"I hate to throw something away"

by Heike Blümner, November 17, 2020


Photography by Aaron Christian

The online fashion retailer Yoox-Net-a-porter has designed a fashion project that makes elements of artificial intelligence its own. They cooperate with Prince Charles for the sustainable collection.

He was as valuable as he is today: “I am one of those people who hate to throw something away. That's why I prefer to have it repaired or mended ... I can't stand rubbish and that includes leftover food, "said Prince Charles in a recent interview. And that wasn't to be read in the health food magazine “Schrot & Korn”, but in the British “Vogue” . There two instances manifest that sustainability will remain the overriding trend for the years to come, and the prince is finally where he belongs: in the front row.

The "eternal heir to the throne", long ridiculed as a flower lover with conservative architectural preferences, is currently turning out to be a consistent life-work designer: 50 years ago he warned in a speech about the destruction of the environment by plastic waste. It was therefore called “potty” - elegant for “plemplem” - back then. Today the fight against plastic is mainstream.
Global companies such as Ikea are gradually banning single-use plastic items from their shelves, countries such as France and Kenya are banning plastic bags - and the 71-year-old is a recognized ambassador and expert on environmental and educational issues: in Dumfries House, in southwest Scotland, he has a A learning and training center for children and adolescents launched; it is also the patron of a cooperation between Dumfries House and the German Fashion Council, which promotes the exchange of young designers from both countries. Last year he personally welcomed the participants to the country estate, this year the meeting will take place digitally on November 19th, the heir to the throne has sent a video of welcome, if he says “sustainability” in German, then the request goes straight to the heart.
He jets from appointment to appointment in the e-Jaguar and discusses the world situation with Greta Thunberg in Davos. Now he is also the patron of the fashion project The Modern Artisan, which was created in cooperation with the online fashion retailer Yoox-Net-a-porter (YNAP).
The first result of this pilot project, of which the group emphasizes that it is a "long-term partnership" between the senders, is a capsule collection. It was designed by six fashion and knitwear design students from Politecnico, the prestigious Milan university. The clothes are made by hand in Great Britain, in Dumfries House under the mentorship of the Prince - by four student career changers who were previously steel workers or dancers, among other things. The women's and men's collections each comprise a dozen pieces in a total edition of 500 pieces and are offered on YNAP's online platforms. All proceeds will go to Charles' foundation, The Prince's Foundation.
The materials used, including merino wool, silk and cashmere, come from traditional British and Italian manufacturers such as Johnstons of Elgin or Centro Seta, which produce certified ecological silk. The looks are classic: caramel-colored culottes, a dark blue silk pants suit or a trench coat-like, double-breasted wool coat for women. A gray cashmere bomber jacket, a slightly wider cut, dark blue woolen trousers or a tomato-red cardigan for men.
No frivolity whatsoever, only the Da Vinci knot, which is incorporated in different ways, is a signature and creative reminiscence on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of the artist and scientist. The prices for the lavish edition are between 425 euros for a cashmere sweater and 1395 euros for the women's coat.
They are noble pieces that - true to the prince's motto - tailors for alterations and touch-ups will still enjoy decades of use. A form of power dressing in which the quality of the fabrics exudes subtle authority. With its upper-class elegance, the women's collection is also reminiscent of Princess Diana , whose style was also recently celebrated in British Vogue in a fashion series with actress Emma Corrin, who portrays young Diana in the Netflix epic “The Crown”.
A “pussy bow” blouse with a silk shawl collar is also part of the collection. "The female version of the tie", as the "New York Times" wrote on the occasion of the victory speech of the future Vice President Kamala Harris, who wore such a model. Margret Thatcher loved these blouses too, and Melania Trump wore them in her own tense, sphinx-like way immediately after her husband came out as a genital grabber. Historically, the blouse is one for everyone - from the prime minister to the secretary.
Behind the appearance of the "Pussy Bow" blouse in the Modern Artisan collection is calculation, in the truest sense of the word. The evaluation of order numbers. Because for the word "modern" in the project title is the Yoox founder and CEO Federico Marchettiresponsible. “We have the technology to underpin projects like this.” He founded Yoox in Bologna 20 years ago. A business idea that is also seen as a bit "potty" should help solve a problem. Back then, nobody really took seriously what the industry was going to roll over in the following years: Marchetti sold the leftover stocks and seasonal leftovers from boutiques and designer brands. The 51-year-old built up an online empire on this basis and in 2015 also added the online luxury shop Net-a-porter with the other offshoots The Outnet and Mr. Porter to their portfolio.
Today the conglomerate belongs to the Richemont Group and has 4.3 million active customers in 180 countries. The group works partly like a closed loop between the latest offers of the season and what is left of them at the end. Over the decades, the distress of abundance initially turned into a lucrative business, and finally a mission: "Sustainability, promoting young talent and cross-border cooperation" are the issues that are at the forefront for him, according to Marchetti. The group's report documents the corresponding efforts, not only in terms of reducing the CO 2 footprint or environmentally friendly packaging, but also issues such as equality, Diversity and training. In London they have a tech hub with 700 technicians and data researchers.
This is where the backbone of the collection comes from. The task of the young designers was to anticipate a style that would last as long as possible, by querying data. Among other things, the bestsellers from the various online shops were presented to them: “They should then work out long-term trends in their designs from images from the last five years,” says Marchetti. With the help of artificial intelligence , optimal sizes were also calculated in order to avoid excess material. So at the beginning of the collection there was not an ingenious inspiration or a creative border crossing, but the search for the greatest possible consensus. Whether a coat with or without a belt, a single-breasted or double-breasted blazer or a sweater with or without a turtleneck was ultimately a data-related decision.
For a company like YNAP, craftsmanship is particularly effective in the long term if it pleases as many as possible. The creative achievement lies in making something timeless and desirable, but not too fancy. A paradigm shift in the industry, which is heavily focused on individuality, according to Marchetti. "We want to initiate a new job profile - that of the modern artisan," said the CEO. His company is a customer-oriented e-commerce company and they want to give young people tools so that they can not only design beautiful things, but also sell them successfully.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles is proud of the results of his protégés and raves about them in the “Vogue” interview. And he also likes working with Marchetti, which he describes as "very enjoybale". He, in turn, says that the “human connection” between Royal and Entrepreneur began with another thing in common: “We love shoes that last forever.” You are not alone with this footwear philosophy: A survey just published by the McKinsey management consultancy shows that that the vast majority of respondents want to buy more high-quality clothing and accessories that last longer, can be repaired in the event of damage and should not be thrown away.
“From an economic point of view, there are great opportunities for people who set up small businesses that specialize in repairs, maintenance and recycling,” suggests the prince appropriately. If a start-up idea could be derived from this, episode two of the project is as good as in the - well-kept - pocket.

Originally published in Welt.de