Matty Bovan Wins the 2021 International Woolmark Prize

The ascendant Brit received both the 2021 International Woolmark Prize and the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation for his sustainable, narrative-driven garments made using Australian Merino wool.

Matty Bovan

For decades, the International Woolmark Prize has honored emerging fashion talent showcasing the versatility of Australian Merino wool. It also incubates marquee names within fashion—Giorgio Armani, Gabriela Hearst, and Emily Bode are both recipients. This year’s top honor went to the ascendant Matty Bovan, who trained under Marc Jacobs before debuting a label known for kaleidoscopic knitwear, statement accessories, and unexpected textures.

Tasked with designing a collection of Merino wool garments focused on sustainability and transparency throughout the supply chain, Bovan’s six pieces pen an ode to the sea, escapism, and the story of British naval officer Horatio Nelson. To create the collection, the York-based designer worked with local suppliers and used deadstock fabrics to create statement pieces like a naval jacket screen-printed with Nelson’s portrait and acid-dyed cable knits. “Some of the black-and-white intarsia knitted garments looked like they had been blown in severe gales,” Bovan told the New York Times. “We made custom jacquards and swollen, chunky handmade cable knits. And we created an interpretation of Admiral Nelson’s jacket that looked like it had been torn apart and warped before being put back together.”

Carine Roitfeld, who judged this year’s prize along with the likes of Thom Browne and Sinéad Burke, praised Bovan for creating garments that “make [her] dream” and likened him to a young Vivienne Westwood or John Galliano. The judges further admired his “technical advanced jacquard weave designs, unique style, intricate designs that tell a story, advanced understanding of both knit and weave techniques, strong color combinations, and sustainable approach to local sourcing and production.”

Looks from Matty Bovan’s Australian Merino wool collection

Bovan says the $300,000 AUD ($231,300 USD) prize money will offer him the space to further experiment with forward-leaning ideas and, hopefully, bring the world he’s created through clothing to an entirely new audience.“Through the competition, I learned a lot about raw materials and the processes behind them,” he says. “The experience has opened my eyes to how I can be an even better brand and designer in that respect. It’s a huge honor, and I’m so excited about where the wins will take me.”

Each finalist was up for three accolades: the titular prize, the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and the newly introduced Woolmark Supply Chain Award, which went to China’s Nanshan Group. The other finalists, which were selected from a pool of 380 applicants from 55 countries, include the UK’s Bethany Williams, France’s Casablanca, Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize, Canada’s Lecavalier, and South Africa’s Thebe Magugu. Their collections all starred in an artful short film conceived by Solange’s newly expanded creative agency Saint Heron and directed by MacArthur Fellowship–winning artist Wu Tsang. Called “Passage,” the film features musicians and actors modeling the garments while flowing gracefully across surreal, theatrical backdrops.

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