A myriad of colour, intriguing texture and thought-out design was on show at the Australian round of the International Woolmark Prize, but it was pared-back suiting that stood out for the judges as tailor Patrick Johnson of P.Johnson and womenswear designer Bianca Spender won them over with their individual takes on the pant suit.
A judging panel of seven high-profile fashion identities, including London-based designer Osman Yousefzada, Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann and Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Kellie Hush, deemed the light, easy tailoring both designers displayed to be the ideal showcase for Australian Merino wool.
With the winter sun appropriately shining in a clear blue sky, both submissions demonstrated the trans-seasonal properties of the versatile fibre.
“They’re quite comparable in a sense,” said McCann. “There’s something about Bianca’s aesthetic and P.Johnson that is quite similar, this very lightweight wool that felt very refreshing.”
Johnson, who fittingly grew up on a wool farm, chose to present a white deconstructed blazer and navy trouser combination inspired by the Sydney Opera House (the iconic building conveniently glinting in the background).
Spender had entitled her collection The Incredible Lightness of Being and featured lightweight, sheer wool gauze in a distinctly Australian shade of sand. “I have had such a long affair with wool to the point where my team always say: ‘Okay, you do beautiful winters with wool, now what are we going to do about summer?’,” she said.
Yousefzada, in Australia for the first time to take part in the prize, was taken by the standard across the board. “The calibre of talent was amazing,” he said. “The design details, the use of fabric, the commercial viability of the collections. Each of the designers had a very strong case.”
Both finalists gain a financial contribution of AU$50,000, plus the opportunity to represent Australia and compete in the prestigious international final. For the next six to seven months, Johnson and Spender will develop their capsule collections in Merino wool.
While the international womenswear event will be staged during fashion week in New York in February, the menswear award will happen in Florence at Pitti Uomo, arguably the world’s most important platform for men’s design.
“I’m most excited about getting all the outfits made up,” laughed Johnson. “It will be nice to be at Pitti Uomo in January and I’m excited about the chance of winning. I think we’re in with a good shot!”
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