What happens when HRH the Prince of Wales, Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, Italian fashion design students and British artisans all team up for a fashion collaboration? Despite the number of cooks in that proverbial kitchen, the result is a smart, desirable and versatile (if safe) assortment of luxury fall wardrobe staples for men and women. Think: a perfect wool-blend trench, an understated jumpsuit and a silk midi dress worthy of a modern princess.
But there's more than meets the eye here, with each piece telling a story of data, collaboration and traditional production.
It all started with a meeting of the minds, between Prince Charles and Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group. The goal was to find a way to celebrate and merge British and Italian design and craftsmanship. (While Net-a-Porter was founded in the UK, it was acquired by Italy-based Yoox in 2015.) Both parties evidently have a passion for sustainability, as well. Together, they came up with The Modern Artisan project, which would give a group of students and artisans-in-training the opportunity to create and bring to market a luxury clothing collection using traditional production practices and natural materials, as well as data insights from the luxury e-commerce giant — all with an eye towards sustainability.
While the student designers all hail from Politecnico di Milano in Italy, British artisans crafted these pieces at Dumfries House, the headquarters of The Prince's Foundation in Ayrshire, Scotland. There were some delays due the Covid-19 pandemic, but, fittingly, the designers and artisans involved in the project were collaborating across great distances already, representing an increasingly common way of working in an era of social distancing and travel bans.
"The Modern Artisan project is a fantastic example of how technology makes it possible for us to work collaboratively across borders even during a time of global disruption," Marchetti tells Fashionista, over email. "Even before the pandemic, the Italian and British students were collaborating together via Whatsapp and video calls after their initial exchange visits to Milan and Dumfries House."
The resulting collection launches Thursday across all four of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group's sites: Net-a-Porter, Yoox, Mr. Porter and The Outnet. Profits will be donated to The Prince's Foundation and be used to develop and deliver training programs that will help preserve traditional textile skills.
In some ways, the collection feels like a case study for a more modern, less wasteful approach to creating collections — something many in the industry are thinking about and calling for these days. The idea with this particular project is that using data to predict the styles, colors, sizes, quantities, etc. customers will gravitate towards will lead to greater sell-through (and thus less excess inventory), as well as products that customers will want to keep in their closets long-term. This is often how retailers create their own in-house lines these days — Yoox included.
"We gave the students exclusive access to five years' worth of data on long-term customer preferences from across the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group and training on how to use AI tools to navigate our catalogues and gather product inspiration," Marchetti explains. "We wanted them to understand the product aspects and long-term trends that have had the greatest impact with customers, so that they could keep customer preferences and sustainability at the heart of their design process and ensure they created pieces that will be treasured by our customers for many years to come and even passed to the next generation." (The students also presented their ideas to buyers from across Yoox Net-a-Porter, whom they were able to consult throughout the process.)
As a result, designer Francesca Galloni included a tie belt in her trench coat design because Yoox Net-a-Porter's customers have shown a longterm preference for coats with tie belts; such data was the reason Andrea De Matteis gave her cashmere sweater a turtleneck, and why Andrea Parolini made his blazer double-breasted. In addition to design choices, they also used data to determine the quantities of each size to produce.
Marchetti says he wanted the balance "between tech and human creativity" to be a driving principle of the project. But beyond the project, he feels that this balance will in many ways drive the future of fashion.
As the CEO of a company that sits at — maybe even defines — that intersection of tech and fashion, this stance isn't too surprising. "The application of technology has infinite potential to open positive change in the fashion industry, and I wanted our young artisans to feel and understand this potential, particularly when it comes to sustainability," he notes. "Our society's future will be increasingly defined by artificial intelligence and other technological forces. We have to make conscious choices to find the perfect equilibrium."
Is this that perfect equilibrium? Browse the women's offering from the Modern Artisan project in the gallery below.
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