BEIJING — American designer Marcia Patmos’ label M.Patmos on Tuesday won the International Woolmark Prize for women’s wear. The New York-based designer competed against four other labels here, the first time the competition has been held in the Chinese capital.
The competition, first held in 1953 as an initiative of the International Wool Secretariat, was revived three years ago to promote young designers showcasing the benefits of working with Australian merino wool. Today, more than 60 designers from more than 20 countries take part, with five designers chosen for final competitions in men’s wear and women’s wear. This year’s men’s wear competition, held for the first time, was in London and was won by Public School, also an American brand.
The other finalists for the women’s prize were Augustin Teboul from Germany; VMajor from China; Lebanon’s Bird on a Wire, and Strateas.Carlucci from Australia.
Patmos showcased a utilitarian collection she said is aimed at a globalized woman who needs functional clothing, adaptable for different climates, workplace needs and social functions. The earth-toned collection with a fresh, organic vibe paired boxy sweaters with knit leggings, boxy pants, long coats and shawls detailed with chunky fringe.
“Everything is very functional,” the designer said after the competition, which took place in an historic mansion on the outskirts of Beijing, adding that her collection is inspired by the story of a woman who has to travel through five cities and needs to rely on clothes that are adaptable for multiple climes and activities.
“If you end up in Beijing, you have lots of layers,” Patmos said. “Or if you end up in Morocco, you have something sleeveless underneath. My philosophy is to design pieces you can wear all of the time, to work or on the weekends, even out on a trek.”
The winner receives 100,000 Australian dollars, or about $78,000 at current exchange, and the opportunity to have their collection stocked at retailers such as Harvey Nichols in Great Britain; 10 Corso Como in Italy; Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S.; Joyce in Hong Kong; David Jones in Australia, and Mytheresa.com.
Judges included Victoria Beckham; Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of Vogue Italia, and Angelica Cheung, editor in chief of Vogue China. Other judges included representatives from retailers and brands including Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Sozzani said while in the past judges chose winners based more on creativity, this year the panel aimed for a label that demonstrated a strong DNA and brand longevity.
“The designer we have chosen is the one with the strongest concept,” Sozzani said. “A strong concept of the women of today who have to travel and feel comfortable. The other designers may have had more beautiful pieces, but whether their designs can withstand after the competition is the test.”
For this competition compared with previous years, Sozzani said judges “made a choice in a different way,” selecting the winner not based on a collection created “for one evening or for one day or for one moment, but rather that could last for years.”
Cheung echoed Sozzani’s sentiments, yet said she has concerns over how Patmos will communicate her concepts to consumers in a retail space.
Patmos’ concept is “very clear and very consistent and the concept is based on a lifestyle rather than something abstract. You can see where the brand is heading and what it stands for,” Cheung said. “Any reservation on my part surrounds the different functionalities, the pockets, the different ways of using them. If you are in a retail space, a consumer walking in may not understand this. Her challenge is how to communicate her thoughts to consumers on the retail front.”
“It feels like very wearable, comfortable clothes rather than fashion,” Cheung said. “But we all agreed the American designer is probably the best winner. The concept is bigger and is addressing a lifestyle that is worldwide, so we all feel it has the potential to become more successful.”
VMajor, a Chinese brand designed by Victor Zhu and Nicole Lin, appeared to also be a favorite. Both Sozzani and Cheung said the brand came in as their second choice due to its quality and sophisticated, modern shapes. Both designers studied in London and are based in Shenzhen, a city in southern China.
“I feel their clothes are very modern and well-designed,” Cheung said. “It is styled nicely. The patterns are fantastic and very well made and well-polished. I do think they are heading somewhere and that this whole experience will help them.”
Next year’s International Woolmark Prize women’s wear competition will be held in New York. There has not been a decision on where the men’s wear competition will be held.
Woolmark chief executive officer Stuart McCullough said the organization’s decision to hold the competition in Beijing stemmed from China’s consumption of Australian wool, a more sophisticated consumer class buying luxury goods, including wool products and the opportunity for up-and-coming designers to not only have international exposure, but also more exposure in mainland China and Asia.
“We wanted to show China that we value them as a partner, recognize them as a partner, and that holding this competition here was an important gesture for us,” McCullough said, adding that China accounts for 80 percent of Australian wool exports. “They have affluence now, and when they have affluence, they want luxury, and when they want luxury, wool will always feature into their buying habits when purchasing luxury goods. We are not concerned about China. They are still a big, strong economy.”