Nestled amid 2,000 acres of Scottish countryside sits Dumfries House, an 18th century estate complete with a walled garden straight out of an Austen heroine’s dreams. It’s been home to generations of earls, but lately it’s hosted a very different set of tenants: students from Italy’s architecture, design, and engineering school Politecnico di Milano.
They’ve come together with British graduate artisans to create the Modern Artisan Project, a fashion collaboration between Prince Charles’ educational charity The Prince’s Foundation and Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP). While it might seem like an unlikely pairing, Yoox founder and YNAP Chairman and CEO Federico Marchetti says he and the prince bonded over a shared interest in conservation. Prince Charles “started talking about the effects of plastic in 1969, the year I was born!” Marchetti marvels. “He also has an incredible passion for the world of fashion. It has been inspiring to see these two interests come together, and to watch the students engage with him and present their work in progress.”
The project participants schooled one another on traditional Italian and British tailoring techniques, with a modern emphasis on eco-friendly production. “We in the fashion industry know how much it needs to change, and COVID has heightened that for most people,” says Jacqueline Farrell, education director for The Prince’s Foundation at Dumfries House. The thinking was, “If you make heritage pieces, people won’t throw them away.”
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Out now, the collection, as Italian student Francesca Galloni puts it, is sustainable on all levels: “environmentally, socially, and economically.” The designs were informed by five years’ worth of customer data—a tactic to reduce waste by ensuring that each item is something the customer actually wants to buy. The minds behind the project also want to sustain the tradition of craftsmanship in both countries. “Once our artisans have these skills, they have them for life,” Farrell says. She points to the aging workforce in the UK and the decline in craftsmanship training for young people all over the world. For UK artisan Nicole Christie, “it’s about educating our generation, [so] we can then teach the next generation about sustainability.”
And no one has been more supportive than Prince Charles. “Throughout the process, HRH The Prince of Wales and I have shared communications about the project,” Marchetti says. “He has been very curious about the final result of this ‘new form of fashion.’ When we announced the project, many articles said that [he] had ‘gone into fashion’—and he truly has!”
This article appears in the December 2020 issue of ELLE.
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