AGAINST the backdrop of one of Scotland’s most important stately homes, they spent months painstakingly hand stitching luxury fabrics to create clothing fit for a prince.
Now those couture garments will be seen by more than 4.3 million people as they go on sale on a world-famous fashion website.
So it’s no wonder the students from The Modern Artisan project feel like they have been living in a fairy tale.
Six students in Scotland and six in Italy were chosen to design and craft a luxury men and womenswear collection with renowned global online fashion retailer Yoox Net-A-Porter working with the Prince of Wales’s charity The Prince’s Foundation.
The Scottish group worked at Dumfries House, in Cumnock, where Prince Charles regularly checked in on the progress of their work.
And as part of the project they flew to Milan to meet their six Italian counterparts, who were responsible for the design of the fashion collection, which goes on sale today priced from £395 to £1,295.
Jillian Halfpenny, who runs an online vintage boutique Hawkers Bizarre and will now open her own design studio In The House Of, moved from Old Drumchapel to Ayrshire when she secured a place on the project.
Initially she was living in student accommodation but then a residence was found for her on the Dumfries House estate.
She said: “I felt like Cinderella. I was waking up every morning in these beautiful grounds and going to work sewing all day – and then I met Prince Charles.
“He was really, really nice and genuinely interested in what we were doing. Prince Charles is passionate about sustainability and I have always been an advocate for sustainability in fashion so we had a lot to talk about.
“Leaving my family and my dogs behind was really hard so I knew I had to make this work for me.”
The idea behind the unique partnership was to strengthen textile skills training and give trainee artisans in the UK and Italy the skills and confidence needed to produce luxury apparel collections to the highest standards.
Six Italian students from leading design school Politecnico di Milano’s Fashion in Process (FiP) research laboratory led the design of the The Prince’s Foundation collection.
Meanwhile, students here trained in small batch productions skills at Dumfries House, the headquarters of The Prince’s Foundation, allowing them to craft the majority of the collection by hand in the estate’s Textile Training Centre.
During the manufacturing process, the artisans learnt advanced technical production skills such as industrial sewing, pattern drafting and quality control, while also developing the expertise to handle wool, cashmere and silk fabrics.
These skills have been formally recognised with the group completing a Modern Apprenticeship Award in Heritage Textiles in partnership with Glasgow Clyde College.
The project mixed the technology of Yoox Net-a-Porter’s design laboratory, which Jillian describes as “like science fiction” with traditional hand crafts.
The group was granted exclusive access to five years’ worth of Yoox Net-a-Porter data on long-term preferences of the Group’s 4.3 m customers, to create their collection.
They learnt how to process image data and use Artificial Intelligence visual recognition to inform the styles and silhouettes of their designs.
It was an intense experience for the six artisans, especially when only four returned after the coronavirus lockdown eased.
Jillian added: “That was a third of our workforce and we wondered how we were going to manage to complete it all.
“It was a very intense experience. One day you were wanting to punch each others’ faces and the next day it was all hugs and kisses.
“It was really draining at times so to see it all come together now feels like a major achievement.
“It is just surreal. The pieces we made are in an issue of Vogue with Beyonce on the cover and our work inside – it’s only hitting home now, the enormity of it.
“It’s mind blowing.”
Making the clothing as environmentally friendly as possible was a vital part of the project so high quality materials were used to ensure the clothing lasts for decades to come.
Cashmere and wool were sourced from Scottish textiles firm Johnstons of Elgin while organic eco silk was sourced from Centro Seta in Italy.
Left-over scraps of fabric and offcuts were used for school and sensory projects to ensure there was no waste.
Prince Charles said: “Having met the students from both Italy and Scotland and then to have talked to them about the plans, and looking at the designs and how it was linked to Leonardo da Vinci and his designs and thoughts all those years ago, it’s been fascinating to see the end result.
“I think many of the students have perfected the techniques they were finding quite difficult at the beginning.
“Hopefully they’ll take away that understanding of sustainability in design and fashion but apply it to their own little businesses they want to start.”
Nicole Christie was a dancer before deciding to turn her hand to fashion – graduating recently with a First Class degree.
She was keen to gain practical, hands-on experience to hone her skills and so The Modern Artisan project was the ideal experience.
The 25-year-old said: “Being part of the production line was really intense – we were definitely a family by the end of it.
“We produced more than 400 garments, which is incredible now that we have time to step back and think about it.
“The whole thing has been totally surreal. The first time we saw our garments on the models to be shown to Prince Charles I just kept saying, ‘We made that. We made that.'”
Nicole is now setting up her own luxury women’s wear brand, Ellipsis, using the skills she has learned during the project.
Jacqueline Farrell, who is originally from Cumnock but now lives in Bearsden, is the Education Director for The Prince’s Foundation at Dumfries House.
Prior to this, she headed up Glasgow Clyde College’s renowned School of Fashion and Textiles.
She is a former designer herself and actually got help to start up her first business from The Prince’s Trust, another of HRH The Prince of Wales’ charities.
Jacqueline said: “The partnership between The Prince’s Foundation and Yoox Net-a-Porter was unlike any project we’ve run before and a fantastic evolution of our Future Textiles initiative at Dumfries House, which was initiated in 2014 to help breathe new life into our fashion and textile industry, where many skilled workers are increasingly approaching retirement age.
“Developing life skills and championing artisanship and sustainability are central to everything we do at The Prince’s Foundation and The Modern Artisan project has really brought this to life.
“The students used locally sourced fabrics, perfected luxury-standard production skills, analysed data to create designs with the customer in mind and worked collaboratively despite being in different countries.
“Our hope is that the project acts a platform for the students to build their own successful careers in the fashion industry and helps highlight how important it is to preserve these invaluable heritage craft skills.”
All profits from the sale of the collection will be donated to The Prince’s Foundation to help the charity deliver training programmes to preserve traditional textile skills.