2018/19 International Woolmark Prize Hong Kong semi-final winners announced

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i-am-chen from Hong Kong, ANGEL CHEN from China, YOHEI OHNO from Japan and YOUSER from Korea were today announced as the winners of the 2018/19 International Woolmark Prize Hong Kong semi-final.

A panel comprising of designer Rahul Mishra; Managing Editor Esquire Hong Kong Angus Lui; GRAZIA Middle East Editor-in-Chief Alison Tay; 10 and 10 Men Magazine Australia Editor Alison Veness; 10 and 10 Men Magazine Australia Associate Editor Rebecca Khoury; ORDRE Co-Founder and Fashion Director Kirsten Lock; Lane Crawford Womenswear Buyer Tawny Leung and Takashimaya Womenswear Buyer Ayako Midorikawa and Menswear Buyer Keiko Kadosugi selected the four winners. Judge Angus Lui commented: “I was totally impressed by all candidates, and not just by their creativity but also the strong identity and story behind each brand. Each designer fully utilised the characteristics of wool and transformed the fibre in modern and practical ways.”

As a designer whose origins lie in engineering, i-am-chen’s vision is free of fashion norms and is instead inspired by 20th century artists, blurring the lines between fashion, art, textiles and technology. For her Woolmark Prize collection, designer Zhi Chen took inspiration from the works of American abstract painter Agnes Martin, focusing on classic elements such as grids, lines, points and tartans. While Martin subtly expresses her emotion through traditional shapes and lines, Chen hints her minimalistic design under the intricate yarn swatches in explosive colours. Chen hopes to re-interpret these traditional shapes and exploit the most advanced knitting machines to perform totally new and pioneering techniques.

“When I found out I was nominated I began to think about how I could use wool differently,” explained Zhi Chen. “I’m excited for the challenge ahead and to meeting the judges at the international final.”

“I love i-am-chen because of the singularity of Chen’s vision,” explained judge Rahul Mishra, a former International Woolmark Prize winner. “They have explored knitting techniques to their fullest, and the colours were really happy and beautifully contrasted. That makes i-am-chen stand out in modern fashion.”

Angel Chen took inspiration from the lifestyle, independent spirit and determination of deep sea female diver Haenyeo from the Hado Village, in Jeju, South Korea. Chen referenced diving suits, wool bathing suits from the late 1920s, and the 1930s ‘Topper’ wool swimsuit produced by Jantzen, reinterpreting these silhouettes and transforming the pieces into contemporary ready-to-wear with a colour palette of red, orange, green, pink and yellow – a signature touch that the label has developed through its notorious use of exuberant colours. The collection’s unisex outerwear carried functional detailing utilising bonded wool fabrics to make the collection waterproof, wind proof, breathable and thermoregulating.

“I am so thankful to be a winner,” explained Angel Chen. “It’s an honour to be here alongside so many talented designers. The whole journey with Woolmark has brought me lots of inspiration about how Merino wool can be used as a fibre for daily wear, and I’ve now decided to use Merino wool in every collection because of its versatility.”

Commented Mishra: “What I liked about Angel Chen was the unique style, which was street-inspired, but at the same time there was a consistency in her cultural influence, and her innovation with wool yarn was really beautiful. I really like when fashion comes with a unique design voice reflective of the designer’s culture.”

Womenswear winner Yohei Ohno commented: “I combine modern forms with traditional fabrics to create something new for this generation adding my balance of playful design and functionality for the modern woman. For this I turn to architectural and sculptural forms for constructive silhouettes, looking at the different shapes, colour and texture to give my collection more of an industrial character.” The starting point for Yohei Ohno’s collection concept was research of Japanese archival fabrics where they discovered a unique deadstock summer-weight fabric from Bishu, famous for wool production in Japan. In less than ten years the fabric has been replaced by synthetics. Ohno wants take these classic wool fabrics and rework them in a modern context, to create collections that are more relevant and challenge the concept of women’s suiting by renewing woollen fabrics and unique colour palette.

“I took inspiration from Japanese wool textile mills in the Bishu region, and I wanted to create modern womenswear tailoring, bringing together the old and the new,” explained Yohei Ohno. “It is a dream to be selected as a finalist in the International Woolmark Prize.”

“Yohei is refreshingly new in their approach to design, and I like their design principle in that there’s not just a top or a dress, but that they mix techniques and styles to create something fresh,” said Mishra.

For menswear label YOUSER, inspiration for the collection came from the Native American warrior group, Windigokan, from the Ojibwa tribe living in the plains. The Windigokan people ignored standard principles and performed random acts of behaviour as if they were influenced by nature’s energy. With a normal outer exterior and a kind of holy madness, the collection used a combination of unique colours and patterns, silhouettes and styling to create an original collection. Designer Mooyeol Lee commented on his collection: “These designs were inspired by thinking the opposite way to what we are accustomed to as being formal and giving a unique feel to the collection.”

“I am honoured to win this prize and it represents a great opportunity to expand our brand to the worldwide market,” explains Mooyeol Lee.

“Youser was very different in terms of the hybrid nature of what he did,” said Mishra. “He had a beautifully tailored jacket, but then inside was a reflective bomber jacket. This combination of multiple techniques and styles, and his willingness to explore not just his strength, which is outerwear, but incredible new techniques, like knits and jacquards, makes him a clear and unique brand.”

Chosen from more than 300 applicants from across 46 countries the winners are amongst the most promising fashion design talents from across the globe. The winners are amongst the 12 global finalists announced at three semi-final events in Hong Kong, London and New York held throughout July, who will each gain a financial contribution of AU$70,000 for the development of their business and capsule collection. Finalists will be invited to compete in the prestigious global final to be held in London in February 2019 as well as receiving mentoring support from a global panel of experts, showcasing opportunities and a Woolmark licence, one of the world’s best-known textile quality fibre brands providing a unique, global fibre quality assurance for consumers.

“Now in its seventh year the International Woolmark Prize has evolved into one of the biggest fashion awards of its calibre and so we have restructured the program to ensure our nominees and finalists receive the highest level of industry support and guidance,” explains The Woolmark Company Managing Director Stuart McCullough.

“The exceptional quality demonstrated by his year’s designers not only reinforces the strength of the award but also proves Australian wool’s relevance on the global stage. Wool’s inherent benefits combined with its eco-credentials provide designers with countless possibilities and I am excited to see what innovative designs are showcased at the global final next year.”

For the next seven months, the finalists will be required to develop a capsule collection of six looks in Merino wool, to be showcased at an extraordinary event that will highlight the 12 finalists selected from across the globe.

One menswear and one womenswear winner will receive a further AU$200,000 financial contribution at the global final, as well as mentoring from industry experts to help propel their business to the next stage. One finalist will also be selected for the second edition of the Innovation Award which celebrates the most innovative and creative wool fabrications, process or development and rewards the finalist with a financial contribution of AU$100,000. The total combined prize fund for the 2018/19 award is worth more than AU$1 million, with global finalists in the running to receieve a total contribution of AU$370,000. In addition, winners will have the opportunity to have their collection distributed through the prize’s prestigious international retail partner network which includes Boutique 1, Boon the Shop, David Jones, Harvey Nichols, Hudson’s Bay Company, Lane Crawford, LECLAIREUR, Mytheresa.com, Parlour X, SSENSE.com, Sugar, Takashimaya, Tata CLIQ Luxury and ORDRE.com.

In line with The Woolmark Company’s ethos of supporting emerging talent the 2018/19 International Woolmark Prize trophy was designed and manufactured by Central Saint Martin’s MA Material Futures graduate Charlotte Kidger. With an elegant yet bold form the trophy is designed to allow the material - the waste plastic deriving from Computer Numerical Control fabrication - to be seen and celebrated in its raw form.

“The aim of this body of work was to find ways of utilising and repurposing industrial material waste streams diverting the material from landfill sites and incineration. Finding beauty in this abundant source of raw material I have transformed it from waste to something of desirability and beauty with longevity and durability at its forefront,” explains Charlotte.

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