Get used to these two names: Harman Grubiša and Blair Archibald. Both are ground-breaking Australasian fashion brands on the rise, but given events of the past week, odds are they’re set to go household sooner rather than later.
Calling the Woolmark award a big deal to young designers and global stores is quite the understatement. More than 65 designers from 60 countries were involved this year, with finalists from six regions (Australia/New Zealand, Britain, Europe, Asia, India/Middle East and America) in the running for the big gong judged by a 12-strong panel of industry heavy-weights including Phillip Lim, Amber Valletta, Miroslava Duma, Australia’s Eva Galambos and Liya Kebede.
“I really loved how [menswear prize finalist] Blair chose to repurpose old military blankets into beautiful wool overcoats,” Kebede told GRAZIA Australia after the judging. “There was something quite beautiful in this transformation.” The man she’s referring to of course is Melbourne-based designer Blair Archibald, who launched his contemporary menswear label of the same name in 2013.
“I definitely enjoyed the transformative two-piece from Harman Grubisa [too],” she continued of the New Zealand brand founded in 2014 by friends Madeleine Harman and Jessica Grubiša, which competed in the womenswear final. “Especially in our always-on-the-go industry, it makes sense.”
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Kebede, best known for her modelling success, movie career and humanitarian efforts as a World Health Organisation ambassador and foundation president, also has her own successful fashion label lemlem, which incorporates weaving techniques from her native Ethiopia and is available through big-name retailers like Net-a-Porter and My Theresa.
Like the other judges, Kebede was looking for far more than slick-looking clothes from entrants. Sustainability and innovation were key, she told GRAZIA. “Everyone can do a cool collection visually nowadays, the challenge is what’s the message behind.”
While winning is great for publicity and hints at great things to come (case in point: Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were both winners at the first awards in 1936), it comes with some weighty financial benefits too.
This year’s big final winners – British designer Matthew Miller for menswear and Indian designer Ruchika Sachdeva’s label Bodice for womenswear – will each receive $200,000 to prop up their businesses, plus ongoing industry mentoring over the next year and introduction to key stockists in each region, including Galambos’s Sydney store Parlour X. The latter two are practically priceless for any fledgling designer or label.
In such a skilled creative field, what set the eventual winners apart? “I think their innovative ideas,” says Kebede. “Strong storytelling and an ethical footprint set them apart from the rest. They were all relevant for today’s and tomorrow’s consumers.”
Past International Woolmark Prize finalists from Australasia include Dion Lee, Christopher Esber, Bianca Spender, Macgraw and Strateas Carlucci.
GALLERY: All International Woolmark Prize 2018 Finalists