Woolmark Shines a Light on China's Emerging Creative Class

The spotlight this summer is no doubt shining on China. Beijing is hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, bringing a mass of first-time visitors from the West. And the country’s ever-growing middle class, still in love with labels, has helped pad the pockets of the luxury industry while buyers in the United States and Europe face the credit crunch.

And now, as that same middle class begins to refine and distinguish its tastes from its Western counterparts, Qui Hao, a Chinese man, wins the Woolmark Prize. For those who’ve been sleeping under a pile of Christian Lacroix couture for the past week, the Woolmark Prize awards an emerging fashion talent 100,000 euros, and, for the 2008 edition, the opportunity to sell his or her clothing at Colette in Paris.

The prize is best known for spurring the rivalry between Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld back in 1954, when both men were recognized, with YSL taking the top spot and Lagerfeld playing second fiddle. After being discontinued in 1992, the competition was relaunched earlier this year to promote the distribution of Australian merino wool, which acquired the rights to the Woolmark copyright in 2007.

Hao surpassed nine other finalists, including London-based designer Louise Goldin who we recently reviewed here, representing eight different countries. Yet his designs signify more than superior craftsmanship. They highlight the accomplishments of China’s emerging creative class—a sector of that broader middle class—whose artistic accomplishments are beginning to rival those of Europe. The light may indeed be shining on China, but now, we will be forced to examine its focus more closely.

—Jessica Arthur

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