Asia finalists announced for International Woolmark Prize

Move over K-Pop. Two South Korean labels are putting wool fashion in the spotlight.

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The announcement of the Asia International Woolmark Prize finalists today comes as the attention once again falls on one of the world’s most exciting emerging fashion hubs. At a Shanghai event attended by key media and VIP guests, the industry saw just what designers from the region could do.

Earlier this year, acclaimed Milanese concept store 10 Corso Como announced that its Beijing and Shanghai stores would stock the winning collections from the international final for the first time, so Head of Buying Cyril Rahon had an especially keen eye as a member of the judging panel.

Chinese supermodel and designer Lu Yan was also there to lend her expertise to the judging process, as was Vogue China’s fashion director Candy Lee and American designer Thom Browne.

“As a first-time judge for the International Woolmark Prize, I was fascinated by all the new technology and treatments explored by the designers,” says Browne. “These designers had to do it all on their own, from sourcing and developing the fabric to the final manufacture and presentation. It's certainly no easy feat.”

With designers representing Hong Kong, Korea, China and Japan nominated for the award, the fashion line-up presented an intriguing cross-section of design. But it was South Korea stealing all the attention as J Koo was announced as womenswear winner and Munsoo Kwon took out the menswear prize.

Launched in 2011, Munsoo Kwon’s aesthetic is recognisable by his neatly tailored silhouettes that are practical yet distinctive - no doubt influenced by his time under the tutelage of greats like Helmut Lang. In this instance he was inspired by an early morning city fog that translated to needle-felted wool applied to Merino pinstripe suiting.  

“This is one of the most important moment of my life,” stated Kwon as he accepted his award on stage, adding: “to receive this prize from a judging panel that consists of Thom Browne, the feeling is incredible.” 

Munsoo Kwon

Munsoo Kwon and model

Partners Jinwoo Choi and Yeonjoo Koo established J Koo in London in 2010. Born from their love of menswear, the womenswear label melds traditional tailoring techniques and contemporary design. The duo referenced heritage denim worn by the women of the working class in their prize submission, remarkably in 100 per cent wool. 

“From the moment we were nominated to compete, we had always wanted to create something surprising with wool.” explained Choi.

The deserving designers now go through to the international finals to compete against five other regions from around the globe. A menswear event will take place this coming January at Pitt Uomo men’s trade fair in Florence while womenswear will play out in New York come February.

A cash prize, the chance to be stocked in some of the world’s most prestigious retailers and valuable trade connections make this one of the most important design prizes on the global calendar. South Korea is now in with double the chance.

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