The Queen Consort said the King would be “very interested” to learn about vegan-friendly shoes made from dried cactus and banana peel during a visit to designer Jimmy Choo’s London-based fashion academy.
It was the first day back to royal duties for Camilla, who contracted coronavirus for the second time last week and missed a run of engagements after suffering cold-like symptoms.
On Thursday, she visited JCA London Fashion Academy based in Brentford, west London, meeting academy co-founders fashion designer Mr Choo and Stephen Smith.
Wearing a navy Anna Valentine coat, Camilla met children from Our Lady and St John’s Catholic primary school who were taking part in a shoe-designing masterclass and was presented with a bouquet of flowers from Mr Smith’s son, five-year-old James Connor who was named after Mr Choo.
During her tour of the pioneering fashion school, the royal was introduced to Masters graduate student Sophie Park, who had used cactus leather from Mexico and dried banana peel to create her line of vegan-friendly shoes.
Speaking about her cruelty-free shoes, 27-year-old Ms Park told Camilla: “They basically mush down a cactus, dry it out in the sun and when it’s dry it’s ready to split the fibres up and weave again so there is literally no energy needed, it’s just the Sun. Banana skin is finer, better for clothes but for trimming on shoes it can work.”
Taking a closer look at the shoes, Camilla said: “My husband would be very interested to hear about this. That is fascinating. You learn something new every day. Absolutely fascinating.”
After the interaction, Ms Park told PA news agency: “It’s exciting and it’s actually really nice to hear they have such a strong interest in sustainability and she’s especially fascinated about the new materials so that’s nice.
“She also said her husband is very interested in the same thing, it’s just really great that all these new things are reaching everyone because it’s the most important thing at the moment.”
Camilla, who owns two rescue Jack Russell terrier dogs, also took a particular interest in local artisan designer Emma Lynda Sarah McDonnell – who was inspired by her dog to make dog coats and collars.
She said: “Lucky little dogs. Absolutely lovely.” Looking at a framed picture of Ms McDonnell’s own dog, she added: “What a beautiful dog.”
During her tour of the academy – which offers students the opportunity to learn how to make clothing, hats and shoes – Camilla met the founder of brand All Saints Kait Bolongaro who is the JCA’s programme leader for fashion design and accessories.
Camilla was also impressed with an embroidered flower gown canvas which took 18-year-old Cerys Reece two months to create and was described as “novelty” by the royal who had never seen artwork before like it.
On leaving the academy, the young students of Our Lady St John’s said their goodbyes while waving union jack flags, and bouquet-bearer James Connor was heard shouting: “We’ll miss you.”
After the visit, Mr Choo said: “If she didn’t care, she wouldn’t come here. That’s what the Queen (Consort) wanted, to show how care, love and conscious she is of the young generation.
“I am a foreign student, but the way I made my name, through education. I can put all my love and all my vision into one school.
“(I am) so happy, I dream about the Queen (Consort) coming to visit our school.”
Speaking about Camilla’s fashion sense, he added: “Obviously she knows her taste, she knows how to manage herself and look elegant and feminine.
“If you look at her she looks stunning, fashionable, tall and elegant, but good manners, that’s what people want. More importantly she cares, (knows) how to love and encourage people.”
Meanwhile the academy’s co-founder Mr Smith, who first met Mr Choo 18 years ago during a talk at his Leeds Art University, said: “We were incredibly blessed to have Her Majesty visit us, how gracious was she in terms of time. She wanted to stay and talk to every single student, honestly she really is so gracious.
“She’s just got over Covid, you could see that she was still recovering and yet she took the time to come and see us. The way that we teach is exactly Jimmy’s story, the idea that Jimmy’s father was his mentor, that’s how we teach.
“To have Her Majesty the Queen Consort here for us has been just an honour, we are genuinely thrilled.”
During the visit, Camilla also re-opened the newly renovated Grade I listed Boston Manor to mark its 400th anniversary.
She viewed some of the restored rooms, and met architects, craftspeople, staff, apprentices and volunteers during a tour of the Jacobean house, opening to the public in Spring this year.
In the Drawing Room, leader of Hounslow council Shantanu Rajawat: “It was in 1963 that the late Queen Mother attended the former opening of Boston Manor House and was presented with a ceremonial key to celebrate the house and its rich cultural heritage.
“Fast forward 60 years and I am absolutely delighted to have Her Majesty the Queen Consort see the house restored to its former glory 400 years after it was first built. We would to present you with a similar ceremonial key.”
On receiving her own replica key, Camilla joked: “Will I be able to let myself in when I need a bit of a break?”
After unveiling a plaque to commemorate the unveiling, Camilla added: “I want to congratulate everybody on this wonderful project.