The International Woolmark Prize have announced the finalists for next year's 2021 edition. In-keeping with this year's theme of 'Less is More' and The Woolmark Company's on-going focus on transparency in the supply chain, the 2021 prize nominees are all engaging with responsible fashion in some way or another- increasingly a must for designers to stay relevant with an eco-conscious generation. Founded in 1936, the prestigious event celebrates outstanding fashion talents alongside promoting the versatility of wool and exceptional craftsmanship.
425 designers have benefited from the International Woolmark Prize since 2012, including Richard Malone and Gabriela Hearst, with previous winners dating right back to Valentino Garavani and Yves Saint Laurent, for whom the prize helped kick start their careers. Rumour has it Saint Laurent was hired on the spot by Christian Dior. This year's finalists include London designers Bethany Williams and Matty Bovan, French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer's Casablanca, Lecavalier from Canada, Thebe Magugu (South Africa) and Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize.
So, how does it all work? First, designers submit their applications, before the finalists are selected by a group of panellists and mentors which this time around includes critic Tim Blanks, supermodel Naomi Campbell and writer Sinéad Burke. Up for grabs are the International Woolmark Prize and Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation. The next stage in the process will see the designers each create their International Woolmark Prize collection, ready to present in about eight months time at a fashion week, although who knows whether IRL shows will be back up and running by then.
In the meantime, get to know this year's finalists.
Bethany Williams and Matty Bovan can both count themselves as two of London's fashion darlings, where mindful design is quickly become a must. LVMH Prize shortlisted designer Williams was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in 2019, and each season she partners with a different charity to support and collaborate with. Donating 20% of her profits to a chosen charity, she partners with community-led initiatives to produce each season. A/W 19 featured biodegradable knitwear whilst as S/S 20 collaborated with Spires, a London-based charity working with homeless and dis-advantaged people, on a collection featuring recycled tents which were made partly in Italy by women from San Patrignano, a drug dependency programme. Her most recent collection, S/S 21, saw her continued partnership with the Magpie Project in a campaign film capturing the Newham mothers and children whom the charity supports.
Bovan first burst onto the scene with Fashion East for S/S 17 and has since collaborated with the likes of Coach and milliner Stephen Jones on their couture-DIY hybrid designs. Using deadstock fabrics, which have also been incorporated into capsule collections with MatchesFashion, Bovan's fantastical designs offer a wonderful dystopian take on English historic dress together with more contemporary silhouettes. A Central Saint Martin's knitwear graduate, Bovan's knits always send the fashion crown wild and this new-found access to an even more diverse range of high-quality wools will certainly send Bovan's bespoke and ready-to-wear pieces skyrocketing.
Launched in homage to designer Charaf Tajer's dual French and Moroccan heritage, menswear brand Casablanca has been the word on fashion's lips for the past few seasons. Expect to lust over silky shirts and hand painted illustrations, with relaxed tailoring and a heady palette ready to whisk you away on a tropical escape. 2020 not only saw Casablanca collaborate on a sell-out New Balance design, but be made a joint winner of this year's LVMH prize. Having won us over with their towelling tracksuits, it will be interesting to see how wool is introduced to this European getaway.
Talking of LVMH, next up is last year's LVMH prize winner Thebe Magugu. Having founded his eponymous label back in 2016, Magugu has since established a narrative rich with social commentary, nodding to South African culture and history whilst incorporating traditional fabrics and construction techniques. His most recent S/S 21 offering was based on a series of interviews conducted with confessed female ex-spies who worked for and against South Africa's Old Regime, with one fabric pattern featuring the finger-prints of notorious double agent Olivia Forsyth. Working closely with artisans and factories in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Magugu's preservation of history and craft makes him an ideal Woolmark candidate.
SHOWstudio heard more from the designer, who also won the British Fashion Council's International Fashion Showcase 2019, in this revealing Voicemail Interview.
Also looking to the past, but this time indulging in nostalgia, is womenswear brand Lecavalier. LVMH-shortlisted designer Marie-Eve Lecavalier launched the label in 2018, and although its inspired largely by the 1970s and psychedelia, you can expect more luxe tailoring than hippy get ups. Since her graduate collection Come Get Trippy With Me, Lecavalier's got a Raf Simons collaboration under her belt together with the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography prize. Having moved around Europe, the designer has since moved back to her home in Montreal, with the hopes of supporting and elevating local industry, resulting in a more sustainable production chain for her brand.
Last but certainly not least is Lagos-born designer Kenneth Ize. Ize's been around since 2013, but it's only in the past few years that he's begun to get the attention he deserves. Reinterpreting traditional West African fabrics and Nigerian craft, Ize is also challenging and changing traditional lines of luxury production. The designer has said that the brand is:
"...devoted to the long established traditions of Nigerian craft and local artisanship, merging a new design aesthetic with a specifically local handcraft practice. There is the strong belief that in exploring and nurturing existing cultures, one opens up an exciting territory for creating and inspiring future traditions."
You can also catch up with Ize's latest collection via SHOWstudio's Kenneth Ize S/S 21 panel discussion.