International Woolmark Prize show, Spring 2017

PARIS — New York-based designer Gabriela Hearst and the London underground-inspired label Cottweiler took home this year’s International Woolmark Prizes for women and men, respectively.

At a Champagne reception at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, a panel stacked with top names in the fashion industry announced the winners, both of whom will receive 100,000 Australian dollars, or about $75,614 at current exchange.

Lanvin’s creative director Bouchra Jarrar and designer Victoria Beckham were among the judges for the women’s wear prize, while Hood By Air creative director Shayne Oliver and Olivier Lalanne, editor in chief of Vogue Hommes, sat on the men’s wear panel.

Cottweiler, the U.K. underground brand by Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty, wowed judges with a utility-focused capsule collection that paired extra-fine merino weaves that could easily be mistaken for cotton with nylon puffer vests.

“Cottweiler stood out because it was so contemporary and in the conversation,” said Hood By Air’s Oliver, citing the brand’s strong showing during London Men’s Fashion Week and collaboration with Reebok.

“We felt like Cottweiler was at a place where the brand could handle this cash flow,”  he added. “Seeing how well they’ve done with collaborations I think it’s exciting to see what they can do with this investment on their own.”

“We’re hoping the prize will help us reach a broader audience; we’re still pretty niche” said Cottrell. Cottweiler is currently stocked in luxury boutiques and department stores including Dover Street Market and Harvey Nichols. “We’re going to try and get a bit bigger now without getting overexposed.”

Prize winners will also receive business mentoring and the opportunity to distribute their capsule collection in the boutiques of international retail partners including, Harvey Nichols, and L’Eclaireur.

Women’s wear winner Gabriela Hearst grew up on a sheep ranch in Uruguay before becoming a designer in New York. Hearst’s personal connection to and knowledge of wool seemed to inspire the judges — along with a capsule collection that was both functional and luxurious.

“I wanted to do ultra-luxury but with some sport influences. There’s a shift to using merino wool in high-performance sports so I wanted to highlight that,” said Hearst, pointing out a cycling-inspired look that was intended for a woman who wants to bicycle to her job. “I wanted it to be ultra-light but also really well made…When you support luxury you support passion, because you are working with second-generation mills, with family-owned factories that have passion for their product.”

Hearst said her label planned to invest the prize winnings in an extended producer productivity, or EPR, software to make the label more efficient. “It’s something that makes sure you’re not wasteful. I believe in luxury, but at this time the environment cannot support waste.”

“Gabriela’s collection was not only beautiful, it was innovative in structure,” said Stuart McCullough, managing director of the prize’s sponsor The Woolmark Company. He sat on the women’s wear panel.

“It was quite commercial as well,” he added. “A lot of the time you have the beautiful without the commercial but here you have both.”

After the announcement, contestants, judges and guests of the Woolmark Prize made their way to a cocktail reception at the Australian Embassy.

The winners were among six women’s wear designers and six men’s wear designers selected in regional competitions. Brands had to be between three and seven years old to qualify.

For women’s wear, other finalists included Faustine Steinmetz, Nachiket Barve, Tim Labenda, Macgraw and Toton. Men’s wear finalists included Bounipin, Ex Infinitas, Münn, Rochambeau and Tonsure.

“What I’ll remember about the prize is that there was really so much talent on the podiums,” said Lanvin’s Jarrar. “These prizes shed a light that young brands can really benefit from. And then there’s  the investment as well.”

Other judges included a mix of designers, top editors, retail executives and media personalities.

Christiane Arp, editor in chief of Vogue Germany joined the panel for women’s wear, along with Anita Barr, group fashion buying director at Harvey Nichols; singer and actress Lou Doillon; fashion consultant Julie Gilhart;  Natalie Massenet, chair of the British Fashion Council, and Virginie Mouzat, fashion and lifestyle editor in chief of Vanity Fair.

For men’s wear, the team included such names as Benn McGregor, men’s wear buyer for Harvey Nichols; Jefferson Hack, chief executive officer and cofounder of Dazed Media; Stefano Tonchi, editor in chief of W Magazine; Leilah Weinraub, chief executive officer of Hood By Air, and Nelson Mui, vice president and men’s fashion director of Hudson’s Bay Co.