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Joseph Altuzarra Wins US Woolmark Prize, Plans to Use Prize Money to Launch Pre-Fall

Joseph Altuzarra was named the US finalist for the International Woolmark Prize last night. He talked to us about what he plans to do with the $100,000 he just won and how he overcame his extreme nerves during the competition.

Last night, at an airy loft space in the West Village, the 10 nominees for the US section of the International Woolmark Prize--Joseph Altuzarra, Bibhu Mohapatra, Shane Gabier and Christopher Peter of Creatures of the Wind, Daniel Vosovic, Sofia Sizzi of Giulietta, Alexa Adams and Flora Gill of Ohne Titel, Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein of Timo Weiland, Gaby Basora of Tucker, Wes Gordon and Whitney Pozgay of WHIT--gathered to await the announcement of the finalist who would go on to represent the US in the international competition, held in Milan in February 2014. Though the prize is only in its second year in its current incarnation, the fact that it's an award that Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent won back in the '50s has lent it instant prestige.

Each nominee, hand-picked for their talent and promise by the CFDA, submitted sketches for a 6-look capsule collection, created one full look comprised of 80 percent Merino wool, and presented before an intimidating panel of judges that included Alexander Wang, Saks's Colleen Sherin, Calvin Klein's Malcolm Carfrae, W's Stefano Tonchi, the Financial Times's Vanessa Friedman and the CFDA's Steven Kolb.

Sound nerve-wracking? It was for the night's winner, Joseph Altuzarra.

"I get very nervous," he told us. "I can poker face my way through it but I do feel really nervous."

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All those nerves paid off. Altuzarra's gorgeous look--a blush colored peplum sweater with fisherman knit detailing at the sleeves and matching '50s-inspired pencil skirt--earned the designer $100,000. "We're going to use [the money] towards prefall," Altuzarra revealed. "We've been thinking about it for a long time and this money will really allow us to do it."

And so the 29-year-old designer, whose namesake label is just over three years old, joins the ranks of much more established labels in churning out four collections a year. But he remains level-headed. "I think you have to not doubt yourself too much and trust your intuition," he said of taking on pre-fall. When I ask him if winning makes him feel like he's "made it," he humbly says "No, I never feel like that."

"Sometimes I think, I used to have only three stores and work out of my living room," he continues, "and I'm like, 'Wow, we did a lot!'--but I think you're always looking forward and living in the present and being thankful for what you have."

With that kind of attitude and talent to spare, we figure Altuzarra has a pretty good shot at taking home the big prize come February. Fingers crossed.