woolmark prize judge: simon lock

When the Woolmark Prize announced it would be coming to Hong Kong this July to announce the 10 Asian nominees, we were immediately excited.  When Electric sekki was then asked to be involved in the organization and production of the Hong Kong nomination event this past Tuesday, we jumped at the opportunity.  We were especially looking forward to working closely with Mr. Simon Lock, heralded in the fashion industry as "the Godfather of Australian fashion week".  Simon's knowledge of the fashion industry is vast; his passion for supporting emerging design talent is unwavering.  We were lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Mr. Lock before the nomination event to pick his brain about last year's Woolmark Prize winner, this year's nominees and his thoughts on the future of the wool industry. 

Woolmark Prize judge, Simon Lock.

ES: The Woolmark Prize and company have a long history in supporting both the wool industry and emerging designers.  Tell us a little bit about how the two go hand-in-hand.
SL: The creation of the Woolmark back in the 40's and 50's was quite revolutionary, because a group of wool producers - sheep farmers, really - came together and said, "We want a way to brand our wool that goes into fabric."  So we came up with the Woolmark and, if the Woolmark was on a garment, you could be sure that it had beautiful, quality wool in it.  The thought was quite new at that time, and they wanted to ensure that, as the Woolmark became more famous, that they were always working with new designers who were coming into the industry who could be encouraged to use wool in their designs.  So that was the initial thought behind the inaugural Woolmark prize back in the 50's: to engage with young, emerging designers, for them to be able to showcase this fantastic fibre.  You couldn't have written a better script that, in the inaugural event, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent would win it!  And subsequently Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani.  The philosophy today is still exactly the same: to engage and connect with emerging designers, to showcase this wonderful fibre and, in doing so, help both of them.

ES: What did the Woolmark group see in past winners that inspired you to believe in them?
SL:  I think it's very simple.  It's something that hasn't been seen before.  That's what this event is looking for; something that hasn't been seen before, but that has universal appeal.  What Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent brought to the judges all those years ago is what designers such as Christian Wijnants, Dion Lee and Sophie Theallet brought to the judges last time around.  The essence of the event hasn't changed.

ES: How do you see the Asian designers' aesthetic differing from the rest of the contestants?
SL: It's an interesting question, because you can come up with a stereotypical answer such as, "The Japanese are really quirky and avante garde, the Hong Kong designs in the past have tended to be over-embellished, special occasion, bridal wear of sorts."  But I'm not seeing that in this case.  I'm seeing a group of globally-inspired designers who have developed their own handwriting through various experiences that aren't always culturally specific.  That's what's, I think, interesting.  If you were to round up the ten Asian nominees, you're not going to be able to go, "Oh, they're from Japan, they're from China, they're from Hong Kong."  They all have a unique handwriting and it's not necessarily lead by the culture in which they live.  I think, when a customer goes to ultimately buy an emerging designer, they don't really care where they come from.  It's not a disadvantage; it used to be a disadvantage, but people don't care where a designer comes from anymore.  People are looking for a designer's specific handwriting and one that has universal appeal.

ES: What are your thoughts on the Hong Kong nominees, PLOTZ and ffiXXed, here today?
SL: I think they're really strong.  They've already shown great discipline in how they've built their businesses.  The Woolmark Prize needs to also embrace designers who have that balance between art and commerce, because the opportunity that's going to come to the regional winner or even the global winner, we want to make sure that they can take advantage of that and make sure that they can fulfill an order for 500 pieces, know how to deal with the media and run a business.  I think that these two designers are very, very deserving nominees.  Quite a lot of people were considered to be the nominees for Hong Kong and they came out on top.

ES: What do you think the Woolmark Prize experience gives to its nominees?
SL: Well, I think the very experience is the most valuable thing.  Just the fact that they're here and involved means they're a winner.  They get to meet people that can mentor them, give them advice, give them the right contacts.  The judging pannel here in Hong Kong is going to be well-connected to them and will be able to help further their career.  Just because you don't win doesn't mean that there's not going to be a buyer in the audience that wants to buy your designs.  They're the sort of relationships and opportunities that happen to all of the nominees, not just the winners.

ES: How do you feel that working with a fabric like wool is different from working with other fabrics?
SL: When people are looking for premium ready-to-wear clothes, they want to feel that they are getting something special that has value for money, because they're paying a premium for it, and with wool it's an incredible natural fibre which is so flexible.  It can be woven into a cool wool for summer, or knitted for winter, it can have wonderful drape and feel.  And when it comes with such a quality mark such as the Woolmark, I think the consumer responds well to wool when there are so many synthetic fabrics in the market; wool is something different, wool is all about a natural, economically- and environmentally-sustainable fabric.  It has all those things that people can feel good about, but it also has the innovation and creativity that makes it a very user-friendly fashion fibre.  It's got a lot going for it.  Ultimately, I think that if consumers have the choice to buy something that's synthetic or something that's wool, hopefully, they're going to go for something wool.

ES: What are some of the exciting ways in which you've seen designers use wool recently?
SL: You don't need to look any further than the global nominees from last year.  What Christian did was this almost sculptural knitting with different dying techniques, then we saw someone like Dion who used a completely new technique of felting.  That's absolutely sensational.  Really, really interesting.  I think that's something that's really special.  We saw Japanese designers Dressed/Undressed last year create this quite androgynous fashion, mixing both knitted and woven together.  We're seeing some very interesting creative advocations of ways this great fibre can be used and that's what's going to continue to make it relevant to consumers.

ES: How commercial viable are those techniques, however, in terms of large production quantities?
SL: I think both those designers had to answer that question to the judges, because that was something they wanted to ensure; that commercial production runs could be made of those garments.  As I understand, for those particular examples, the judges felt confident that they could; so much so that Christian won.  Because he was going to immediately receive hundreds of orders for those garments and he needed to be able to commercially produce them.  We're not here to promote haute couture or demi-couture; we're here to promote ready-to-wear designs, so they have to have commercial viability.

ES: And, in terms of the future, what do you see for the Woolmark group and also the prize?
SL: I think the prize is going to go from strength-to-strength.  We're looking to expand the industries involved and expand the number of regions involved globally.  The next final will be held in Milan and I think Paris after that, then New York; I hope, also, at one stage, the global final will be held in the home of wool, Australia, which would be great.  We are fully committed to this for the next number of years.  As part of the process, wool is going to continue to push innovation and work with emerging designers.

See more from the Woolmark Prize here.
See more from the nominees:


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