The competition for the 2016 International Woolmark Prize for womenswear culminated Friday night in New York City, as finalists from South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. each presented six Merino wool looks that were judged on presentation, design and both fabric and garment development, among other metrics. But after the U.S. swept both international categories last year, British label Teatum Jones took home the womenswear prize with a colorful collection featuring technically advanced wool lace. Indian designer Suket Dhir won the menswear prize in January at the judging in Florence.
The womenswear designers were judged by a panel of both editors and retailers that included André Leon Talley, W's Stefano Tonchi, Business of Fashion's Imran Amed and Tim Blanks, Julie Gilhart, designer Thakoon Panichgul, Saks Fifth Avenue's Roopal Patel, My Theresa's Justin O'Shea and more. They convened Friday afternoon to deliberate and the winner was announced at the end of an evening runway show, at which Coco Rocha and Kate Bosworth sat front row.
"It's not a '12 Angry Men' situation," said Blanks, though he added that there were no "big tussles" between the retailers and editorial people as he's seen at past Woolmark competitions. "They were all judgeable in the same set of criteria… it was quite impressive actually. You look for the thing that you look for in any show, in any presentation. Just for the little thing that goes bing on your heart or on your soul." Blanks said that the Teatum Jones designers also told their own story in a very convincing way. "You need somebody who is going to be an ambassador, you need somebody who is good with a narrative and they really work together extremely well," he said.
The designers themselves agreed. "I think we won because we were talking about something that we're very proud of — we've put a lot of heart into our work," said Rob Jones, who comprises one half of the brand with Catherine Teatum.
The design duo will return to London with $100,000 AU (about $71,000 USD), ongoing mentorship from The Woolmark Company and, perhaps most valuably, a commitment from major retailers around the world to sell the winning capsule. American shoppers will be able to buy it at Saks Fifth Avenue and My Theresa. "When the dusk is settled, we are really into textile development and innovation," said Jones when asked about their plans for the prize money. But for now, they have to turn their focus to their upcoming presentation at London Fashion Week on Feb. 20.
For their winning collection, the designers developed a guipure lace Merino wool with a 130-year-old French mill that had never produced anything like it. "Now they are using it in their main collections and selling it to other designers," said Jones. But that alone wasn't strong enough for tailoring, so they further developed it with a mill in Italy into a scuba-like double-faced fabric. "To give [the lace] relevance to a modern wardrobe, we had to bond it with something that had the ability to hold structure and silhouette," said Teatum. But unlike the neoprene fabrics typically used in apparel, their version is breathable because it is all wool.
"They were the clear winner tonight," said Stuart McCullough, managing director at The Woolmark Company. "Sometimes the finance wins out over the romance and sometimes the romance wins over the finance," he added, referring to the differing opinions between the editorial and retail judges. "[But] there's no doubt in my mind that [all of the finalists] could compete internationally."
That's already true of the U.S. finalist, Tanya Taylor. Here's hoping she finds a way to produce her colorful wool dresses through an upcoming collection anyway.