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D la Repubblica

The Modern Artisan Project

by Gloria Riva, February 1, 2020


Photography by Mike Wilkinson

Gillian operates the pedal of the sewing machine. She is very focused, with her hands firm on the bench that combine a silk drape and a soft cashmere. "I learned the basics of sewing in college, but haute couture is another matter entirely." Gillian Martin is 25 years old, with blue eyes, raven hair and very white skin: she comes from a small village in the north of Scotland and studied fashion in Glasgow. After the diploma, a stroke of luck: Prince Charles was looking for six young craftsmen interested in spending four months of apprenticeships at the Textile Center of Dumfries House, which is located in one of the most remote areas of Scotland, for a luxury tailoring project. "I went through the selection and here I am. We are learning to sew by machine, refining the cutting technique. Production will come alive between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the entire collection must be ready for June. I'm not afraid of all this work, for me it's a dream come true: my first collection of clothes ".

Andrea De Matteis, a student of fashion design at the Milan Politecnico, spent the summer at the Bovisa laboratory (another location in the Milanese university) to give life to the Gillian’s collection prototypes. The designs were created following the analysis of big data elaborated by the fashion giant Yoox Net-A-Porter, which sells clothes online in 18 countries, keeps track of customers' preferences and tastes, processes information and uses it to create clothing.

Gillian and Andrea, one in Scotland and the other in Lombardy, work on the same collection made in Europe. The project is called The Modern Artisan and is the result of the encounter between the creative genius of Federico Marchetti, founder of Yoox, and Prince Charles' love for Scotland. A few months ago "we met at our tech hub in London. The Prince of Wales was fascinated by the dynamism of the company. He invited me to Dumfries House to discover the incredible work of the Prince Foundation to promote education and sustainable fashion."

Dumfries House, dating back to the 18th century, was purchased by the heir to the throne in 2007, along with two thousand acres of land. Charles brought the palace back to the splendor of its time, also recovering its original furnishings, with the aim of supporting an economically depressed area. After the closure of the mines in the mid-1980s there was no real industrial conversion, so the Prince decided to use Dumfries to create jobs for the local community. The villa has become the headquarters of The Prince’s Foundation, born a year ago to teach crafts to young people. It offers courses of all kinds, from the construction of stone walls to thatched roofs, and more gardening, woodworking, agriculture, wellness and tailoring. "While I was there, the Prince asked me for an idea to revive the local manufacture of luxury tailoring, whose ancient craft skills are dying out. I thought of a project that would combine the Italian skills in design and the craft skills of the Scotland: I wanted to focus on sustainability, the enhancement of the workforce of the two countries, the quality of natural garments inspired by the commitment of Prince Charles, who has been a careful supporter of the environment for over forty years ". For the first time, local textile artisans did not just baste kilts and knit tartan scarves, that is, the typical souvenirs for tourists, but they added the technical skills of the Milan designers and above all the technology of Yoox Net-A-Porter, which through an information analysis system identifies the clothes, colors and models most loved by customers.

So last year the Modern Artisan project got underway. "Products designed in Italy, handmade in England. Six students from the Politecnico di Milano, a university of excellence in the field of fashion design, and a group of English students with high tailoring skills are involved. This collaboration, which celebrates the union between craftsmanship and design, is guided by big data and under the banner of high-level sustainable production. The goal is to create a model of modern craftsmanship, which adds to the experience of tradition the analysis of digital data and artificial intelligence, with a fundamental role in The Modern Artisan project, a mix of technology and fashion".

Alice D'Andrea, Andrea de Matteis, Andrea Parolini, Francesca Galloni, Giulia Albini and Lorenzo Lanari are the six designers of the Politecnico who have analyzed the precious data provided by Yoox Net-A-Porter's research office in order to decipher the tastes and the wishes of those who buy through the group's e-commerce sites. They then created the collection, also inspired by the designs of Leonardo da Vinci, and then shared it with the six Scottish craftsmen: Nicole Christie, Graeme Bone, Tracey Whalen, Brianna Mills, Gillian Martin, Jilian Halfpenny. "The collaboration was fundamental, it allowed us to understand how to adapt the design according to the manufacturing" explains Andrea. The contents of the capsule collection of winter clothes by The Modern Artisan, on sale from June, will consist of enveloping deluxe coats, suits, blazers, all marked by an elegant Milanese minimalism that will marry fabrics made in Britain, including wool, tweed, cashmere , with a focus on sustainable and ethical production, such as organic silk from untreated silkworms and horn buttons "recovered" from sacred cows of India (once naturally deceased).

It will go on sale in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the group founded by Marchetti, and will be available on the Group's four platforms (Net-a-Porter, Mr porter, Yoox and The Outnet). All profits from the sale will be donated to The Prince’s Foundation, and invested in similar projects. The collection will be exhibited in Venice at the Homo Faber exhibition, organized by the Michelangelo Foundation and dedicated to European craftsmanship. "Between me and Prince Charles there is a mutual esteem that will allow us to collaborate also in the future. We both like projects in the long term. And we both firmly believe in the training of young talents. With the project we have given the opportunity to new generations of expressing themselves on a high-level luxury collection, teaching the value of sustainable production. We will continue on this path, because we have a duty to encourage young people to undertake rewarding careers and think big. I noticed a real enthusiasm from the students, above all because the theme of sustainability was at the center, which confirms that this generation's worldview will encourage positive change.”​

Originally published in D La Repubblica

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