The prize that launched Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent

It began with one ambition - to take wool to the world

The Facts

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Not even Karl Lagerfeld could have fully grasped the significance of the inaugural event in 1954. That year, as an unknown aged 21, he accepted the award for coat design. Taking to the stage, Lagerfeld stood shoulder to shoulder with another up-and-comer, the 18-year-old winner of the dress category: one Yves Saint Laurent.

 

HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL WOOLMARK PRIZE

 

In many ways, it should have been no surprise. This was not an award devised to celebrate mere aesthetics, it was one intended to reward true craftsmanship. The panel passing judgement on the two promising young men wasn't made up of just anyone; it included the likes of Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain. Lofty standards and a global reach meant the prize was always certain to attract exceptional sartorial talent.

 

But the competition's origins were far removed from the chic boulevards of Paris. Rather, it rose out of the dusty sheep stations of Australia. In 1936, enterprising woolgrowers voted in favour of a levy—sixpence on every bale produced—to be used to help put their wares on the world stage. The growers formed the International Wool Secretariat (IWS), charged with the task of fostering fleece's reputation for versatility and modernity.

In the 50s, with offices in every major wool-producing country on the planet, the body set its sights on a bold vision: a global fashion design award. And so became the IWS Prize. Enter Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent and, from that first year, the prize became instantly coveted and inextricably entwined with fashion history.

 

By the 1960s, however, the world had become enamoured with technology. With the superpowers engaged in a race to the moon, a brave new future beckoned. In the face of shiny new synthetics, wool risked losing its lustre, a relic of an agrarian era with little place in the impending, polyester-clad space age. Determined to bolster the status of fleece, IWS chairman Sir William Vines devised a concept of labelling wool products with a mark of quality, a mark of authenticity... a wool mark.

Another international competition was commissioned and out of it came a design so beautiful in its simplicity that it rose above dozens of entries to become the Woolmark logo. The five gently curved black bands, woven together to form a skein, was the work of Italian graphic designer Francesco Saroglia.

 

Effortlessly characterising the softness and elegance of wool, that symbol has appeared on more than five billion products in the decades since, becoming iconic in its own right as one of the most recognised brands anywhere. It so utterly came to embody the essence of the Secretariat that in 1997 a name change was in order. IWS became The Woolmark Company.

 

The age of acrylic never came to pass. True luxury ultimately revealed itself not through science, but in the purity of nature. The past is no longer seen as out dated, but rich with heritage and wool prevailed as the fibre of the future, both renewable and opulent. And still, the International Woolmark Prize recognises the artistry of the craft, unearthing the fashion stars of tomorrow.

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