Last year, Public School scooped the newly introduced menswear-specific iteration of the International Woolmark Prize—an award with serious chops whose predecessor was first won by Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent way back in 1954. This evening in Florence, an impressive six-strong short list of designers, whittled down from more than 70 nominees around the world, presented their last-gasp-pitch collections for the 2016 prize, which comes with a check for $100,000 Australian dollars (U.S. $70,000), as well as retail space in several globally prominent department stores. Think of it as The Voice on the runway.
Reader, this correspondent must—extremely smugly—blow his own horn: Because I totally called the winner before he was announced. Yes, there was a lot of love in the room for the USA’s Siki Im, Australia’s P.Johnson, South Korea’s Munsoo Kwon, Jonathan Christopher from the Netherlands, and London’s Agi & Sam. But the work of Indian designer Suket Dhir rightfully picked up the loot and the floor space. The Delhi-based Dhir presented a collection notable for its super-loose pants, “an homage to my grandfather and a rebellion against all the skinnies,” and tailored jackets in gloriously dyed and woven woolens from southern India. It was mystical-hipster with gorgeous ikat linings. And it was good.
According to members of the judging panel, voting went down to the wire in a three-way split that had to eventually be settled by a show of hands. One of their number was Eric Jennings, director of menswear (among many things) at Saks Fifth Avenue, who said, “We were all very emotional about it. And what allowed him to win was his emotion, his passion, and the romance. When we first saw it, it was like peeling an onion. It started slow. But then we saw the detail in the collection and understood his passion. And we all just fell in love with the collection.”
Stuart McCullough, managing director of the Woolmark Company, said, “That was the closest call I’ve ever experienced in any Woolmark Prize, men’s or women’s. You always get a difference between the fashion creatives and the retailers. Because the retailers have got to get it out the door. One’s about romance and one’s about finance!”
Fellow judge Haider Ackermann added: “Being a judge is a great escape from preparing for my own collection. It’s very strange being on the other table, but you are as anxious as they are. It’s interesting because it’s an exchange, and I loved the challenge.”
So check out Dhir’s label, Suketdhir, because if the evidence of 1954 is anything to go by, he’s a global fashion superstar in the making.