Merino makes its mark on world stage
A swathe of white wool snakes from the model's crown to her hem, twisting in a wide, elegant sweep down the length of her structured felt coatdress.
The outfit is the first of Dion Lee's International Woolmark Prize entries to be revealed, and it will sit alongside five other looks by the fashion designer to complete the capsule collection, representing Australia in the prestigious competition.
With just four weeks to go until the 27-year-old's creations are judged at London Fashion Week, the pressure is on the Sydneysider – and with good reason.
Dion Lee's design, revealed today, comprises one part of his six-piece collection for the Australian entry to the International Woolmark Prize. Image supplied.
Funded by Australian Wool Innovation, the prize supports emerging talent, putting merino wool at fashion's centre stage and is to be judged by a host of fashion's most influential names, designers Donatella Versace, Victoria Beckham and Diane von Furstenberg, Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia and Tim Blanks, editor at large of style.com.
The winner will take away $100,000 and concessions in some of the world's top stores.
“Obviously, [the winner] needs talent and technique. I'm looking for a story too, a convincing narrative to lend coherence to a collection,” says Blanks. “Passion is always impressive - that feeling that these kids would be doing this whatever the world threw their way.”
Dion Lee at his Chippendale studio. Photo: James Brickwood
Lee, who burst onto the Australian fashion scene three years ago, has taken pains to weave Australian history into his creations, the Akubra-like hat – created with local milliner Jonathan Howard - giving a subtle glimpse into the grazier's life.
"I've taken some references of Australian identity - in the context I think it's important that there's something distinctively Australian about it… but it's not overpowering,” says Lee.
The prize's stature is not lost on Lee. “It's a global scale and I don't think I've been in a competition that has that level of international involvement.
“It gives the competition a lot of weight knowing there are people who have been in the industry for such a long time ... The process of being in front of the panel of judges is fairly limited so hopefully it won't give me too many opportunities to trip up."
His entire staff has been involved on the 12-month project, which has seen more than 70 designers invited from 16 countries whittled down to just six, each representing a geographical region.
Having won the regional competition with a striking grey "vented" coatdress in July, Lee will compete in London's final against collections from China, Europe, India, Japan and the US.
Stuart McCullough, chief executive of Australian Wool Innovation, says the Woolmark Company's reach has created a level playing field for designers from both established and emerging fashion markets.
“The response has been overwhelming, particularly from the regions which are not generally included in these awards such as India and China.”
Lee is tipped to win - a rumour that seems to have no single origin, but has spread like wildfire.
The accolade would place him alongside such luminaries as Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, who at ages 18 and 21 respectively, both won the prize's earlier incarnation, then overseen by the International Wool Secretariat, in 1954.
Whether it's hearsay or patriotism, the support is welcome, if premature.
“We haven't actually seen everyone in the same room yet, so I can't possibly help the bookies with an inside track,” says London-based Blanks.
“Winning it'd be surreal” says Lee. “People are being supportive - but until anyone sees our entry, it's all speculation.”