From Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani to Karl Lagerfeld, the Woolmark Prize is considered one of the most prestigious awards for designers. The Woolmark Prize is an international award that recognises and celebrates the up-and-coming designers around the globe whose work showcases the versatility and beauty of Merino wool. Since 1954, the Woolmark Prize has been the hallmark of the fashion industry.
Among the seven finalists for 2022 is South African designer duo, MMUSOMAXWELL. The other finalists are: Ahluwalia, Saul Nash, EGONLAB, Peter Do, Jordan Dalah and Rui. All these designers are focussed on driving change for a better future.
Maxwell Boko and Mmuso Potsane, the Johannesburg-based designers behind MMUSOMAXWELL, combine African heritage with contemporary culture to create ready-to-wear high-end women’s garments. Designed for the modern woman, practicality and accentuated details is the trademark of their pieces.
Mmuso grew up in Qwa Qwa in the Free State. His interest in fashion began when he watched the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, especially intrigued by Forrester Creations. After high school, Mmuso went on to study fashion design at the Central University of Technology in Free State.
The other half of the duo, Maxwell, was born and raised in a small rural area called Zinduneni in the Eastern Cape. “I never really looked at fashion as a viable career option until late in high school,” he says. The kind of industry that existed during his preparatory years did not show people like him as designers or successful creatives. Being a white, western dominated industry, fashion felt very removed from him. However, as he grew older, he realised that he could make a space for himself and hopefully inspire others in the same situation as him. “I initially had aspirations of being a geologist. It’s funny because I cannot imagine myself doing anything else now,” he says.
Mmuso and Maxwell met during an internship with David Tlale where they noticed their aesthetics and views of design aligned. “We later figured that we would make a far more compelling brand as a duo instead of two similar brands,” Maxwell says.
Tailoring is a primary element of the brand’s DNA. Every collection is grounded in natural fibres forming the base of their pieces. In recent years, MMUSOMAXWELL have ventured into incorporating custom woven fabrics using small local weavers. Although it is costly, it was important for them to support local industries in their work. They hope that, as they grow, they can continue creating pieces that pieces that celebrate South African industries.
“Our heritage is obviously our main source of inspiration,” Mmuso says. Family and community is a big part of that inspiration: From their mothers and grandmothers style back home and especially the effortless layering of clothes.
The seven finalists of this year’s Woolmark Prize will be guided through production development, supply chain connections and sustainability roadmaps to create a collection for Autumn/ Winter 2022. This year’s theme is “Play”, inviting an experimental and innovative approach to design, textiles and business practices.
MMUSOMAXWELL’s UMETHULO 22 Collection is inspired by the deceit of religious leaders in South Africa. They explore how the use of euphemistic language and theatrics are utilised to beguile or mystify devotees.
They hope that the Woolmark experience will help them gain access to the international fashion ecosystem that is often out of reach for African brands as well as stimulate appreciation of African artistry and heritage in the global market. This award could also provide the financial backing to further develop and grow their work with local craftsman and artisans. And, most importantly, to support their communities through job creation as well as grant opportunities for creatives in South Africa.
“For the longest time, Africa has been viewed and perceived by the world through a stereotypical lens,” Mmuso says. In creating a brand that celebrates not only African culture and history, but also its textiles and artisans, MMUSOMAXWELL is shifting the conversation of fashion, and allowing previously silenced people to reclaim their artistry.
“Through MMUSOMAXWELL, we want to challenge that narrative and dismantle the idea of what African-inspired fashion should be or look like. The nuances of our Xhosa and Sotho cultures are tacitly reflected in signature details, from border patterns to asymmetric illusion layering while retaining a modern echo,” add the duo.
What is the 2022 International Woolmark Prize?
The seven finalists will present a Merino wool collection for Autumn/Winter 2022 highlighting transparency throughout their supply chain and, alongside partner Common Objective, will build a sustainability roadmap. The winners will be selected by a prestigious panel of industry experts, to be announced in April 2022.
One finalist will be awarded the International Woolmark Prize and receive AU$200,000 to invest in the development of their business. The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation will be awarded to another finalist, with the winner receiving AU$100,000. The Woolmark Supply Chain Award will celebrate outstanding contribution from a trade partner driving wool supply chain innovation.
All finalists will have the opportunity to be stocked in some of the world’s leading stores, via the International Woolmark Prize Retailer Network.
- Winners of the Woolmark Prize will be announced in April 2022.
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