Smooth as silk, colour bleeding in light shades over elongated shirts — this seemed like a wardrobe suited to the classic heat and dust of India. But the collection that Suket Dhir (of fashion label Suketdhir) was showing in Florence’s decorative Villa Favard was not the silken surface it seemed, and its underside — of coat and jacket linings — was even filled with prints suggesting days-of-the-Raj whimsy.
The International Woolmark Prize had been whittled down from 70 to just six international finalists, from countries as diverse as Australia and Pakistan. My fellow judges and I looked at the cable knits in off-white from South Korean designer Munsoo Kwon, while Patrick Johnson from Australia played with shades of white in techno Merino wool. Johnson explained his decision to explore non-colours by quoting architect Louis Kahn’s description of the Sydney Opera House: “The sun did not know how beautiful its light was until it was reflected off this building.”
A design by South Korean finalist Munsoo Kwon
Designer Munsoo Kwon of South Korea
I was intrigued that at least half of these Woolmark finalists originally came from countries with hot climates. Even the British-based design duo of Agi & Sam mixed their inspirational exploration of the Scottish Battle of Culloden in 1746 with an African tribe in Ghana, which made its own tartans and decorated their faces with Celtic blue.
In this melting pot of ideas, why did I — and my distinguished colleagues, from journalist to retailers — decide on Suketdhir as the winner?
Even coming from different positions in the fashion world, we all agreed that emotion had to be at the heart of the selection. It was not Suketdhir’s shirts with graded ripples of colour forming concentric circles – inspired by the age rings of tree trunks — that defined my choice. It was a line-up of umbrellas patterning the inside of the Merino wool. They looked like something an Englishman left behind in the outhouse during the days of the Raj. Suket Dhir called it “the sensorial feel of the past”.
Transforming fibrous wool into silk-like yarn is an achievement recognised by the Woolmark Prize. But the designer’s technical skills were only part of the reason why he won. Suket Dhir wove that most intangible of reactions into his imaginative creations: emotion and excitement. It was these visceral reactions that won him his award.
UK finalists Agi & Sam combined Scottish and Ghanaian tribal influences in their collection
Dutch designer Jonathan Cristopher’s collection
A look from American finalist Siki Im
Beautifully nuanced colour and texture from Suket Dhir