During our trip to Zurich for the Swiss Textiles Award this past week, national television, newspaper and radio reporters repeatedly asked us about the award’s recognition outside of the country. We professed its prestige across the fashion industry and its value in helping young designers already on the rise to take business to the next level. But, in light of Alexander Wang’s controversial win, the question remained: What is the purpose of the award if the honored business is already on a fine trajectory to the next level?
The selection for the winner was arguably the most disputed in the awards’ ten-year history. There were talks of bitter fighting among the jury members, who couldn’t unanimously decide on a winner. Apparently the constantly frustrated jury members were still in final deliberation over the winner until the very last moment. One jury member, who asked that her identity be withheld, was incensed by how other members got swept up by Wang’s perceived celebrity and potential to bring greater recognition to the awards themselves. And indeed another member spoke of Wang’s “winning personality,” arguing that all subsequent mentions of Wang would also include a reference to the awards.
As with any awards process, different sides were factored in to determine the winner. Similar to the Oscars—where it’s not uncommon for an actor or director to receive the iconic gold statue for their body of work or to satisfy the marketing needs, rather than for a singular accomplishment—there is a considerable amount of bureaucracy. In the case of the recent Swiss Textile Award, however, the general feeling is that a calculated publicity decision replaced the intended nod to a designer for his or her inherent merit.
To Wang’s credit, his collection had a cool sportswear spirit and a youthful exuberance that shone above many of his competitors’ lines. His high-octane presentation exceeded Erdem’s, for example, who unwisely chose to play chimes to accompany his Japanese-inspired collection. Wang also stood above Alexis Mabille’s precious eyelet dresses shown in sweet white and pale palettes, which didn’t quite come alive in the venue. The real competition ultimately seemed to be drawn between Peter Pilotto and Ohne Titel, with Thakoon belonging in a different league altogether.
If the Swiss Textiles Award is really intended to provide a leg up to designers lacking sufficient resources then what made Wang worthy this year? His healthy capitalization as a family owned business is a not so tightly held secret, after all. While we can’t provide exact sales and investment numbers for the privately held company, it’s common knowledge that Wang isn’t exactly a struggling designer.
Whatever the case may be, the young designer plans to direct his €100,000 prize on refining the product across his men’s, women’s and accessories lines, and hopes to open a retail store in New York by 2010. This will certainly be money well spent, but the question remains: Was it fairly allotted?