meet the judges: bartley ingram

As the head of art and visual for luxury retail emporium, JOYCE, Bartley Ingram oversees the creative direction for all of their stores stores, as well as their two art galleries (in Paris and Beijing), from its Hong Kong headquarters, regularly collaborating with artists, photographers and designers to create one-of-a-kind exhibitions and displays.  Mr. Ingram arrived in New York in 1992 to work for Barneys New York; it was there that he met Mrs. Joyce Ma, who convinced him to move to Hong Kong to work for JOYCE in 2001.  He has also lived in London from 2002 to 2005, working for De Beers LV on the opening of their flagship store on Bond Street.  He moved back to Hong Kong to work with Lane Crawford for the opening of their flagship store in ifc, before returning to JOYCE in 2008.  With this vast experience in both fashion retail and gallery curation, Bartley Ingram was a natural choice to be a part of this year's Woolmark Prize Asia judging panel.

Each judge on the panel has unique industry experience.  What perspective did you bring to the competition?
Some of the judges are more on the design side, some are more on the production side, some are more on the editorial side, but I’m looking at it from the perspective of a retail environment.  The designers are Asian and JOYCE is based in Asia, but the stores have an international perspective.  We look at it from a point of view of, “Would a girl in New York wear that?  Would a girl in Paris wear that?”

So how did you answer those questions after seeing the collections presented for the IWP?
I think a Hong Kong girl would wear almost anything we saw because it’s such a metropolitan, cosmopolitan city and people adopt to fashion trends very quickly here.  Many presented modern, new ideas.  The ways they worked with wool were incredible:  everything from knits to laser cuts to felting to hand-painting on wool.  I appreciate the fact that they all took this challenge to work with a material that they might not normally use, and I think that they all pulled it off.  They all came up with innovative ways that were still true to their aesthetic.  We asked a few of the contestants, “Would this be part of your normal collection?”  They immediately said, "Yes."

As a judge, what do you look for in a potential winner?
I look for something I haven’t seen, and I saw a lot of that.  I learned about the way each designer thinks.  All the contestants had to do a mood board and then a final collection.  Sometimes, the two didn’t match, but what was interesting was that they all had completely different points of view.  It was exciting, but it made it more difficult to judge.  In general, I looked for simplicity, elegance, modernity, use of the material that I had not seen before. 

What opportunities do the International Woolmark Prize and similar fashion awards around the world create for young designers?
The financial reward means that they can experiment and do more new things, but what’s really great about this prize is that it comes with a certain cache and makes it easier for them to go into the market.  The emerging talent we saw are already established as designers, doing collections and selling in a few stores.  They already show in Paris and in Tokyo, but it’s much easier when a buyer comes to the showroom and the designer has a sign that distinguishes them as the Woolmark Prize winner.  It gives you prestige and puts you on a different trajectory.

We think of Paris, Milan, London and New York as the centres of fashion.  What part does Asia now play in the industry?
It’s very interesting to me that all the great talent I saw is Asian.  I feel like saying to them, “Where have you been?” I think this is a really good time for anyone in Asia who wants to get into design, because around the world everyone is looking for an Asian brand.  I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me to help them find a Chinese designer.  They’re out there, it’s just hard to find them, and that’s what makes the prizes like these so valuable. 

Are Asian designers in any way different from their counterparts in Europe or the US?
This year, the winner from Asia will go on to compete in the international competition.  That proves to me that Asian designers are being taken seriously.  I think there is a different aesthetic, especially among the Japanese and South Korean designers we saw.  Their work is so methodical, so meticulous, and I couldn’t believe the detail in the construction of the garments, even the inner linings were amazing. The Asian sensibility is so much more thoughtful than anything else’s.  You usually see edgy or pretty design, and I didn’t see either, which I was quite happy about.  I saw really well-constructed, cutting edge, very modern garments, and that is Asia.

See more from the Woolmark Prize here.


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