To receive the Vogue Business Newsletter, Login here.
What connects Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgo Armani with the seven cutting-edge up-and-coming fashion designers who are set to meet in London tomorrow – not to mention 60,000 Australian sheep farmers on the other side of the world? The answer is Woolmark, whose new CEO, John Roberts, was confirmed in the role as acting CEO this month after a six-month transition period.
In the fashion industry, Woolmark is well known for sponsoring the storied fashion awards founded in the 1950s, most recently in 2021 to Londoner Matty Bovan, and helping legendary talent get started. This year’s edition of the awards will be judged by a panel that includes Edward Enninful, Editor-in-Chief of British Fashion and European Editor-in-Chief of Fashion; Riccardo Tisci from Burberry; Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski of Hermès; and Pieter Mulier of Alaïa, among others. On Tuesday afternoon they will judge the merino wool capsule collections in six looks from the seven finalists: Ahluwalia (UK), Egonlab (France), Jordan Dalah (Australia), Peter Do (USA), Mmusomaxwell (South Africa), Rui (China) and Saul Nash (UK), before presenting the AU$200,000 (£114,000) Woolmark Prize and the AU$100,000 (£57,000) Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation.
While the Woolmark award may be extremely famous, as is the logo Francesco Saroglia designed for it in 1964, the broader understanding in fashion of exactly what Woolmark is – and why it’s such a consistent supporter of new design talent – remains, well yes, woolly at best. So before flying in this weekend for his first international assignment since being confirmed as CEO, Roberts gave a phone interview last week from his home in Glebe, Sydney.
For Woolmark, fostering a link between the high-flying fashion industry and Australia’s no-nonsense sheep farmers is a strategic move to ensure what’s grown gets used. “We believe it’s really important that we bring wool to the forefront of consumers and brands around the world,” says Roberts. “We want to update people’s perception of wool and align with modern, progressive brands. Overall, we’re pretty small, so we need to get out of there.”