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.

Artistic Baggage

Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic explains how performance artist Joseph Beuys influenced his playful interpretation of the Prada bag

Last year, the architect Rem Koolhaas asked me if I would be interested in being involved with the Prada Invites project. He, along with two other design teams – Herzog & de Meuron, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec – had been asked by the brand to play with the iconic black nylon fabric Prada developed in the 1980s.

I started thinking about the bags that Prada produced with the distinctive, beautiful, tightly woven material, and how those products had really made the brand what it is today; but Prada now is much more a serious fashion house than a bag company. I wanted to bring the two together – to combine a garment with a bag – and what came to mind was the performance artist Joseph Beuys, and his fishing vest.

I have vivid memories of seeing Beuys when I was a child. I grew up in a town near Düsseldorf, where he lived, and though I didn’t really know who Beuys was, he had this aura – you could tell he was important. He would be dressed, as ever, in a felt hat and fishing vest with buttoned pockets down the front, and I admired it without ever really knowing why.

I think perhaps I was attracted to the idea that he had developed his own uniform. I bought my own version of the vest some years later, as a teenager, and I started wearing a lot of secondhand army gear. It was well made and practical, but I also think, in a subconscious way, I had been inspired by Beuys to develop my own sense of style.

So that was the image, Beuys in his fishing vest, that came back to me for this project. I was quite excited by the idea, and we started to mock-up our own interpretations, playing with different forms until we arrived at the apron, which is more straightforward and casual. I don’t think it should be seen as a direct homage to Beuys, but rather, like his own vest, which was made for him by his wife, it is a self-made, simplified interpretation of the real, functional object.

As told to George Upton

Inspired by Grcic’s work, discover our round up of the best technical accessories to buy right now

This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here.

 

Milan Fashion Week 2018

Port‘s fashion editor picks the best looks from Milan’s Spring Summer 2019 show

There was as much talk about the mosquitos as there was about fashion this year in Milan, which suggests the agenda and collections were perhaps not as engaging as they have been. Yet, as a relative newcomer to the Milan schedule, I still got my kicks, with Neil Barrett and Ermenegildo Zegna being particular favourites. For me, these two shows are up in the highlights of season that, in Milan, was characterised by the use of yellow, a sophisticated backlash to street-wear, and Zegna’s ‘new suit’.

Neil Barrett – LOOK 26

A pioneer of sports-luxe and the go-to for directional tailoring, Neil Barrett this season moved away from his predominately monochrome shows of the past to explore ‘Sea/Flowers’ in a precise collection that was punchy with yellow and print. The colour play was apparent from the start as guests entered the space through yellow rubber strips hung from the ceiling, diffusing the light in the industrial space and creating a sensation of being underwater. Florals were managed in a modern and masculine way – some printed as if medals and here magnified to create an all over-print on this beautifully laid-back coat. 

PRADA – LOOK 29 

Taking the mundane and making it desirable, Prada played its card for the reserved rather than the flash-pack this season. Sat on inflatable cubes that were lit with futuristic purple hue, guests saw an army of nerds descend. This zipped knit – reminiscent of retro skiwear and alpine adventures – was paired with the collection’s signature high-waisted belted trousers in vivid yellow and an oversized trapper hat, and perfectly captures Miuccia Prada’s playful exploration of both character and form. 

ZEGNA – LOOK 25 

Blurring the line between sophistication and streetwear, Ermenegildo Zegna reached out to the post-millennials without leaving its core audience behind. Set against the often-overlooked grandeur of Palazzo Mondadori – conceived by Brazilian architect Oscar Nieymar – both collection and setting told the story of how sharpness could be married with functional ease. Alessandro Satori’s cuffed trousers were once again present, paired here with a printed boxy shirt over a hardly-there mesh top, giving the sense of weightlessness that Satori desired. 

GIORGIO ARMANI – LOOK 71

Proving he is a veteran designer who will not be deterred by the banging of the trend drum for streetwear or influencer-friendly clothes, Giorgio Armani delivered a simple yet fluid collection, which was easy to understand and trust. Taking place in the familiar setting of the Armani Silos, on the usual cast of statuesque models, we saw the return of the double-breasted jacket and a perfect wardrobe for modern nomads, including this relaxed ethnic-printed silk shirt and easy to wear board shorts. 

DSQUARED2 – LOOK 32

Maintaining their maverick reputation, the Caten Twins combined an unlikely mix of athleisure, military and undone corsetry to create a collection that felt both very on-trend and very them. Set in industrial warehouse space, with it’s ominous red-light runway, it were as if we had been transported to the heart of clubland in some dystopian future, watching the club kids walk by in their heavily layered attire. More subtle looks such as this oversized track-top and pants in heritage checks (which would usually be reserved for tailoring) with highlighter neon stripes, made it both interesting and wearable. 

New Talent

For years Milan has been resolutely focused on the established fashion houses, with fresh graduates in the city being encouraged to quickly join the most esteemed brand they can find. So it was satisfying to see the capital of luxury fashion begin to offer support for emerging talent through initiatives set up to nurture new designers and their labels. There is a new spirit of youth in the city. 

One such initiative is the Camera Nazionale della Moda prize, now in it’s fourth year. This season Port sat on the judging panel alongside leading industry figures – including Diesel founder and chairman of OTB Renzo Rossi, Angela Missoni, the creative director of Missoni, and Sara Sozzani Maino, deputy editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia – to decide that Mauro Muzio Medaglia of Accademia Costume and Moda was to receive the mentorship scheme and 10,000€ towards his brand. 

“The prize I received took me by surprise,” Medaglia said after the presentation. “It has been an honour to receive it and I will work to transform this opportunity in a solid base for my future. The support I received from Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana was very important, not only because it helped me in the development of my collection, but also because it is an endorsement for my career.”

Medaglia’s sculptural touch and attention to tailoring swung the decision in his favour. A palette of soft-hues in contrasting fabrics were delicately layered with a finesse the excels the experience of this designer, and the silhouettes, with their exaggerated form, added the final contemporary note to the collection. 

“Growing new talents is part of the mission of the Association and this event has a key role to confer visibility to the work and talent of the future generations,” said president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, Carlo Capasa. “This year the CNMI celebrated the 4th edition of Milano Moda Graduate and had the privilege to open the Men’s Fashion Week. With this, we wanted to underline the importance of supporting new talents, promoting the creativity and capacity of the most merit-worthy students in the Italian fashion schools that are the future of fashion. The event fulfils the CNMI’s desire to stimulate a dialogue between the most important luxury brands and the new generation of designers, who bring fresh perspectives to the fashion system. “

Runway illustrations Jayma Sacco