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By Smitha Sadanandan
Many decades ago, Woolmark, a company set up in 1937 to promote the use of Australian Merino wool in fashion, turned the spotlight in 1954 on two young, unknown womenswear designers by awarding them the first International Woolmark Prize (IWP) for fashion.
The first fresh young thing was Karl Lagerfeld, then 21, and the second was a certain Yves Saint Laurent, merely 18, at the time. These (then) young men won the awards for the coats and dress design categories, respectively–and we all know that they both went on to create fashion history.
Nearly 50 years later, Rahul Mishra took to the stage and seamlessly knitted some pretty good history of his own. In February 2014, Mishra – representing India and the Middle East – walked away with the International Woolmark Prize for his “incredible knowledge of techniques and craftsmanship, with stunning embroidery adorning his capsule collection.”
Rahul’s journey began nearly 12 months ago, when Woolmark scoured 20 countries to nominate 48 designers who would honour a fibre and compete for international glory in the 2013/14 edition of the IWP. As Milan’s La Triennale Museum played host to the eclectic runway show, five designers including Rahul – all masters of their craft – showcased their six-piece Merino wool capsule collection before an A-list crowd.
Undeniably, Rahul made his mark and the judging panel, comprising Gucci’s Frida Giannini, Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani, Tim Blanks of Style.com, Woolmark’s Colette Garnsey, Alexa Chung and others, cherry-picked his collection for the top prize.
Rahul’s design philosophy revolves around integrating the rich heritage of Indian craft with the constantly varying pulse of global fashion: his collection for the Woolmark competition displayed progressive graphic hand embroidery with Merino wool yarn on jackets, dresses and pants.
“For me, Rahul has won because of his ability to apply his knowledge of embroideries through wool one of the most versatile fibres with originality in an unexpected way,” said Giannini.
Alexa Chung was delighted with the collection: “His interpretation was so delicate and beautiful. I was really moved by Rahul’s story. I believe he is well deserving of this award,” she said.
The competition was tough, and included ffixed (Asia), Christopher Esber (Australia), Sibling (Europe) and Altuzarra (USA), but Rahul’s collection spun a yarn of ingenuity and creativity.
The designer, who dedicated the win to his late uncle, said: “I feel like this is a dream and this is giving me new hopes for my future career. This award will change the perception of global fashion in regards to Indian fashion and this is all because of wool – an amazing fibre, the fibre of possibilities.”
Alongside this prestigious recognition, Rahul received AU$100,000 along with the opportunity for his collection to be stocked in the most important retailers around the globe, including Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, 10 Corso Como, Joyce, David Jones, Colette and mytheresa.com.
The collection will be available in partner retailer stores globally from August 2014.