Monaco resident Isabell Kristensen has dressed some pretty fancy people, from Nicole Kidman to Kate Winslet, and from Cher to Dame Bassey. Remember Shirley’s Goldfinger gown at the 2013 Oscars? It was the Danish designer who hand sewed the 12 million sequins.
Last month marked 20 years since Isabell Kristensen opened her couture boutique at 18 rue Princesse Marie de Lorraine, steps from the palace, where she makes all of her creations in-house. In fact, Princess Charlene (Kristensen was her Maid of Honor) and Princess Gabriella have worn many of her dresses.
Yet in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, platinum celebrations were put on hold, while her son Martin who heads the label’s business development, launched Scrubs4Heroes (S4H) in the U.K., supplying medical-grade garments absolutely free to NHS hospitals for frontline healthcare workers.
With contamination fears, the essential daily scrubs are disposed of to prevent COVID-19 from spreading or they are backed up in laundry. “When I first heard of the shortages of medical garments, I called a local hospital to offer support,” Martin Kristensen tells Forbes Monaco, “and the response was clear, and more requests followed from other trusts pushing us to capacity.”
Kristensen immediately transferred the couture expertise built from the Monaco and London Fashion House into a hands-on production of scrubs for UK hospitals. Volunteers were needed to help meet demand and, soon after, Scrubs4Heroes was born. “I am proud to say we now have almost 200 volunteers and are burning through about 3,000 meters of fabric per week to meet our urgent orders,” says Kristensen, brother to Sophie, Valentina and Nichola.
The S4H director not only coordinates production and distribution to NHS Trusts across the UK most in need, but he also helps sew the sanitary clothing. He admits it’s a challenge when you are used to spending three months on a single couture garment to suddenly produce 3,000 pieces in one month. The volunteers target ten sets, every 5 to 6 days, made to spec using a blend of Poly Cotton that is fairly tear resistant, dry-cleanable and breathable.
Fourteen major NHS hospital trusts and facilities and six NHS GP surgeries across the U.K. have reached out the charity, as have mental health units and forensics departments. “We have received orders from a range of NHS health services, some requiring 300 sets of scrubs.”
Martin Kristensen recently met with prison officials and arranged materials for inmates to lend a hand. “It is estimated they will contribute 50 to 100 scrubs per week, with the hope of more prisons to follow. How often does a House of Couture couple with a correctional facility?”
The S4H initiative is sponsored by the House of Kristensen. “With the majority of the public facing financial hardship and the absolute urgency from hospitals for scrubs, self-funding was the only way to go. The logistics and coordination would have been far less effective had we waited,” explains the 28-year-old.
He adds that as demand has grown “so rapaciously” they are hoping other companies will join the effort to support the various costs like shipping, fuelling and materials.
“We now have requests for help from as far as Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I believe people want to contribute, they just need to know how.”
Kristensen says Scrubs4Heroes has made monumental progress thanks to celebrities—including film actress Amy Jackson with her 9 million Instagram followers, media personality Carol Vorderman, Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan, and Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins—who have used their profiles to raise awareness and support. “We need volunteers, without the voice to call them to action we would never be where we are today.”
But Martin Kristensen is quick to point out that this is no fashion contest. “This is about helping to safeguard lives. And it’s not every day our industry has the chance to do that.”