working with the British students has been highly formative. I learned a lot and appreciated the legacy of a Scottish craft tradition that I was not familiar with,” continues Matteis.
The collection is made up of 10 womenswear pieces and eight menswear pieces. These are available across Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter, Yoox and The Outnet. Each style is equipped with a digital ID that relays the story and materials behind the product, the artisans who designed and made it, and care and repair recommendations for long-term wear.
Sustainability is the core of the collection. “Seeing something beautiful come together from fabric that might otherwise have gone to waste was extremely satisfying and inspiring,” says Whalen. She gives an example of the ladies’ checked grey suit, which happens to be her favourite of the collection. “The suit was manufactured using end-of-roll fabric which was very challenging to work with as we had to precisely match each of the check lines to the exact millimetre,” she explains.
The collection is an homage to Leonardo da Vinci. Created during the 500th anniversary year of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, it spotlights the merging of art and science in his work. Da Vinci’s knots feature throughout the collection with drapery a common theme through the womenswear pieces. In menswear, the artist’s studies on engineering and anatomy are reflected through architectural details.
UK artisan, Graeme Bone, tells us that the men’s coat is his pick. “The visible internal construction resonates with my background in construction. The coat was a very technical garment to manufacture and it’s definitely a piece I would wear myself year after year.” Bone switched from steel construction to fashion but assets that attention to detail and precision are vital in both, a core trait that da Vinci was known for.
“The project believes in and teaches values such as quality, sustainability, craftsmanship and good design. The design purpose was not only to create or reinvent products for customers in search of novelty, uniqueness and trends, but also to recover and re-qualify theories and techniques of a cultural heritage of inestimable value. I had an extraordinary opportunity to work for and with leading companies in the fashion system and with professionals from the most diverse educational backgrounds. It was a wonderful experience that I knew would give me so much,” concludes Matteis.
All images are courtesy of Yoox Net-A-Porter.