From a selection of six talented rising designers including Bethany Williams, Casablanca, Kenneth Ize, Lecavalier and Thebe Magugu, British designer Matty Bovan has been named winner of both the 2021 Woolmark Prize and the Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award by a star-studded judging panel including Tim Blanks, Thom Browne, Ib Kamara, Shaway Yeh, Sinéad Burke, Tasha Liu, Julie Davies, and Carine. In the second time in Woolmark’s modern history that a rising designer has ever walked away with both prizes, the first being Edward Crutchley in 2019, the York-born designer is set to receive a grand prize of 300,000 Australian dollars as well as a range of invaluable mentorship in expanding his eponymous brand.
Bovan was inspired by the sea in creating his submitted collection that took home both prizes. “The sea as an image kept recurring to me over these weeks,” said Bovan in the collection’s notes. “I watched the film The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers, this supernatural sense of foreboding, blurring of reality, and isolation speaking to me greatly.” While Bovan’s work documented the idea of isolation in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collection ironically posed his most collaborative yet working with various local artisans in furthering the idea of craft inherent to fashion design that the Woolmark Prize aims to highlight. In his first interview since accepting both accolades, the young designer sits down in conversation with our own Editor-in-Chief and Woolmark Prize judge in discussing what the glimmering future holds for the Matty Bovan brand in the industry’s narrative.
Matty, to start off, how does it feel to be not only a winner, but a winner of both prizes?
MB: “The first word I would say is, incredible, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m so honored and humbled and excited, every kind of emotion. But it’s really beautiful it’s a nice feeling to help people, it’s overwhelming and exciting.”
Carine, what do you think the Woolmark Prize means for rising designers and their future, fashion’s future?
CR: “It’s a well respected prize and has been around for many years, the Woolmark company are a group of very excited people, it’s not just about the look, what you’re thinking, what you’re doing; they’re going deep and I hope they continue to help Matty and his art the most they can.”
Were you looking for anything specific in this year’s winner?
CR: “Fashion is not just a business or something to wear, for me, the first thing I see is emotion and who is excited to be a designer and to make the clothes.”
In terms of the collection, what was it like to work with wool as a medium, and did it pose any challenges, any advantages for you?
MB: “I did specialize in knitwear, I learned it when I was very young. I got my first machine when I was 16 so it has always been a huge passion of mine. I love working with raw wool you can create a lot of fabrications, like spinning it or making a fabric from scratch. I like that you can manipulate wool, you can add things with it to change the appeal of it. It was great fun and it’s one of my main ways of expanding my local production. For wool, it’s a material I use every season because it has such versatility, it’s a very practical fabric in a way.”
CR: “Wool is great because it’s not just a flat material; you can make it appear flat if you like, but there’s different thicknesses, it’s very three-dimensional. I used to not wear wool, but I’ve tried to change that because I think there are so many different ideas you can create with wool. It’s a fabric that really talks to you when you touch it, it’s very important to touch your clothes. Wool is a natural material, it’s quite alive, it’s changing all the time, it’s a living material.”
How was sustainability utilized when it came to materials for the collection?
MB: “The stuff I make is very one-off and unique, a lot of these materials I could never bear to get rid of them. With raw materials, I find ways to make them different so I can reuse wool fabrics. I worked with local artisans: a really beautiful woolen mill in Yorkshire called AW Hainsworth, I worked with a lot of amazing hand knitters around the corner from me, and I do a lot of things by myself in-house, so it’s always been very sustainable. I very rarely get rid of anything, even with the knits, the stuff I do by machine, I work with long rectangles and I free-form drape it, I don’t cut. It’s been great with Woolmark, it’s been very educational. It’s fun, it expands my knowledge and my sustainable practices. I really enjoy it as a journey, the documentation, the journey of learning from suppliers, manufacturers, and how they make their stuff.”
CR: “With you Matty, it’s not something that you try to do, it’s not a trend, it’s the way you’ve been working. It’s very honest from the beginning, it’s a part of you. You’re working with people at the corner of your house, you know all these people, I hope they are proud of your successes and these people become family as they are important throughout your entire journey.”
MB: “It’s always been a natural extension really, even from the machinery that I use, the machines are 30 years old and you have to be very open when you’re doing these fabrications because sometimes it comes out completely different and it comes out wrong and you have to adapt. I’ve used the machines for so many years, I’ve learned to be flexible with the process.”
CR: “I think it’s very artistic what you’re doing. It’s like a painter in front of his canvas, he puts more paint, more paint, it becomes thicker and thicker, for me it’s a very artistic point of view.”
Matty, you mentioned quite a few times making “future fashion heirlooms”, do either of you think there is enough of this mentality in fashion today?
MB: “It is something that does sort weigh on my mind you know, more than ever now, as a designer you’re putting things out into the world, for me its small numbers and that’s important as well, but I want to make sure everything I put into the world is special and I that I feel really proud of each piece. I’d like my pieces to be something someone can get a lot of wear out of and have a lot of fun with in the different ways of wearing it which I think comes back to the idea of having this confidence and people are conscious of their own style and their own way of putting things together. I think it’s important to not just put out very flat, soulless work. It’s important to put out things with life and energy in it. In the world of the internet, it’s very difficult to experience things but I think even with my flat like a photograph, people understand a bit of the energy in the piece.”
CR: “Totally, I think now people want to feel different than others in their clothing. It’s good for you to be different than everyone else and to be unique, I think this is the trend of today.”
What are you looking forward to accomplishing with this new platform Matty?
MB: “It’s incredible validation really. I’m still quite shocked by it to be honest. It’s going allow me to make my dreams come true reality/. It’s a privilege for me to have this job anyway, it’s even more of a privilege to win such prestigious of an award with such history. I’ve enjoyed material aspect of this whole journey, it has been everything that I love: learning about sustainability even more so, playing around experimenting with wool, it’s my passion. It’s been incredible already what Woolmark has done for me, I’m just so grateful to have won this prize.”
What do you want to see for the future of fashion?
CR: “I love fashion. I love to go to fashion shows where there’s really fashion in it, and sometimes, that’s not the case as fashion has become more of a business. You have to have emotion in fashion, not just in the girls, but in the clothes, the makeup, the music, everything. When you go to a real show and all its surprises, it’s not a problem to look at things you don’t see all the time, it’s a privilege.”
MG: “I would agree, Carine I want passion and emotion. Obviously, when you’re making something you always wonder – will someone like it? But I’d rather someone have an extreme reaction of “I love that color” or “I hate that color”. I went to the Central Saint Martins show the other day and nearly cried ar the movement of the clothes. I want to look at something and think “how did they make that?” I want some grit, some juice – everything is so flat these days with the internet.”
CR: “So we are waiting for your next show.
MB: “Exactly, I’m working on it now.”
CR: “I’m sure you are, because it’s who you are. I love that in your Woolmark portfolio, the hair and makeup was also important for you because for me as a stylist, it’s very important to the picture.”
What advice would you give to young designers following this path?
MG: “I would say my biggest piece of advice was really to not and try to be something you’re not. My most unique power was being me. Even presenting in paper format, not presenting clean, mine was all utilizing paint and colors. It took awhile for me to understand that my most unique part of my skills was to be who I was and do like what I like. It’s so important to have your own voice and viewpoint in fashion because it’s such a huge industry.”
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