South Korea wins big at Woolmark Prize Asia
Fate smiled upon South Korea last week, as emerging labels Munsoo Kwon and J Koo scooped both the menswear and womenswear categories of the 2015/16 International Woolmark Prize Asia finals in Shanghai.
Selected from 12 promising fashion talents in Asia, both winners earned A$50,000 (HK$282,000) in prize money, and will take part in next year's international finals.
The highly regarded competition is seen as a gateway for emerging designers to gain exposure. As always, this year's panel of judges was made up of a cross-section of industry leaders, including designer Thom Browne, Chinese supermodel Lu Yan and Cyril Rahon, head buyer of 10 Corso Como.
"Many designs left a strong impression on us, and knowing that the designers had to do it all on their own, from sourcing and developing the fabric to the final manufacture and presentation, it is certainly no easy feat," says first-time judge Browne.
"I approached the designers the same way I approach design, by making sure the garments are true to who they are and their point of view. And, of course, with a view to the commercial aspect. From this standpoint it was immediately clear that the winners had the strongest looks."
"All the judges were consistent in their assessment of the contestants. For the women's side we had one or two debates. But we ultimately agreed on who the winner should be. For the menswear, there were two that we thought stood out," says Joyce Boutique's general merchandising manager Michael Mok.
Womenswear category winner Jinwoo Choi and Yeonjoo Koo of J Koo delivered what first appeared to be an oversized denim jacket with matching trousers. The pair's innovative fabric development transformed the material with artful use of bleach and strategic fraying to add to the illusion.
Menswear winner Munsoo Kwon created a well-tailored suit that showed new ways of working with wool. Traditional pinstripe suiting was transformed into a modern look with white ombré along the sleeves and trouser legs.
What has been evident throughout Woolmark's association with the awards is the constantly evolving role of wool. Young designers who take part in the competition are given ample resources to study and experiment with this renewable material.
And innovations are constantly being created by the company's own research and development arm, as new forms of wool are created. For example, many types are now machine washable, while others are woven into paper-thin translucent fabrics.
This year's regional finals included plenty of Chinese design talent.
Eponymous Hong Kong label Hei Lau experimented with striped triangles that can be worn in various ways, while WHOSTHAT took inspiration from light and shadow to develop a technical study of wool in various levels of thickness.
Last year's womenswear winners, avant-garde Shenzhen-based label ffiXXed, took part again, presenting an unusual take on the cosy cable-knit sweater.
"Kain [Picken] and I decided to enter again because last time was such a positive experience. Since we won the prize we've been offered a lot more opportunities and a number of companies have approached us to do collaborations," says ffiXXed co-founder Fiona Lau.