What is the International Woolmark Prize?
Originally called The International Wool Secretariat fashion design competition it was created to promote wool to the global market. It is famously known as the beginning of the rivalry between YSL and Karl Lagerfeld who were both winners in 1954. Eighteen years old Yves Saint Laurent won the prize for best dress, while Karl Lagerfeld, aged twenty-one, was crowned winner of the coat category.
It is not only the name that has changed. This year, acknowledging that traditional fashion needs to change, the theme is Sustainability and Supply Chain Transparency tied to Innovation, and the official focus is “Less is More”. Can I just say that this excites me to no end? And that this is no small challenge goes without saying! (but I said it anyways)
The six finalists were selected from over 380 applicants to create collections show using Australian Merino Wool to show this spring.
All the finalists can be considered winners to some degree because just making it this far they receive AUD$60,000 for the development of their business and capsule collection.
But one overall winner will receive AUD$200,000 and one designer will receive AUD$100,000 for the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation.
So let’s meet this year’s contenders…
WHO: Matty Bovan
Background + Education: Born in York, Bovan studied Fashion Knitwear at Central Saint Martins, then he completed an MA in the same subject, graduating in 2015.
LVMH Graduate Prize
Worked under Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton for a year
Matty Bovan makes clothes that look like Depop run amok. And if you know us, you know we adore Depop and this is not an insult. He is fearless with his layering and use of textures. This “more as more” aesthetic flies in the face of the minimalistic vibe that is often associated with the idea of conscious or sustainable fashion –and at first glance is the opposite of the “less is more” mandate of the competition.
But is it? Like the creators on Depop, Matty works with things that already exist such as deadstock materials and leftover yarn often worked on by hand and never mass produced. And like them he has worked from home (his late Grandmother’s home – the woman who first taught him to knit and crochet) since before the pandemic, not feeling the need to be in a fashion capital to be creative.
While his more recent collections have featured less wool we adored his fall 2018 collection filled with British tweed and look forward to what he creates for his collection.
WHO: Charaf Tajer
Background + Education: Parisian born of Moroccan descent, Charaf is a self-taught designer who previously worked with the Parisian street-couture label Pigalle Paris and as a creative director of nightclub Le Pompon. His brand Casablanca is very young –just launched in 2018.
LVMH Prize 2020
a sold out collaboration with New Balance sneakers*
*since the announcement of his being a finalist for the IWP, New Balance announced they are dropping new colors
Casablanca is known for printed silk shirts and a lux loungewear vibe for men that would scare off the average American cis-male but has definitely gained a following internationally. While still being extremely new, Casablanca is a label that has generated enough buzz that we knew about it before now but we have not paid much attention as it has never been in the conversation around regenerative or sustainable fashion. With a recent announcement about a move into womenswear we are glad he’ll have this contest to get him thinking in new ways around production.
We see Charaf as the dark horse of this competition. We’re excited to learn that he is using wool as a natural alternative to synthetics in sportswear and would love that to spark a trend in streetwear where toxic materials are prevalent. Also great to see him looking into recycled wool going forward and forbidding the use of all plastics in processes.
Charaf also donates a full day’s worth of online sales each month to meaningful causes, most recently the NAACP.
WHO: Kenneth Ize
Background + Education: born and raised in Austria of Nigerian descent he attended the University of Applied Arts Vienna for both undergrad and MA, studying fashion under Hussein Chalayan and Bernhard Willhelm. He is now based in Lagos, Nigeria.
LVMH finalist 2019
Collaborated with the Karl Lagerfeld brand
Naomi Campbell is a friend and fan
First showing at Lagos fashion week, Kenneth’s use of asoke –a traditional Nigerian fabric of handwoven checks caught the attention of the fashion world internationally. He continues to work with local artisans and traditional craft across Nigeria –translating heritage and culture into his own beautiful and unique visual language seen in his collection.
This visual language is informed by heritage but not locked into it and he designs for everyone instead of “men or women”. In Fall 2020 he had complete head-to-toe knitwear looks that are covetable at any time but hold particular appeal during this pandemic when we want to be cozy yet chic. A hard proposition for most that Kenneth Ive makes look easy.
WHO: Marie-Ève Lecavalier
Background + Education: born and raised near Montreal, Canada Marie-Eve has a MA in Fashion Design and Accessories from Haute Ecole d’Art et Design (HEAD) in Geneva. She launched Lecavalier in 2018.
Raf Simons internship
Chloé Prize at the Festival d’Hyères in France
shortlisted for LVMH prize
Known for a wavy/hypnotic slightly psychedelic print and a mix of research and memories of childhood for her creative references. She uses upcycling and is working towards zero waste in her process.
LECAVALIER is a manifestation of perseverance and determination, proving that an emerging designer can be both innovative and sustainable. Noble textiles have always been at the core of LECAVALIER collections, with wool used in locally produced, loose-fitted tailoring and knitwear. From nearby tanneries, the designer sources leathers that have been rejected for minor defects by larger fashion companies, which has served to supply the development of a LECAVALIER-trademarked method of leather knitting; a technique the brand has become known for and one that Marie-Ève is looking to develop with other materials.
WHO: Thebe Magugu
Background + Education: BA Fashion, LISOF in Johannesburg.
Vogue italia Talents 2018
International Fashion Showcase Award
LVMH Prize Winner 2019
THEBE MAGUGU (the brand) is a contemporary South African fashion brand primarily operating within the field of women’s ready to wear, while having a firm footing in accessories and small multidisciplinary projects. Thebe Magugu (the human) is committed to creating clothes that merge his South African heritage with contemporary shapes and proportions and are fully produced in South Africa. He is also engaged in creating community through the publication of Faculty Press, a sort of yearbook celebrating his friends, other South African creatives, and sharing their unique work and cultural experience with the rest of us.
Like Kenneth Ize, Thebe Magugu is committed to bringing both visibility and work to his home country through his creations. He sees an inherent sustainability in preservation of history and craft and it will be interesting to see where he takes his collection for IWP (and us along with him).
WHO: Bethany Williams
Background + Education: Born on the Isle of Man, lives in London, MA London College of Fashion
Shortlisted for LVMH
Received the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design
Featured in Next Green talents showcase by Yoox and Vogue Italia
We are not surprised in the least that Bethany Williams is a finalist for the IWP. We are huge fans as is well known to anyone who reads No Kill Magazine–and not without reason.
Her approach is fundamentally inclusive and equitable to a degree we’ve never before seen in fashion or outside of it. Each season she works with different charitable causes collaboratively and all of her materials are recycled. She also donates 20% of her proceeds to a charity –recently it has been The Magpie Project.
Indeed, the entire structure of the brand is about demonstrating a vision of a socially and thoughtful fashion system, where production, profit and purpose are all aligned. In terms of the knitwear in her collections it is produced using secondhand sweaters and yarns by her mother and other knitters all still on the Isle of Man.