NEW DELHI — The design duo of Pankaj & Nidhi have been chosen as the Indian regional winners in the global International Woolmark Prize competition.

This story first appeared in the July 26, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The judges praised them for their use of color and spontaneity inspired by “craftsmanship, symbolism and cultural objects.”

“The money could transform the way we do business,” said designer Pankaj Ahuja.

The other two designers chosen as finalists were Gaurav Gupta and Rahul Mishra.

It is the first time that China, India and Italy have been included in the prestigious prize, which was won by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent in the Fifties and is being relaunched this year. Dion Lee last week won the Australian region prize. He and Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja will now head to London Fashion Week in February with four other regional finalists for the grand final, to compete for a further 100,000 Australian dollars, or $102,258 at current exchange. The finalists, who so far include Sophie Theallet (U.S.), Christian Wijnants (Europe) and Ban Xiao Xue (China), will be judged on their capsule collections made from Australian merino wool. The overall winner’s collection will be sold beginning in August 2013 through Woolmark’s key retail partners, including Harvey Nichols in the U.K., Lane Crawford in China, Bergdorf Goodman in the U.S. and Australia’s David Jones.

The judges for the Indian event included Pradeep Hirani, managing director, Kimaya Fashion Pvt. Ltd; Sunil Sethi, chairman, Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI); Simon Lock, founder, Australian Fashion Week, and Amir Sheikh, country manager, The Woolmark Co. (India).

“These designers are not just Indian. In concept and in their vision, they are really international designers,” Hirani said. Kimaya is one of India’s premier fashion retailers with more than 16 stores across the country.

Wool has not been a traditional fabric for Indian designers and several of studied and traveled to find the best way merino wool would fall, cut and take the Indian perspective on fashion.

“Wool is not a material Indian designers use traditionally. But certain companies such as Raymonds, JayaShree, Oswal and others do buy a lot of it. More than 95 percent of the wool used here is for the men’s market,” said Sheikh.

“We see a change here in India in the perception of wool,” he added. “We are coming up with cool wool, which can be used in all seasons. We expect the consumption of wool to grow more at a mass level.”

The Woolmark Co. has been in India since 1964. The designers short-listed for the award include Pankaj & Nidhi, Gupta, Mishra, Chauhan, Aneeth Arora, Arjun Saluja, Rimzim Dadu, Ritesh Kumar, Smita & Himanshu and Zubair Kirmani.

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