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In 1936, Australian woolgrowers voted for a levy to be imposed on each bale of wool they produced to promote their premium product across the world.
This audacious, visionary decision resulted in the formation of a body first known as the International Wool Secretariat (IWS). One of the initiatives of the IWS was a fashion design award to highlight the versatility and modernity of wool.
The Woolmark Prize was first launched in 1953, but it was at the 1954 awards that two young, unknown womenswear designers, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, stepped up on stage to accept their respective fashion design prizes.
It was at that moment that fashion history was made.
Relaunched in 2012, the International Woolmark Prize (IWP) allows the Australian wool industry, via The Woolmark Company, to expose the next generation of both designers and consumers to Australian Merino wool.
Emerging labels are encouraged to apply for the award, with an expert Advisory Council then selecting the most promising 42 designers to participate in one of three semi- final events.
Most importantly, each look entered in the Prize must contain at least 80 per cent Australian Merino wool.
The 2012/13 IWP was won by Belgian designer Christian Wijnants after impressing the judges with his extraordinary hand-knitted collection.
The 2013/14 award was won by Indian designer Rahul Mishra, who showcased hand-woven wool in eveningwear in ways never before seen by the industry. After being a relatively unknown fashion designer, Rahul Mishra has now earned a regular place on the prestigious schedule at Paris Fashion Week.
At the 2014/15 final, M.PATMOS from the USA impressed judges with her mixture of 100 per cent ultrafine Merino wool of 15.5 micron and 100 per cent Mercerised Merino wool which sits at 19.5 micron for her nomadic-lux travel collection.
London label Teatum Jones took out the 2015/16 awards and found great commercial success with its innovative wool-lace collection, whilst New Yorker Gabriela Hearst’s sophisticated use of superfine Merino wool scored her top honours at the Paris final in 2017.
Indian designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice Studio won the womenswear final in 2018 in Florence, praised for her technique and thoughtful approach to manufacturing.
In 2015, menswear was recognised independently for the first time with the announcement of New York brand PUBLIC SCHOOL taking out top honours.
Other menswear winners include London-based brand COTTWEILER (2016/17) whose sophisticated performance collection mixed sports, tailoring, and streetwear and English label Matthew Miller (2017-18), recognised for his highly functional, utilitarian collection.
In 2017/18 the IWP saw the introduction of the Innovation Award, which celebrates the collection with the most innovative and creative wool fabrication, process or development. The inaugural award was won by US label DYNE, which created a technical snowboarding wardrobe.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the IWP is the opportunity to be stocked in some of the world’s most important retailers, including David Jones in Sydney, Harvey Nichols in London and Lane Crawford in Greater China.
This is great news for Australia’s woolgrowers as it puts more wool on shelves and exposes global consumers to our home- grown luxury, natural fibre.
The International Woolmark Prize recognises that the next big thing could come from anywhere and through the Prize, The Woolmark Company ensures that this talent’s star rises with Australian Merino wool.
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