In 1954, Woolmark — a company set up in 1937 to promote the use of Australian wool in fashion — gave out awards for its first International Prize. A gawky, 18-year-old Yves Saint Laurent won in the dress category, and a (then) equally unknown Karl Lagerfeld won in the coat category. Ever since the Prize, which rewards innovative uses of wool, has been closely regarded as a fount for emerging design talent. Designers must be nominated (in the U.S., nominations are done by the CFDA) and in business for less than six years.
On Friday, Indian designer Rahul Mishra was named the latest recipient of the prize, after having won the regional competition in the India/Middle East region in July of last year. It was well-deserved: Drawing on his experience in embroidery, Mishra worked the fiber so finely that his cream-colored dresses and coats looked as if they were made of embroidered linen or cotton rather than wool.
“For me, Rahul has won because of his ability to apply his knowledge of embroideries through wool, one of the most versatile fibers with originality in an unexpected way,” Gucci creative director Frida Giannini — who was on the judging panel alongside Franca Sozzani, Tim Blanks, Alexa Chung and others — remarked at the ceremony.
Mishra, who cried on stage after Sozzani announced he was the winner, will receive about $90,000 in prize money and introductions to a number of important retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols and Colette.
Though Mishra’s uses of wool were innovative, the other candidates — ffiXXed, the regional winner for Asia, Christopher Esber (Australia), Sibling London (Europe) and Joseph Altuzarra (U.S.) — put up stiff competition. Still vivid in our minds is a seemingly simple single-breasted black coat from Joseph Altuzarra, which featured fine-knit wool on the front and shaggy wool on the back. Neat folding details on the hips gave it a refined, faintly Dior-esque shape.
Speaking backstage after the announcement, Altuzarra said the competition, which took the better part of a year, exposed him to new techniques for working with wool, namely needle-punching. He expects to carry them over to his main collections in seasons to come, he said.