Prada x Woolmark

Prada partners with The Woolmark Company to create innovative merino wool uniforms for its Luna Rossa sailing team

Wool is the world’s oldest fibre, used by humans since the Stone Age. Today we find ourselves in a different age – the Anthropocene – a geological era in which human activity has become an overwhelmingly dominant influence on its environment. Solutions to stem environmental decline above and below water are becoming more pressing with each passing day, and versatile materials such as wool may help to counterbalance this impact. 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable, it remains the most reused, recycled apparel fibre in the world. Its sustainability credentials, however, are only part of the reason why Prada has partnered with The Woolmark Company to create its new, merino wool sailing uniforms for the 36th America’s Cup. The main reason it’s enjoying a renaissance in performance sports, is that it performs.   

Originally used in football kits circa 1960, merino wool draws moisture away from the body, maintaining a more regulated temperature. For extreme sports like sailing, with wildly varying temperatures, this is key for the Prada Luna Rossa skipper, Massimiliano Max Sirena: “Our physical activity is very demanding in terms of clothing: the garments we wear must be as isothermic, elastic, breathable and water resistant as possible. Well, I discovered on my own skin that Merino wool is all this.” The Woolmark Company – a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation, a not-for-profit enterprise working on behalf of 60,000 Australian woolgrowers – will research, develop and support the team during training, sailing and offshore activities ahead of the main race in 2021. Featuring innovative soft shell jackets, polo shirts, blousons, wetsuits and base-layers, a commercial capsule is scheduled to be released at a later date.

Following the announcement at Pitti Uomo, Florence, Port talked to Stuart McCullough – managing director of The Woolmark Company – about wool’s performance credentials, tackling marine pollution and why Australia’s sheep are peerless.

Why do you think wool is making a return to performance sports?

Wool is the original performance fibre. However, as synthetics came along, people somewhat forgot about wool in this way. Interestingly, no other fibre – natural or man-made – can match all of wool’s inherent benefits and both consumers and brands are realising this. In addition, wool’s eco-credentials are also becoming more widely recognised. Increased competition in the activewear market also means a growing number of brands are looking to innovate with natural performance fibres, such as Australian Merino wool. This move not only allows for a point of difference, but also fulfils the demand for an environmentally-aware consumer.

What are the main benefits and properties of merino wool for a sport like sailing?

Sailing, like any other demanding sport, requires apparel made from a technical fibre which can withstand high-levels of physical activity and also natural elements. Wool fibres are naturally breathable. They can absorb large quantities of moisture vapour and allow it to evaporate, making wool garments feel less clingy and more comfortable than garments made from other fibres. In contrast to synthetics, wool is an active fibre that reacts to changes in the body’s temperature. It maintains a drier microclimate next to skin, keeping you warm and dry – a major plus when out on the seas. Wool reduces the rate of skin cooling and the severity of post-exercise chill, which can range from uncomfortable to dangerous. Research shows when you stop exercising in very cold conditions, you can experience three times more chilling in synthetic garments than when wearing wool garments. This is due to wool fibre retaining – and only slowly releasing – moisture from within its structure, helping to maintain a higher skin temperature and less rapid cooling.

How will you be working with Prada in terms of research and development?

As the official technical partner, we’ve worked alongside their product development team to create the official uniforms, to be worn by all sailors and crew throughout the America’s Cup campaign. We have researched existing wool fabrics that are satisfying the technical requests of the team and co-ordinating the supply under Luna Rossa tech team briefing – working together with suppliers for finding new solutions and fabric innovations.

What role does sustainability have in the partnership and project?

There are a number of factors which play into this. Being 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable, Australian Merino wool is the responsible choice for conscious consumers. Biodegradability is particularly key for this project, with wool fibres degrading in both land and marine environments. When wool fibres biodegrade in land environments, they actually release valuable nutrients back into the earth. By degrading in marine environments, wool offers a lot less impact compared to the devastation caused by microplastics. As the most prestigious ocean race in the world, The America’s Cup can help raise the importance of ocean health and this partnership can help with that dialogue.

What responsibility does the fashion and textile industry have to issues like marine pollution?

It’s no secret that there’s a pretty dark underbelly to the global fashion and textile industry, with many reports saying it’s the second most polluting industry in the world. It’s for this reason the industry has a major responsibility to issues such as marine pollution. As much as 35% of microplastics in the marine environment are fibres from synthetic clothing, an amount that continues to increase. There needs to be more education – for both consumers and brands – about what impact certain fibres have on marine health. This also includes education about recycled fibres, such as recycled polyester and nylon.

Why is Australian wool a superior material?

Australian Merino wool is widely regarded as the finest and softest, perfectly suited to next-to-skin apparel. It was in Australia that the Merino sheep developed even finer fibre as early farmers succeeded in producing the first authentic Australian Merino wool. Raised on sustainable grassland terrain, these sheep are well-suited to grazing a variety of natural pastures. For generations, the farmers who produce this wool have shown how the Australian rural landscape can be managed effectively while protecting the natural environment, supporting rural communities, and meeting the needs of increasingly environmentally-aware customers.

Do you have any other similar sportswear projects in the pipeline?

We’ve recently worked alongside sportswear brands Nagnata, APL and P.E Nation to release technical wool-rich collections. For all three brands, it was the first time they had worked with Merino wool. Sportswear will continue to play a pivotal role for us over the coming years.

Mind and Body: Wayne McGregor

Port speaks to multi-award winning choreographer Wayne McGregor about understated gesture, the connection between mind and body, and reimagining the latest COS menswear collection through dance 

We normally judge clothes from a distance, assessing them on a hanger or mannequin, but on our bodies they take on a new life – draping, swishing, billowing with our movements. It is often overlooked that, in being worn, fashion takes on its ultimate form, attaining an infinite number of fluid and shifting silhouettes. Each time we roll up a sleeve, tug at a hem or pop a collar, our clothes suddenly sit on us in new ways.

For the first time, COS have chosen to present their new 17-piece menswear collection ‘Soma’ through the medium of dance to enhance our ability to perceive the fabric’s subtle dynamism and flow. Head of menswear design, Christophe Copin has said that “by bringing these everyday movements to life through dance, both the inspiration and design process is explored, and the functionality of the garments is brought to the forefront.”

The choreographer Wayne McGregor CBE has worked in collaboration with COS to produce a unique performance that plays on the idea of ‘somatic’ movement – the way in which our body acts intuitively – to mimic the quiet grace with which we unconsciously execute even the most routine activities. Held during the 94th Pitti Uomo at Florence’s Istituto degli Innocenti, it was an understated dance with an energy that gently rises before falling into a peaceful lull. The dancers pass each other, each engaged in their own passage and progress, until they turn towards one another in passing encounters. From afar, the effect is like a fantastical, almost surreal, square in which beautiful figures roam or linger.

Resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, McGregor has worked on fashion campaigns, films, theatre, opera, music videos and other site-specific performances. Through his recently opened Studio Wayne McGregor he has been able to create an interactive space that embraces an experimental, multidisciplinary approach to choreography in which dance is just one artform among many. By collaborating with COS, he has produced a vision in which movement and fashion seamlessly co-exist and compliment each other.

How did your involvement in the COS project come about?

Christophe told me that he saw one of my dance works, Tree of Codes, at the Palais Garnier and that after seeing the way that I collaborate with artists, in this case, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx, he thought that we could create something together. Christophe and Karin [Gustafsson, creative director at COS] approached me to create an artistic conversation between the clothes and the body, exploring ‘everyday’ gesture, breaking down movement and clothing to their essential parts, and trying to see how we can experience them anew.

What was your concept for the presentation?

COS’ new collection Soma subverts the wearer’s everyday gestures, and we wanted to explore this playfully in the performance at Pitti Uomo. Somatic practice is the idea of bringing forward what the body already knows; we wanted to question instinctual movement and gesture in the everyday, particularly in relation to the garments. I believe every movement we make, no matter how ordinary or routine, is a kind of dance, and we wanted to develop and extend this for Pitti Uomo.

Was the dance inspired by the surroundings of L’Istituto degli Innocenti and Florence?

Dance is an ethereal experience. This gives every performance a unique quality, where you know you are watching and experiencing something that will only last a short time. There was an electricity in the air in Florence, which breathed life into the sails above the square, echoing the movement of the dancers in the COS garments. 

What is it that first drew you to contemporary dance?

I’ve always been curious about the mind and the body and the interconnectivity. Collaboration is at the heart of my artistic practice and choreography is always a collaborative act, not only with the dancers but also the other artists I work with.

You’ve done a lot of work in experimental psychology, how has is that linked to your interest in dance?

For me, it’s all about physical thinking. I’m fascinated by how the mind and body are connected, and I have been seeking out and collaborating with experts in cognitive science and genetics to learn more about the connections that we take for granted every day.

Driving Styles: MINI Fashion

Port talks to Staffonly, the Chinese design duo helping take MINI into a new era of fashion

The Sixties was a period of revolutionary cultural movements and the Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, became one of the most enduring design icons of the decade. Providing a solution to the increasingly crowded cities caused by the post-war baby boom, Issigonis’s cars offered a surprisingly roomy interior in a quirky, compact design. It was a breakthrough: space-saving engineering packaged in a desirable form – a perfect harmony of functionality and aesthetic appeal. The Mini was the status symbol for a new generation. 

It was this design philosophy and the continued evolution of the Mini to facilitate the lifestyles of urbanites that inspired the launch of MINI Fashion four years ago. Still riding the wave of cultural change, the car brand identified the importance of diversifying and connecting with consumers in other areas of their lifestyles than just what they drive.

Aside from fashion, the brand is also making major moves in the world of architecture, having launched MINI Living in 2016, and its first space under the concept opens in Shanghai in 2019, presenting an innovative and, of course, space-related ideal for living and working in previously disused industrial buildings. 

Shimo Zhou and Une Yea of Staffonly

Previously of Max-Mara, Sabine Ringel is currently steering MINI Fashion towards making a serious offering in the retail market. MINI Fashion’s fourth collection was showcased at Pitti this June: a limited-run capsule in partnership with the Woolmark Company and a collective of new designers identified by Ringel for their visionary attitude. This diverse quartet included London maverick Liam Hodges, wool experts PH5 from the USA, and Berlin-based contemporary milliner Rike Feursteirn. 

Particularly on point was the work-to-play outfit of Shanghai-based design studio Staffonly, which demonstrates a technical brilliance while maintaining a sense of fun, an approach that reflects the ethos of Issigonis’s original Mini. The look – a racer-green jacket, light blue shirt and patchwork ‘jeans’ created with innovative new crease-free denim and lightweight wools – was packaged in a multi-functional garment dufflebag-cum-picnic hamper, inspired by travelling to lounge at the inner-city idyl of Greenwich Park. It is the perfect fashion-meets-car accessory, and the kind of mobility you would want in an outfit for ‘transcending borders’, which was a guiding theme from Ringel. 

Here Port spoke to Staffonly about taking inspiration from Mini, finding the balance between function and design, and the nature of urban living.

Can you explain how MINI inspired the outfit in terms of product design?

We admire the attitude MINI creates for its customers, which is chic and modern, and full of functional details. MINI always finds a great balance between heritage and modernity in its design, and this contributes to the combination of contemporary and traditional in our approach. There’s a philosophy to have more joy and fun, and that’s very important when we design our products.

How did you manage the design versus function problem?

Normally we design a product based on identity. We think about the target person’s preferences and habits when imagining details and construction, and consider a lot of questions in our design proposals: What kind of work does the customer do? How would they style themselves? What kind of lifestyle would they live? That sort of thing. We take the direction that comes out of this to start to design and develop the functional details.

Which is most important to you – function or design?

Actually it is the balance of function and design. Many designers may choose one aspect and achieve the best solution. But we think most customers are looking for a product that meets their needs in both respects. For example, the travel bag we designed for MINI is a modernised ‘rapid packing system’ with great functionality. We combined silk-blended green wool with a wool denim and a striped poplin lining to create a relaxing/colourful appearance for the inner part of the bag.

Who is your outfit made for?

For urban travellers. Their time is precious and they are looking for a good balance between style and function. With this outfit, it is easy to switch from daily work to a relaxed mood and situation.

MINI Fashion

Pitti Uomo SS17 Review

PORT’s fashion features editor, David Hellqvist, examines the Florentine tradeshow’s successful line-up of Raf Simons, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Visvim, and explains why it perfectly sums up fashion in 2016

It’s tough times for fashion, and menswear is very much at the centre of the storm. With more and more brands dropping their men’s shows in favour of a combined presentation during the womenswear schedule, the smaller fashion weeks, like London and New York, risk losing momentum. Who knows, they might not even be around in a few seasons; even the bigger ones, Paris and Milan, are loosing major brands. It’s a real problem, but it’s the only sensible way forward, from the brand’s point of view at least.

Raf Simons, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti
Raf Simons, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti

But it’s not all bad news. Brands will always need some sort of outlet to show their collections, and the men’s buying calendar runs separately from women’s. Cue tradeshows with the power and reach to invite brands for exclusive presentations and global fashion shows. I say ‘tradeshows’ but, really, it should be singular and not plural. There’s only one show at the moment that’s big enough to pull in both buyers and press from all over the world: Pitti Uomo in Florence.

They achieve this by inviting designers to show their AW and SS collections in Florence, or to create and present an exclusive project or capsule collection. Having run for many years, Pitti has – quite naturally – had its ups and downs. Exhibiting brands come and go (though they’re likely to go up in numbers now that Bread & Butter no longer exists) and the quality of visiting designers have fluctuated. For SS17, though, the Pitti organisers hit the jackpot. They managed to fill the show space again – helped by the fact that the sweltering June edition is quite an attractive proposal compared to the cold January version. More importantly, though, they invited three zeitgeist brands to be part of Pitti.

Gosha Rubchinskiy, courtesy of Giovanni Giannoni and Pitti Immagine
Gosha Rubchinskiy, courtesy of Giovanni Giannoni and Pitti Immagine

Fashion runs on hype, it’s what oils the machinery… and sells products. Over the last few days that hype peaked in Florence. Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, Japanese brand Visvim and Belgian designer Raf Simons all invaded Pitti to show their respective SS17 collections. Gosha and Raf showed here instead of in Paris, and Hiroki Nakamura, of Visvim, used Florence as his catwalk debut. All three have a loyal following, and all three have had a major impact on fashion in their own way. And this is why Pitti matters for SS17. After a lacklustre LCM, without brands like Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Dunhill and Gieves & Hawkes, it was down to Pitti to kick start the menswear season.

Gosha was up first. You might argue that the collection relied too heavy on sportswear collaborations (we saw garments and footwear in partnership with Fila, Kappa, Sergio Tacchini, amongst others), but there’s no denying the success of the brand, and Gosha as a multi-disciplinary creative. He also managed to release a new photo book this week. His clothes constantly sell out, a combination of his on-trend 90s designs, packaged in a post-Soviet Communist aesthetic. The price points are relatively low, and he’s partly owned by Comme des Garcons. The hype press loves him; at the moment there’s nothing Gosha can do wrong.

Gosha mixes high and low: he’s both ‘street’ and fashion. Pitti managed to top that by inviting brands that are, arguably, on each side of Gosha. Visvim certainly isn’t ‘low’ streetwear. It’s very high end, and its dedication to craftsmanship puts many classic luxury brands from Paris and Milan to shame. But, it comes at ‘fashion’ from a more practical point of view. Fashion is all about concepts and ideas. Visvim is all about garments. Hiroki Nakamura is obsessed with products. He spends his time coming up with new and innovative ways to make clothes in an ‘ancient way’.

Visvim, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti
Visvim SS17, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti

And then we have the other side of the spectre: Raf Simons. The former Dior designer is currently in a rare position, he can actually focus on his own brand 100 per cent for a bit before he, if the rumour is true, starts at Calvin Klein. And he appears to have spent that time wisely. In collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Estate, Raf presented a collection that looked forward while still paying respect to both Mapplethorpe and his own archives. The show space was littered with mannequins in vintage Raf Simons pieces, much to everyone’s delight. But the SS17 collection also showed traces of his old punk-inspired energy and attitude.

The sun shone, England didn’t loose the game and, with Aperol Spritz on tap, this was a good Pitti. A vintage year, if you like. The problem with such a line-up is, of course, that they will have to beat that next time around. But let’s worry about that in January, and just enjoy this Pitti moment for now.

Raf Simons, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti
Raf Simons, courtesy of Vanni Bassetti