International Woolmark prize in the Indian subcontinent and Middle east regional womenswear winner Bodice.

Indian designers won the women’s and men’s wear awards for the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East region of the International Woolmark Prize.

Ruchika Sachdeva, whose label Bodice won the women’s wear award, and Ujjawal Dubey, whose label Antar-Agni won in the men’s wear category, both emphasized wool’s weave and the fabric itself, in their respective collections.

India has an advantage in that it is such a treasure trove. The handspun merino wool also lends us an abundance of techniques. The tradition of craft available for centuries adds to that,” Sachdeva, who started Bodice six years ago, told WWD.

The nominees for the Indian Subcontinent and Middle East included, for men’s wear Antar-Agni – India; Dhruv Kapoor – India; Theorem – India; Varoin Marwah – Dubai, and Ziggi Men’s Wear – Pakistan. For women’s wear, the nominees were Bodice – India; Hemang Agrawal – India; Matar – Bahrain; Khadija Rahman – Pakistan; Nour Najem – Lebanon; Timi Hayek – Lebanon; Péro – India, and Zonia Anwaar – Pakistan.

While wool has not really been a traditional fabric in India, it has made major inroads into the market in recent years and designers have been working their way past the mental block created by the subcontinent’s long hot summers and the lure of cotton.

In 2016, Indian designer Suket Dhir won the International Woolmark Prize for men’s wear. In 2014, designer Rahul Mishra won the overall prize, becoming the first Indian designer to do so.

“If you’re creative, you can use any material and interweave it with your own vision,” Sachdeva observed.

“I have developed a newfound appreciation for this incredible fiber,” Dubey noted, speaking about wool and his winning creation. “I started with handloom, to keep the texture and simplicity of life of the nomadic tribesmen from across India who spend most of their time under the constellations of the sky. It is simple layers and cuts — the way you create the blend defines the drapes — and that was one of the strongest points for me,” he said.

Dubey’s label was launched in 2014, after a four-year stint working with veteran designers Shantanu & Nikhil. His winning look focused on layering, with multiple layers of woven twill. “We wanted to play with the idea of creating comfort clothing for the new-age man who juggles several roles. Think banker-by-day, traveler-by-the-weekend,” he explained.

Bodice’s winning look was also sparked by the process of creating the textile itself — right from the fiber to the yarn — and was inspired by the 18th-century costumes of Indian nautch girls. Her collection mixed old and new techniques of handwoven fabrics and traditional kantha embroidery but compressed them “to create a kind of texture.”

Sachdeva finished her training in fashion in London before launching her own boutique in New Delhi’s eclectic Hauz Khas village, which is known for its creative retail outlets.

Both designers win a financial contribution of 70,000 Australian dollars, along with the opportunity to compete in the international final, which will feature the six men’s wear candidates and six women’s wear ones. In addition, each winner will receive mentoring support from a global panel of experts along with being granted a Woolmark license.

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