NEW YORK — Sophie Theallet is the regional (U.S.) winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and will go on to compete in the international final.

This story first appeared in the July 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Theallet was chosen Monday among 10 U.S. finalists, all of whom are members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The finalists were Bibhu Mohapatra, Slinky Vagabond, Kaufman Franco, M. Patmos, Naeem Khan, Number:Lab, Prabal Gurung, Ruffian and VPL Designs.

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“I was shocked. It’s so important. You have no idea,” said Theallet, at a press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel here. She will receive $100,000 as the regional winner. Regional design contests are taking place in China, Australia, India and Europe. Winners in those regions will receive $50,000.

The regional winners will compete for the International Woolmark Prize, which will be determined in February. That winner will receive an additional 100,000 Australian dollars, or $101,966.61 at current exchange, to assist them in underwriting their next fashion show. In addition, the winning designer will have their collection sold to key retail partners such as Harvey Nichols in the U.K., Lane Crawford in China, Eickhoff in Germany and Bergdorf Goodman in the U.S., beginning in August 2013.

The global fashion competition — which famously was a springboard for the careers of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in the Fifties — awards outstanding and emerging designers for their creativity in merino wool. The contest aims to develop the next generation of fashion designers and to highlight wool’s eco credentials.

Theallet, whose designs have a French flair, cut her teeth at Jean-Paul Gaultier and, later, Azzedine Alaïa, where she worked 10 years as his right-hand woman. After moving to New York, she worked for Alaïa on a part-time basis and launched her own label in 2007. She was awarded the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2009.

The designer was selected by a panel of judges consisting of Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA; Narciso Rodriguez; Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman; Sally Singer, editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine; Malcolm Carfrae, executive vice president of global communications at Calvin Klein Inc., and Kara Hurry, regional marketing manager, Northern Hemisphere, The Woolmark Co. The judges convened for five hours Monday to review the entrants’ work, interview them, and then discuss and vote. The designers were judged on their “interesting and unique” interpretations of merino wool, including appropriateness of fabric choice of silhouettes presented; use of merino fabrics in a new and interesting way; wearability and functionality, and use of color or tone. Other criteria include quality of production and the entrant’s business capabilities.

“It was very neck and neck,” said Bergdorf’s Fargo. “I think Sophie really felt at ease with the material. She has an authenticity about her and is the real deal, as far as design goes. She is one of the most beautiful colorists.” Fargo was impressed with the “gorgeous” colors she uses and the way she mixes them. “If she could win this on a global stage, it will make a big difference to her business.” At present, Bergdorf’s doesn’t carry Theallet’s collection.

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Rodriguez added, “It was a very difficult decision. She’s a visionary and has great skill and knows the craft. When you see the breadth of her vision, it’s just really impressive.”

Kolb said that the exposure for American designers and the prestige that comes with this award is very impressive. “To give a global platform to one designer is so important,” he said.