Up until this week, fashion designer Saul Nash’s only encounter with Australia had been courtesy of three of our most infamous exports.
“I’ve only ever seen it on Home and Away and Neighbours,” he jokingly tells ICON and GRAZIA.
The third was in 2022 when Nash was named as the winner of the prestigious International Woolmark Prize, beating out some of the most incredible young designers from around the world including our very own Jordan Dalah. The announcement (one of two accolades that Nash secured that year, the other being Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design the very same week) locked Nash in as one of the most exciting designers to come out of Britain this decade.
Judged by some of the industry’s biggest names, including Naomi Campbell, Edward Enninful OBE, Tim Blanks and Riccardo Tisci, Nash’s win ascribed to his innovative use of merino wool. The collection, a sport-inspired, activewear range that was the embodied his other passion – dance and choreography. This blurring of luxury fibres with athletic elements has become a signature for Nash and one that crystallised through his partnership with Woolmark.
“I’ll be really honest with you, when I came to the Woolmark Prize I had dabbled in knitwear but I had never used wool in my work. To my surprise, looking at some of the properties of wool I found that they really correlated with some of the properties of synthetics sports fabrics. That really excited me, a natural fibre that could have all the potentials of synthetic fibres. Plus, anything in wool that you touch it instantly feels very luxurious.
“So what was great about Woolmark was I got to really look into materials and that’s something that I’ve learnt is really important to me.”
One year on, Nash has finally made it to Sydney where he’s here to pass on the torch so to speak, announcing the 2023 International Woolmark Prize finalists during an intimate gathering in Surry Hills. The eight designers chosen from around the world by Australia’s leading wool experts will create a capsule line from merino wool, highlighting the fibre’s versatility and performance and given a sweet $60,000 create and present their collection. The winner will be announced next April in London and will receive an even sweeter $200,000.
The full list of finalists for 2023 are A. Roege Hove of Denmark, Irish menswear designer Robyn Lynch, Nigeria’s Lagos Space Programme, (recently appointed Bally creative director) Rhuigi Villaseñor’s LA label Rhude, Blumarble from France, Paolina Russo, South Korea’s Maxxij and Italy’s Marco Rambaldi.
Speaking to ICON after the event, Nash explains what the secret ingredient has been that drives him during the creative process, what’s to come and some sage advice for the next generation of potential winners.
“The core principle of my brand is to create garments that are designed and cut for movement,” says Nash. “Whenever you start a process, you develop your core principles as a designer. A lot of those earlier experiments before I was a brand, really looked at garments and how they moved and they way they were cut.”
This investigation into the fashion’s inherit tension – to cover, contain, conceal and yet retain a sense of freedom and fluidity – is something that Nash has skewered with what he has described as his “sensitivity sportswear”.
His background in dance, and choreography, has given Nash a unique insight into this. “It started as a question of myself,” Nash explains. “I wear a lot of sports wear and if we step outside of dance it’s a question of the people I grew up around and they they wear and feel comfortable in.
“When I would go to dance, there was a lack of things that I felt comfortable to move in. But then, over time as I developed the brand it started to question what does liberation mean in a more general sense. I think every garment should enable the person to feel free in it and be able to move and not feel restricted at all. There’s a dialogue around the physical sense of performance, but also the lifestyle element. Everyone has to be able to move and flow through their life.”
His latest collection for Spring 2023 touches is perhaps the most introspective thus far. Inspired by the concept of siblings – both blood and chosen family – Nash presents a disarmingly nostalgic line that, for anyone who looked up to their elder brother or sister for fashion advice, is immediately recognisable in its proportions and early ’00s references.
“A lot of what I wear was shaped by looking up to my older brother,” says Nash. “I think this idea of family, or siblings, for me as an adult it starts to evolve. You have your blood siblings, you also have your chosen family and that was what we explored through the images.
“Also, when you look at the proportions – if you ever wore your older siblings clothes, they were also a little oversized.”
And what would Nash’s advice be to the next generation of potential winners?
“Enjoy the process. When I went into the Woolmark Prize, I just wanted to explore movement in the world of wool and I wasn’t sure where it was going to take me. I feel like the journey that the Woolmark Prize can take you on, you should just let yourself be led by it. You could really discover some amazing things about yourself through the prize.