Belgian Christian Wijnants takes out the International Woolmark Prize

Belgian Christian Wijnants takes out the International Woolmark Prize

The Australian fashion community is sighing wistfully into its Twitter feed this morning at the news that Dion Lee has narrowly missed out on the International Woolmark Prize, to Belgian designer Christian Wijnants.

 Judges including Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani and’s Tim Blanks announced their decision in London at last night, just after 9am this morning AEST.

It was the culmination of a search that spanned 12 months and 16 countries and involved more than 70 designers who entered the invitation-only prize, and the competition was phenomenal.

But while Wijnants, 34, now has the most cash in his pocket (a total of $150,000), making it to the top five is a big win in itself for Lee and the other finalists, American Sophie Theallet, Japanese label DRESSEDUNDRESSED, Indian duo Pankaj and Nidhi, and China’s Ban Xiao Xue.

Australian Wool Innovation has been dropping huge dollars on its marketing campaign as it leaves behind twenty years of drought, falling prices and, most recently, the mulesing debate, which became the target of PETA’s ire and subsequently a PR fiasco that scared off many retailers.

In the last two years wool prices have been steady as the business regains its glory. Being on the forefront of a global campaign with a $35 million dollar budget for 2013-14, the backbone of which is an industry worth $2.68 billion in exports in the 2011-12 financial year, is a pretty good place to be for a young designer.

It was back in July that Lee became the Australian Woolmark finalist, with national judge Richard Nicolls remarking “I think he has a good chance of winning the overall international competition.”

As one of the country’s biggest and brightest designers, he’s had all eyes on him as he prepared for his most prestigious award yet.

The enormity of the effort he put in was evident when he cancelled his show at London Fashion Week to focus on his preparation.

It was also a reflection of the work required from every finalist: a ‘capsule’ featuring the creation of a look as well as sketches of six others, and a short film – the Woolmark is not your average fashion prize.

While launching future superstars is the award’s unofficial aim, the official goal – to make wool sexy – will no doubt be aided by Lee’s spine-tingling, original creations with felt. Wijnants won over the judges with bold, chunky knits.

European judge Alber Ebaz said last year, “Christian’s work was right for the project, it was about knitwear, construction and technique.”

The Antwerp-based designer graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 2000, before going on to win the Grand Prix at Festival de Hyères in France. He then began selling his collections in-stores including Colette in Paris, Pineal Eye in London, Via Bus Stop in Tokyo and Henri Bendel in New York. After working as creative assistant for Dries Van Noten in Antwerp and Angelo Tarlazzi in Paris, he launched his own brand in 2003.

As part of Wijnants’ prize, international spreads of Vogue will devote editorial spreads to his work, and his collection will be stocked in luxury retailers from Harvey Nichols in the UK, Germany’s Eickoff and Italian giant 10 Corso Como, to Chinese giant Joyce.

He also joins Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Dolce & Gabbana on the glowing list of past Woolmark winners.

Perhaps it would have looked a little biased to award the first of a relaunched Australian award to an Australian? Theories aside, as they say, there is always next year for Lee, who is 26 years young.

Watch Christian Wijnants' campaign video below:

And see more of Dion Lee's creations:

Images credited in gallery

profile of Eliza Goetze