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Why does Rahul Mishra’s Woolmark Prize matter so much?

February 26, 2014 12:05:04 am

Soon, Rahul Mishra is back home in India giving eloquent interviews recounting his rise from a small village near Kanpur to being the toast of the global fashion world, and why Indian handloom is really the cornerstone of his design. I doubt his winning the prestigious International Woolmark Prize last Friday would have sunk in as yet. It will take time, and it must be savoured slowly.

The International Woolmark Prize is a really big deal. Firstly, it is a 100,000-Australian dollar bounty (Rs 60 lakh, give and take a few). It also allows the winner to stock at some of the most reputed retailers in the world — from Harvey Nichols, UK, and Saks Fifth Avenue, USA, to 10 Corso Como, Milan, and Colette, Paris. Mishra, who was selected to represent India and the Middle East six months ago, was announced winner at the Triennale Museum in Milan. He pipped Joseph Altuzarra, the current Golden Boy of American fashion, to win. Mishra was selected by an illustrious jury comprising Frida Giannini of Gucci, Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia and celebrity fashion writers Colin McDowell and Alexa Chung.

Of course it is a major milestone for Mishra’s professional graph. He is no stranger to awards and successes, ever since his NID Ahmedabad Student of the Year win. He also won a scholarship at Instituto Marangoni in Milan post his debut collection at Lakme Fashion Week in 2006, where he had used handloom cotton of Kerala to make mundu-inspired dresses. In 2009, he showcased reversible Benarasi dresses, a collection he is still remembered for.

He is one of India’s most successful and appreciated young designers.

The Woolmark Prize is a huge shot in the arm for Mishra. The financial reward is sizeable, but it also escalates the designer’s international career (Woolmark’s first winners were Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in 1954.)

So, aside from national pride, why is this important to the rest of us? The Woolmark Company is one of the most distinguished names in sustainable luxury today. Its label is a signature of responsible farming, product excellence and the finest textile innovations. Wool drives the menswear market, from fine worsted suitings to tweeds to knitwear. Natural wool fibre is enjoying a renaissance in fashion and luxury, almost as much as cotton today.

The company also has the nod of the international media. France is its biggest supporter, the French Vogue’s September issue was dedicated to Merino wool. Prince Charles is a patron for the ‘Campaign for Wool’ campaign, an initiative to educate consumers about the ecological benefits of wool.

The FDCI, under Sunil Sethi, has been sending Indian designers for a few years now. Last year, the uber talented team of Pankaj & Nidhi were sent, but Mishra has been the only champion.

Mishra’s six-piece collection in Milan was no short of revolutionary. Firstly, it debunked the myth that Indian clothes were all about colour. Mishra’s garments, a mix of Chanderi and wool, were in shades of white embellished with gentle yellow and grey woolen zardozi. He gave us modern hexagonal shapes to form lotuses and a tree of life. His engineering was superb and his shapes universal.

Mishra was also clever to present a trans-seasonal line, clothes that can be worn across the world in versatile climates, making it highly functional. A senior designer who saw it beforehand said he knew instantly Mishra would win the prize.

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