Looking back through the history books it seems as though the ‘who’s who’ of the fashion industry has been involved, somehow, with what’s now known as the International Woolmark Prize (IWP). In 1954, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld impressed judges Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain, and the two then unknown designers were launched into the forefront of the fashion industry.
And then, as fashion writer and commentator Colin McDowell says during Reaching the Mark, Armani won, and Donna Karan, and Dolce & Gabbana. “It’s got a real record and I think it’s marvellous that now we’re going to young, unknown designers and giving them a chance in what is now a world of fashion.”
But before the grandeur of the final award in 2013, there were six young labels and one of Australia’s most distinctive natural resources – Merino wool. Natural, renewable and biodegradable, Merino wool poses as the perfect blank canvas for designers, giving these artists infinite possibilities to create masterpieces and present them to the world.
“I’m very excited about the idea that wool, a staple from thousands of years ago, is now not only beginning to re-establish itself, it’s doing it on a global scale,” says McDowell.
This global reach is represented in Reaching the Mark, whereby filmmaker Anthony Lau travels to the designers’ home countries to hear their stories, learn their history, discover their regional inspirations and observe their ups and downs as they make magic with wool.
The film takes the audience on a journey, tracking the entrants’ progress before ending in London. Featuring revealing interviews with each finalist we are given a rare insight into the aspirations, anxieties and determination endured by the emerging labels as they vie to make their mark on the global stage.
Key judges from the panel make an appearance with interviews from Tim Blanks, Victoria Beckham, Donatella Versace and Diane von Furstenburg discussing the finalists and what their talent means to the industry.
“What’s become very clear over the past few decades is that fashion is a truly international language,” says IWP judge and Style.com Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks. “And it might be spoken with a little local inflection, but wherever you go you see essentially the same principles, and this award recognises the global reach of fashion.”
Representing Europe, Christian Wijnants started with white yarn and set out to explore the infinite potential of the fibre. Finding synergy between age-old techniques and innovative processes, the Belgian designer invented a new shape that was both striking and sculptural.
“The X-Factor in fashion now is the story that a designer tells with their clothes.” Tim Blanks
“I’m very honoured to have won this prize because there’s such a rich history about the prize and also about Woolmark itself,” Wijnants explains during Reaching the Mark. “I’m very happy to be part of the Woolmark family now and a representative of the wool industry.”
It’s this sense of connection and of belonging to the fashion family – however large – which ties the entire industry together. Fashion’s international language and universal appeal allows designers to tell their story right across the world.
“The X-Factor in fashion now is the story that a designer tells with their clothes,” Blanks says. But, as fellow judge and renowned fashion designer Diane von Furstenburg says, it’s also the support given which helps keep the industry alive.
"Fashion is what happens. It’s this very mysterious music that defines how we live and how we appear and how we fantasise to live. The fashion industry, we are a huge, huge family and I think it is important that we support everything. That we support the fibre, the industry, the designers. All of it together employs so many people and we make the world beautiful.”