When fashion designer Christian Wijnants came on stage on Saturday night to accept the International Woolmark Prize, he surely knew that he is bestowed the same career-propelling honour as the young Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in 1954, when it was still called the prize of the International Wool Secretariat, and celebrated in Paris.
Euphorically air-kissing Donatella Versace Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani - both of whom were part of a high profile jury that also included Victoria Beckham, Diane von Furstenberg, and leading retailers - the 34-year old Belgian designer didn't hide his excitement about pocketing the $100,000 AUD industry endorsement, which will allow his brand to make the next step of growth and gain international exposure.
He convinced the panel with a capsule collection of seamless garments in bulbous shapes that underlined his sculptural approach towards fashion design. Differing from other awards, however, the Woolmark prize isn't purely led by aesthetic considerations. 'We want to be sure to create an opportunity for designers that can be merchandised,' said Stuart McCullough, CEO of the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the not-for-profit body that is collectively owned by 27,000 Australian woolgrowers, which invented the prize to globally promote fine Merino wool.
Since the 1960s, when man-made materials were introduced into fabric design on a competitive scale, the natural fibre has been been threatened by cheaper alternatives. High street retailers continue to pressure producers for low-cost merchandise, but the unique characteristics of wool, its comfort and wearability are hard to match by synthetics.
Christian Wijnants' collection will appeal to a new kind of post-modern customer, the so-called LOHAS (Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability) consumer who values the eco-aspect of the product that renewably grows on the back of the Merino sheep. The designer's intriguing tie-dye knits and unusual shapes take wool decidedly into the 21st century.