NEW YORK — “I feel the weight of a career-changing moment. I’m super honored and excited to get moving on all the cool innovations and new territory I haven’t fully embraced,” said Willy Chavarria, a men’s wear designer who was one of the four finalists selected here Thursday for the International Woolmark Prize. The three other finalists chosen were women’s designers Brandon Maxwell, Colovos and Albus Lumen.
All four will be headed to London in February to compete in the international finals against the eight other finalists, who were chosen in London and Hong Kong earlier this month.
In total, 42 designers globally competed for the 12 spots. The International Woolmark Prize recognizes outstanding fashion talents from across the globe who showcase the beauty, versatility and innovative nature of merino wool.
The four finalists chosen Thursday will receive a financial contribution of 70,000 Australian dollars, or $51,855, for the development of their business and a capsule collection to be shown in London. The grand prize for the 2018-19 men’s wear and women’s wear finals is 200,000 Australian dollars, in addition to the Innovation Award, which was launched last year and provides an additional prize fund of 100,000 Australian dollars. Winners will also have the opportunity for their merino wool capsule collections to be sold in top boutiques and department stores, including Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford, Mytheresa.com and Hudson’s Bay Co.
Unlike previous years that featured competitions in six regions, there were three regional competitions this year: Hong Kong; Europe and the U.K., and the Rest of the World, which took place in New York. The New York competition had finalists from Australia, Nigeria and Italy, among other countries.
Another change was designers no longer had to produce the samples for their presented collections during the regional competition. Instead, they presented six sketches and fabric. The effort was to mitigate the costs designers incurred for the regionals. For the finals, the finalists will produce their six-piece capsule comprised of minimum 60 percent merino wool, with the support of their 70,000 Australian dollar prize fund.
In New York, Maxwell, Colovos, Chavarria — all from the U.S. — and Albus Lumen from Australia bested semifinalists Jacinta James, also from Australia; J. Kim of Russia; Area and Cienne, both of the U.S., in women’s; Childs New York of the U.S.; Comeforbreakfast from Italy, and Orange Culture of Nigeria in men’s, and Linder and Deveaux New York — both of the U.S. — for women’s wear and men’s wear.
Asked how he was feeling after being named a Woolmark finalist and what he was going to do first, Maxwell said he felt “really good” and was going to “feed his dog.” He said he worked late Wednesday night, so he was too tired to be overly nervous during the judging process. Maxwell took the best-selling styles from his sportswear collection and made them in merino wool with storm system technology, allowing the fabric to breath and keep water from getting in.
Maxwell, who has received the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear, the Fashion Group International Rising Star Award and was an LVMH Prize finalist, has been having a good run since launching his business in 2015. “It’s really amazing,” he said about the Woolmark recognition. “I’m like a kid who never won anything growing up.”
He sells such retailers as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Jeffrey, Net-a-porter and Moda Operandi.
Chavarria, who is from the San Joaquin Valley, Calif., where he grew up in a small community of immigrant farm laborers, said his collection was about embracing the past through the story of immigration and farm workers and embracing the future of immigration. For his men’s collection, he used natural earth tones in merino wool and merino wool mixed with synthetics. He combined it with high-tech body mapping to reinterpret everyday wear.
Chavarria is in his fifth season and is based in New York, selling such stores as Barneys New York, Opening Ceremony, Isetan in Japan and Browns in London.
Michael and Nicole Colovos, the designers behind Colovos, are competing for the Woolmark prize for the first time. The designers, who previously launched Habitual, a high-end denim collection and went on to become co-creative directors of Helmut Lang for eight years, launched their eponymous collection in 2016.
Michael Colovos said their Woolmark collection was inspired by the idea of denim and your favorite pair of jeans, which gets better with age. They worked with mills to add texture and cold water dye techniques with the indigo. Nicole Colovos said the wool they used was inspired by sportswear and workwear and they aimed to bring a modern concept to wool, which has historically been thought of as being “formal and itchy.” They were able to treat the wool to make it super soft with a very light feel, said Michael Conovos.
The couple were the winners of the first CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for emerging designers when they were at Habitual. Today, they sell such retailers as Bergdorf Goodman, Ikram, Need Supply, Viola Lovely and other specialty stores.
Marina Afonina, designer of the Australian women’s label Albus Lumen, which means “White Light” in Latin, founded her label in 2015. “I’m just overwhelmed. We had a big year this year,” Afonina said. She’s been designing with wool for the past two seasons and uses it in a resort way, creating light fabrics, and blending them with fine jerseys and silks. Her Woolmark collection was inspired by nature, the desert, corals and shells. “The whole collection was all shades of white with different textures,” she said.
Afonina said she sells boutiques in Sydney, as well as Net-a-porter and MatchesFashion.com.
Asked how she planned to celebrate, she said, “I’m going on a holiday to Mykonos and Italy with family.”
The judges didn’t seem to have difficulty coming up with the four finalists.
“It was very easy,” said Stefano Tonchi, editor in chief of W, and a judge at the event. “There wasn’t a lot of arguing or fights. Everyone came up with the same names very fast.”
He said they tried to select people who would highlight different ideas and represent different values in fashion right now. “It was more about the commercial power and the potential of the brand,” he said.
As reported, Daniel W. Fletcher, Edward Crutchley, Nicholas Daley, all from the U.K., and CMMN SWDN, from Sweden, were named the winners of the 2018-19 International Woolmark Prize London semifinal. Angel Chen from China, i-am-chen from Hong Kong, Yohei Ohno from Japan and Youser from South Korea were named winners of the 2018-19 International Woolmark Prize Hong Kong semifinal.