Taking place next Saturday at London’s Lindley Hall, the International Woolmark Global Prize is an opportunity for a global roster of fashion’s most exciting design talents to showcase their skill in Australian Merino wool with a collection crafted exclusively for the Prize.

Since 1953, the competition has helped uncover the industry’s brightest, and in its present format, offers a shortlist of twelve finalists the opportunity to win a AU$200,000 contribution to their business and access to a mentoring programme from industry experts. In addition to the main prize for both men’s and womenswear, the Innovation Award, which celebrates inventive and original use of Merino wool, comes with a AU$100,000 prize.

Crucially, the award promotes sustainable production of wool via its Trade Partners programme, a global network of the highest-quality suppliers with whom designers can secure luxury Merino wool for years to come.

Below, we spotlight three designers nominated for this year’s final and their Woolmark collections. From Nicholas Daley’s riff on his own Scottish-Jamaican dual heritage to Daniel W. Fletcher‘s schoolboy-inspired silhouettes and Edward Crutchley’s fluid tailoring, we uncover the mood and message behind their designs.

Nicholas Daley 

Finn Blythe: How did you explore the idea of dual-heritage in your collection?
Nicholas Daley: I think diversity is a great thing, and I wish to celebrate this within my own work. My mum is from Scotland and my dad is from Jamaica, so my whole life I have experienced a very diverse upbringing, and I guess multiculturalism was a part of my DNA even before fashion school. Living in such a diverse city as London has also influenced my work, from my first collection ‘Culture Clash’ to my most recent ‘Black Ark’.

FB: Jamaica and Scotland are at fairly opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of weather and dress, how do you feel they complement one another?
ND: Both cultures have very strong identities and something which I am very proud to be part of. I also embrace both cultures into my work whether it is working with traditional kilt makers Glenisla Kilts in Motherwell or having reggae legends such as Don Letts and Dennis Bovell perform at my fashion shows.

FB: Do you work from personal memory or do you draw from more generally recognised cultural references? Is so, which ones?
ND: I draw inspiration from what I feel is directly connected to me. I always want a level of transparency between my beliefs and aesthetic which channels through to my creative ideas. My mission is always to tell an authentic story, collaborate with authentic people and create authentic clothing.

FB: What informed your use of fabric?
ND: Always looking at the connection between fashion and music, for the International Woolmark Prize collection Reggae Klub I wanted to focus on how merino wool can be adapted to benefit musicians performing live. For any musician on the stage, how they look is just as important as how they feel, and with this in mind, my aim was striking a balance between style and comfort.

I know designs must be comfortable for musicians to perform to their fullest, and the properties of merino wool make it the fitting fabric to be used to accommodate with not only the changes in weather, but also the vigorous movements of the musicians on stage.

This was a big inspiration for me, and the capsule collection is a wardrobe for the musicians, also linking back to my roots and family.

FB: How would you summarise the mood of your collection?
ND: My outlook is also informed by Britain’s subcultures and how they continue to influence contemporary popular culture. I’ve always utilised music as a part of my design process. I interpret sound through design subsequently collaborating with numerous musicians to reinterpret my work.

The look book for the ‘Reggae Klub’ collection was shot at the London recording studio Total Refreshment Centre, and this was the place where I wanted to really emphasise the mood of the collection.  The venue is known for its uncompromising sound quality and is a key institution for the new wave of London jazz musicians.

I collaborated with Mansur Brown, a London-based musician who has worked with me previously numerous times. He’s also a craftsman of his trade, and the best guitarist I know – he’s definitely one to watch.

Daniel W. Fletcher 

FB: Your collection is partially based on archetypal British school uniforms, were you inspired by your own uniform?
Daniel Fletcher: Definitely, those scratchy grey trousers we all remember, and burgundy was my school colour. It’s funny that I spent all those years hating it, trying in any to make it different, (making my tie as short as I possibly could) and now I’ve designed a collection inspired by it.

FB: Can you tell us a little more about those scarves?
DWF: Through my nomination, I was introduced to some incredible mills and manufacturers in the UK; I wanted to highlight the beauty of the fabrics they are producing and take them from simply being viewed as something to wear or hang in a wardrobe. I worked with Abraham Moon & Sons (one of the oldest mills in Britain) to create these scarves that appear as if they are suspended and immortalised in a moment of time. They look as if they are billowing in the wind – frozen to become dramatic sculptures that sit on the shoulders of the wearer. These are not intended to be considered as ‘clothes’ but artworks that could sit in a gallery to show the beauty and craft of the British textile industry.

FB: What made you choose a beret?
DWF: Beret’s were originally the headgear of shepherds in the Pyrenees so it felt quite appropriate to use them in a collection made entirely of wool!

FB: Has Woolmark’s competition led to any changes in your approach?
DWF: It has definitely made me look more at where I am sourcing my fabrics and also helped me to establish relationships with a tonne of new mills. I was introduced to a lot of suppliers in the UK which are doing amazing things so I have tried to work with as many of these as possible (and will continue to do so in my main collections) as I think it is really important to support the industry here and it is also a much more sustainable approach.

FB: In your FW19 collection you focused on John Bulmer’s images of the north through the 60s. This time you took a wider approach to that reference point, across the 70s and your own childhood. What were the specific inspirations here? Any particular films, photographers or books?
DF: Those John Bulmer images have also been influential in this collection, I’m constantly referring back to his book, The North, but the film Kes was a big inspiration for me working on this collection. Also the Homes of Football, a book of photographs by Stuart Roy Clarke which has all of these great photos of football fans in the 90s, that’s where all the stripes came from.

Edward Crutchley 

FB: What was important for you in terms of texture for this collection?
Edward Crutchley: I set myself a bit of challenge with this collection. The rules of the competition are that the total collection must be at least 70 percent wool but because I enjoy making life more difficult I decided I wanted to really push the boundaries of what I could achieve with Merino and made my collection in 100 percent wool [laughs]. This meant I had to really pay careful consideration to the range of textures I used to make the richest collection possible. 

In the end, this didn’t prove to be too much of a challenge as I worked with some amazing supplier and we have managed to achieve a range of textures from really flat and leather-like to crinkled and felted. 

FB: Are there any specific references behind the collections tailored silhouettes?
EC: As with all my collection there are always a variety of inspirations. Here I looked particularly at the column-like silhouettes of Eastern European traditional dress. We cut a number of the pieces without side seams to help achieve a more cylindrical shape. 

FB: What can you tell me about the process behind your prints?
EC: The ideas for the prints tend to come first, then I think about how to apply them to get the effect I want. I’ve been working with my friend James Bosley for over ten years and he is an amazing print designer. We go through the concept together and talk about what we find interesting. 

For the Woolmark prize, I wanted a range of graphics that spoke of different cultures but still felt cohesive. We achieved this by using similar shapes within the design such as circles and squares. This really helped bring quite different visual references into a cohesive whole. 

FB: How has Woolmark’s competition tested you as a designer?
EC: It’s made me think more about what I want to say. As you only have six looks to tell your story you really have to pay attention to editing and how you say what you want to say. With regards to fabrics, I am lucky enough to have some really great relationships with suppliers around the world so that element was not so much of a challenge. That being said I think I might have tested the mills a bit as we really pushed the technical limits to make the most intricate and advanced Merino fabrics I have ever made. 

FB: What are you working on next?
EC: At the moment I’m working with Dior on SS20, then I’ll get started on my own summer collection.  

The International Woolmark Prize Global Final is taking place next Saturday 16th February over LFW at Lindey Hall, 80 Vincent Sq. SW1P 2PB