York fashion designer Matty Bovan wins the double in the prestigious 2021 International Woolmark Prize

York fashion designer and college teacher Matty Bovan has won both the 2021 International Woolmark Prize and the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, following a virtual event judged by industry heavyweights, writes Stephanie Smith.

Matty Bovan, winner of the 2021 International Woolmark Prize. Picture: Catherine Veltman (Australian Wool)

Selected by an impressive panel of judges including Carine Roitfeld, Ib Kamara, Shaway Yeh, Sinéad Burke, Tasha Liu, Thom Browne, Tim Blanks and Julie Davies, this marks the second time in the award’s modern history that one designer has been awarded the two major prizes.

“What impressed me about Matty is his capacity to win both awards – for his innovation and creativity and I really think he deserves it,” said Carine Roitfeld. “He is pure fashion, he makes me dream and he reminds me of a young Vivienne Westwood or a John Galliano and we desperately need that sort of designer in the fashion world of today.”

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Bovan moved back to his home city of York after graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2015 with an MA in Knitwear Design. His parents, Plum and Nick Bovan, have been his constant support and his late grandmother, Joan, introduced him to knitting. He went to Millthorpe School in York and at 16 to York College for a diploma in Fashion and an A-level in Art. There followed a foundation at Leeds Beckett University (where he now teaches), then a BA and an MA at Central Saint Martins. The Hepworth, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Leeds Art Gallery are favourite sources of inspiration.

Matty Bovan with his prestigious prize.

A double Woolmark award was previously won two years ago by another Yorkshire fashion designer, Edward Crutchley, who grew up in the Yorkshire Dales. He won the Innovation and the Menswear awards, which were at separate the time from Womenswear.

Much has been made of the fact that Matty Bovan lives and works up north, with Vogue once commenting: “How amazing to think that this tatty grandeur - wonky crinolines, balloon headdresses, and all - should have come out of a suburban garage in York.”

Praised for his technically advanced jacquard weave designs, strong colour combinations and sustainable approach to local sourcing and production, Bovan’s sensibility and conceptual approach to fashion impressed the International Woolmark judges.

“Matty is truly and authentically creative, proving and representing that everything starts from pure creativity,” said Thom Browne. “He is also true to himself as a creative, a true individual and true individuals are the best leaders. For me, there is nothing more inspiring than young artists who are unique and true to themselves.”

A design from the winning collection.

With the theme Less is More, this year’s International Woolmark Prize places emphasis on sustainable practices, supply chain connections and future-proofing designs, highlighting Australian Merino wool as the green thread in responsible fashion.

“It’s a huge honour to win these prizes and I’m so excited for where it’s going to take me – I was already so thrilled with the Woolmark Prize platform and experience,” said Bovan.

“Being a part of the International Woolmark Prize has really helped elevate my brand and elevate my awareness and knowledge of how I operate as a business and as a label. It’s been amazing and I have loved every minute of it.”

Matty Bovan’s Ode to the Sea draws inspiration from travelling and escapism – going through a traumatic event and coming out the other side. From his York base, he worked with local suppliers and manufacturers, supporting local businesses, craftspeople and artisans through his tight supply chain network. Using roll end cloth from AW Hainsworth, screen printing and hand painting, he gives new life to discarded pieces of fabric. Limited runs in-house turned deadstock fabric into commercial pieces.

Bovan moved back to York after his MA in London.

A standout was Bovan’s Intarsia knitted garments that look as if they have been blown in severe gales, portraying ghostly figures in black and white, like characters in a TV screen. Created in collaboration with AW Hainsworth and using images from Bovan’s archives, the resultant fabrics surprise and delight at being created from pure merino wool.

The six finalists for this year’s award were: Bethany Williams - UK; Casablanca - France; Kenneth Ize - Nigeria; LECAVALIER - Canada; Matty Bovan - UK; and THEBE MAGUGU - South Africa.

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