In 1936, Australian woolgrowers voted for a levy to be imposed on each bale of wool they produced, to promote their product around the world. This audacious, visionary decision resulted in the formation of a body first known as the International Wool Secretariat (IWS); one of the initiatives of the IWS was a fashion design award to highlight the versatility and modernity of wool.
The Woolmark Prize was first launched in 1953, but it was at the 1954 awards that two young, unknown womenswear designers, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, stepped up on stage to accept their respective fashion design prizes. Lagerfeld, then 21, was the winner of the coat category. Saint Laurent, at a mere 18 years old, won the award for dress design, judged by a panel which included Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. It was at that moment that fashion history was made…
By the 1960s synthetic fibres were posing a major challenge to wool’s supremacy. To fight back, Chairman of the IWS, Sir William Vines, came up with the idea of a unique label that would be a guarantee of a wool product’s composition. And so the Woolmark was born.
In 1964 the IWS organised an international competition to design the logo of the new brand. The Italian graphic designer Francesco Saroglia was chosen from the dozens of entries – his proposition of five black bands criss-crossing to form a skein-shape to perfectly represent the softness, elegance and modernity of wool.
50 years after its first appearance, the Woolmark logo is now one of the world’s ten most well -known and respected apparel-related brands, with strong relationships within the global apparel industry and with the world’s leading designers and manufacturers.
The Woolmark Company continues to promote Australian Merino wool throughout the international fashion industry, highlighting to consumers the benefits of Australian Merino wool. A key element to this strategy is building relationships with designers and working with them to showcase the most innovative and beautiful Merino wool fabrics and yarns.
Some of the more recent design awards and programs supported by the Australian wool industry include the Protégé program in 2007 which aligned some of the world’s most established designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace with young protégés of their choice; and most recently, the Woolmark Prize held in 2008, which revived the original IWS awards.
(photograph from Keystone Eyedea Headpress)