While most New Yorkers have been trying to stay as cool as possible in the midst of this scorching summer heat, twelve designers were figuring out how to showcase merino wool in the garments they presented at the finals of the 2017/18 International Woolmark Prize USA.
Since 1953, the Woolmark Company has been holding their annual award competition across the globe, allowing emerging fashion designers to showcase merino wool in versatile and innovative ways. Once upon a thread, a very young Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were early winners, and five decades later Public School’s own Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne claimed the first menswear prize.
At this year’s regional event, held at Madison Square Park’s Neuehouse, Dyne and Zaid Affas took top honors in menswear and womenswear, respectively. Both West Coast brands secured a cash prize of $70,000 Australian dollars each, along with the opportunity to move forward to the international final. The panel of judges included acclaimed industry veterans such as Steven Kolb, the president and CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, W’s Editor-in-Chief Stefano Tonchi, and more.
“Growing up, I was a daredevil. I loved being outdoors, skateboarding and snowboarding and doing action sports, so [the outfit] was really an homage to that,” said Christopher Bevans, the designer of Dyne. Inspired by his own childhood wool bomber, Bevans took a classic outdoors look and added elements of modern technology. He presented a navy and grey snowboarding suit, comprised of a jacket and overalls. The garments had reflective taping and heat transfers, each embedded with near-field communication–produced by DYNE–that interacts with one’s wireless device, notifying the customer of terrain conditions.
The whole look checks off the boxes of DYNE’s ethos: fit, function, and fabric. Bevans noted that the construction of the garments along with the innovative technical details built into the fabric is what made it a solid garment. By adding darts and visual seams in a lighter tone than the rest of the garment, Bevans put his own spin on a very ordinary technique for shaping the wool. The symmetrical pops of grey on the arms, elbows and oversized pockets create for an almost architectural, new way of ergonomically shaping clothes.
The brand consultant Kate Lanphear, who served as a judge, said what got her attention was the way Bevans spoke about the fabric with reverence. “It’s not so much thinking outside of the box, that’s such a cliché; he was actually putting these things into practice. I think sometimes in fashion we are so full of lofty ideas; [he] actually drilled down and made these ideas work,” she said.
Bevans, who was named a finalist in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund just the day before, was honored and overwhelmed: “It’s been a big two weeks for the brand, [to be recognized as] a minority-run company and just a bunch of creative folks having fun, it’s a real special moment.”
Of Bevans and Affas, the fashion consultant and Woolmark Prize mentor Julie Gilhart said what was interesting to her was that “both have a lot of experience behind them, but their namesake brands are still in the stages of youth […] and they’re both able to combine what’s old and what’s new in a way that makes a lot of sense.”
Zaid Affas, the designer behind his own namesake brand, featured merino wool in three different ways with a three-piece outfit: a coat, sweatshirt, and gown. He explained that although the coat and top are both 100% wool, the coat is laminated. Seemingly camouflaged, the wool lies under a shiny and thick layer of plastic lamination, adding a sculptural element to the outfit. The gown, sleek and form-fitting with a slit along the side, is a blend of 70% wool and 30% viscose.
Affas described his look, with a mesmerizing tactility that invites touch, as being based on both “man-made beauty and natural beauty.” As an outfit, the contrasting individual pieces manifested a balancing act: On the one hand, the very structural coat and gown, on the other, the organically draped sweatshirt. These conflicting characteristics are reflective of Affas’ background, with an architect father and an appreciation for natural forms.
“To me, the way I design fabric is so important and this was about the fabric and how you use it,” said Affas. With a reverence for material gained over three years designing his own luxury brand with couture-level details, Affas was especially proud to win this prize.
As for what’s next, during the next few months both designers will be working on a capsule collection—still showcasing the beauty and versatility of merino wool—to compete against finalists from around the world for the International Woolmark Prize. In addition to a financial prize, global winners will get the opportunity to sell their merino wool capsule collection sold in top department stores, from Harvey Nichols to Boutique 1. It looks like both Affas and Bevans will be celebrating this win by planning for their next one.