Nominees for the British Isles Regional Woolmark Prize, Baartmans and Siegel, talk to PORT about the privilege of being included in the prestigious competition
Baartmans and Siegel’s first interaction was when Amber Siegel fell off of her bike in front of the Viktor & Rolf atelier she and Wouter Baartmans were working at. Since then, the two have managed to create a dynamic label, combining traditional craftsmanship and forward thinking. Although the Dutch-British duo found working at a big company such as Viktor & Rolf rewarding, the two wanted to build a brand that would design collections true to their “intrinsic natural handwriting,” Siegel explains.
The pair’s work has landed them a nomination in the Woolmark Prize (British Isles Regional Award for menswear) – a notoriously competitive and prestigious award won by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent back when they were just starting out. The competition, first held in 1953, challenges designers to work with Merino wool, and celebrates those outstanding creatives from around the world who are able to showcase the beauty and versatility of the beautiful and natural Australian fibre.
Here, Siegel discusses the award, working with wool, and why her and Baartmans are self-proclaimed “modern-traditionalists”.
How did your partnership and brand come about?
We started creating projects outside the Viktor & Rolf atelier and found that we liked shaping our own environment. Working together always felt uncomplicated and enjoyable, rather than actually consciously work.
Can you tell us about your involvement in the Woolmark Prize and the collection you designed for it?
We were nominated for the British Isles Menswear category and approved by the Woolmark team, which was a great privilege, as it has such an interesting global incentive and legacy.
We based our collection on explorative and social documentary photographers, such as Mary Ellen Mark, and their gritty visual offering of youth. The central theme of the collection is ‘Streets of the Lost’ (named after the photographic essays Mary Ellen Mark created for LIFE magazine in 1983). It’s a portrait of masculine utility in progress.
How would you describe the collection?
‘Nomadic collective excess’. We approached each piece with a grounded and rooted sense of traditional utility, and added to it flourishes of collective innovation, excess performance and heightened expectation of non-conventional sport-luxe embellishment. Expect the unexpected and indulge in that which is familiar.
Layers and versatility were central to the silhouette, theme and aesthetic of the collection.
How did you incorporate wool into the collection?
We used wool in unique visible, and also complexly intertwined, offerings. Working with some of the traditional Italian mills that we have always collaborated with, we created, developed and sourced, Merino wool based on performance and protection. The car coats all have a pack-away feature where they are reversible and can also be packed down in to a bag, within the structure of the garment itself.
The accessories were also highlighted to compliment the garments. The oversized traveller bag we carefully crafted in bonded wool and aluminium and its foldaway nature and multi-functionality is a protective survival tool, with the added feature of memory-retention fibres to support the desired contours of the body.
Could you pick a favourite piece from the collection?
One of our favourite items is the result of a collaboration with FanOptics that incorporates solidwood: a unique, composite material, and a new way of working with wool. It creates a fantastic tactile texture and truly aesthetically stimulating.
What is it about wool that interests you? Is wool a material you usually work with, or was this a new experience for you?
Since starting Baartmans and Siegel, we have always used wool and other noble fibres. While embracing some of the fundamental aspects of British menswear, it was always inevitable that we would include wool in the DNA of our aesthetic.
Where do you source your fabrics from?
Most of our garment sampling, development and production is based in Italy, which has an engrained love affair with wool. One of our favourite memories from when we started our label was walking out of the car in Como, Italy, to go visit our factory, and a herd of 200 local sheep and one small Shetland pony walking down the street, fully trapping and surrounding us. It was a fantastic start to a holistic and fully explorative approach to sourcing our fabrics, and since then we have included the use of special and rare breed wool.
What are the advantages of working with a fabric such as wool?
There are so many amazing technical innovations that allow wool to be a durable and flexible base fibre, which is renewable, biodegradable and also extremely aesthetically dynamic. It feels extremely rewarding to be a contemporary designer, but to still be able to embrace a textile that Britons were working with since the Bronze Age, and to make it feel continuously relevant.
Why do you call yourselves “modern-traditionalists”?
It’s the idea of traditional values, but with a contemporary outlook to how we build collections and garments that have daily relevance. A skeleton of excellence with a rebellious flesh; a homage to the process behind the offering.
How will you build on your experience and involvement with the Woolmark Prize?
We will always include wool and pure fabrics in our collections every season, in addition to novelty performance fabrication. Textile selection at the beginning of each season is such an exciting part of the design and garment development!
What projects can we expect from you in the future?
We have been working on some very exciting projects to launch in winter: epic outerwear galore for both men and women. We have also collaborated on a special capsule menswear collection for a pillar of British retail, including our favourite piece: a beautifully slick bomber jacket, which is soon to be available. A dramatic and unique menswear offering will soon be unveiled. It’ll be a union of our vision and work, combined with one of the most creative popular culture icons and artists of the moment. We can’t wait to share this.