Delhi-based designers Pankaj & Nidhi will be representing India in the International Woolmark Prize next year. Here is what the awards are about and why it is a big deal.
In early 1930s, Australia wool-growers formed a body called the ‘International Wool secretariat (IWS) to promote their product (merino wool) around the world. One of the initiatives of the IWS was the formation of a Fashion Design Award to highlight the versatility and modernity of wool. In 1954, two unknown designers- Karl Lagerfeld and late Yves Saint Laurent won the fashion design prizes. Lagerfeld, then 21, was the winner of the coat category. Saint Laurent who was just 18, won the award for dress design. This was the moment the credibility for the awards was set high. Karl Lagerfeld who is now one of the most well paid and talented fashion designers in the world is the head designer for luxury labels Chanel couture & ready-to-wear and Fendi womenswear. YSL left a hefty legacy himself by forming one of the most well- recognised brands and a successful French fashion house.
The fashion design awards became a brand on its own when Woolmark was formed in the 1960s to protect and serve the wool product from the synthetic fibres alternatives that were gaining popularity during World War-II. Created in 1964, by Italian graphic designer Francesco Saroglia, the Woolmark logo represents the softness, elegance and modernity of wool. Today it is still amongst the 10 most recognised and appreciated brands in the world and forms the International Woolmark Prize (IWP). The Woolmark company’s key strategy is building relationships with designers and working with them to showcase the innovative and versatile Merino wool fabrics and yarns.
This year, India was one of the five key regions from where the winner selected from a crop of new generation fashion designers will be representing the country in this international contest. Sophie Theallet from the US, Christian Wijnants from Belgium, Ban Xiao Xiu from China, Dion Lee from Australia and Pankaj and Nidhi from India represent the line-up for the final round of the International Woolmark Prize to be held in London in February 2013. The nominees alone from each of the regions form an exclusive global network – supported by The Woolmark Company – of the world’s most talented and sought after designers. In India, these nominees included designers – Aneeth Arora, Arjun Saluja, Gaurav Gupta, Rahul Mishra, Rimzim Dadu, Ritesh Kumar, Samant Chauhan, Smita and Himanshu from 11.11, Zubair Kirmani and the winners – Pankaj and Nidhi. The local winners were selected on July 19, 2012 by a panel of judges – Sunil Sethi, President of Fashion Design Council of India; Priya Tanna, Editor-in-Chief for the Indian version of the official media sponsors-Vogue magazine; Pradeep Hirani, CMD of Kimaya retail chain and Simon Lock, Founder of Dubai Fashion Week.
Winners Pankaj and Nidhi have gained a lot of acclaim in a short time since they launched their own label in 2006. Previously the young couple worked with couturier Rohit Bal where they honed their skills to use bright colours and embroidery together in a luxurious and elegant way. The garment created using merino wool for the IWP awards was a short knit dress in pink and blue with a wooly stole in matching colours that used handweaving techniques that other contestants refrained from.
Pankaj and Nidhi are known to use various handicraft influences in a single collection therefore appealing to a wider audience easily. A strong contender for the duo would be the Australian award-winning designer Dion Lee who’s wool creations have been lauded ever since his debut collection. “Dion is the ideal designer ambassador for Australia,” explained designer and Australian judge, Richard Nichol.
The simple inclusion of 10 nominees from India highlights the growing strength of the Indian fashion industry. What comes from the final round in 2013 is not as important as this year when a young designer duo got selected to represent the country and inspire other young designers who yearn to represent the country in an international forum like this in the future.