Journeying to Kyoto, Japan, double International Woolmark Prize winner Edward Crutchley makes a case for hand-craftsmanship.
Edward Crutchley was the first designer to ever receive two International Woolmark Prizes when he was announced the winner of the Menswear and Innovation awards at the 2019 final in London, back in February. As Tim Blanks said: “I don’t think there has ever been a designer like Edward Crutchley in the competition, and I find the whole idea of him being a winner and the figurehead of the creative, innovative use of wool in the fashion industry so exciting.”
Key to Crutchley’s success was his innate understanding and appreciation of artisanal textiles, something that he has honed through his years of experience working with Kim Jones, Claire Waight Keller and Kanye West. While crafted from 100% Australian Merino wool, the designer – who splits his time between London and Paris, where he works in the atelier of Dior Menswear – pushed the boundaries of what is possible with the historic fibre, developing each fabric exclusively for his collection. One such innovation was a tie-dyed knit created with the head of the Kyoto Guild of Shibori Masters, another a screen-printed lace.
Upon the launch of his collection – which is now available to shop from Browns, MatchesFashion.com, Farfetch, Lane Crawford and Takashimaya – Crutchley joined The Woolmark Company on a journey to Kyoto. There, he was able to meet with one of his suppliers for the first time, adding an emotional, human element to the fashion production process, and providing an important opportunity for cultural exchange.
“The trip was really exciting because we got to see the whole process of how this lace discharge fabric was made and see the actual screens they had used to do the printing,” explains the designer. “Then we went on to see all of the washing, the dyeing, and all of the different hand processes that I think are a really good reflection of the nature of traditional Japanese textiles and how involved artisans are in this process. It’s rare to be able to join all of the dots and meet up with the people that have worked [along the supply chain]. It really was such a joy.”
Sustainability has become a highly visible buzzword in fashion this year, as the industry and consumers alike look to reduce their footprint. A recent study found that 40% of consumers will actively switch from their preferred brand to another because it credibly stands for positive environmental practices. Another found that 42% of millennials want to know what goes into products and how they are made before they buy.
For Crutchley, however, sustainability is not merely a trend but an ethos ingrained within his business practice. “I think that if you’re going to be producing clothing today there has to be a reason for it,” says the designer. “Sustainability is different to everyone, but one of the key points for me is the human aspect of preserving skills, and the touch of the hand in a process makes something unique and gives it something that a machine never can. One of the things that struck me in Kyoto was that most of the artisans we met were older, and there’s no new generation coming up behind them, so if I can do anything to promote and preserve the skills that exist then that’s a real honour for me.”
Merino wool is central to the collections of each entrant and finalist that takes part in the annual emerging talent program, and as a completely natural fibre, it plays a role in making the fashion industry more sustainable by virtue of its inherent properties. For Crutchley, one of the key reasons in working with wool is its biodegradability. “With wool, we’re producing something that can return to the planet and isn’t harming the environment or creating additional waste,” he observes.
Again, however, he’s drawn to the very human aspect of the way wool is transformed from a raw fibre to a finished garment. “The way I use wool [commands] a quite large supply chain, which I think is really exciting in that you can think about the hand from the shearer to the washer to the carder to the spinner, and then on to the weaver and the checker to the finisher and on to the printer, all the way to the factory to the cutter. That line of people, going from the shirt right back to the sheep, is really incredible. If I want to, I can get all of the names of the people along that process, and I think that’s about relationships with suppliers, being open and transparent with people, and letting them know that you value their part in the process.”