Alexa Chung in Valentino at the International Woolmark Prize [Getty]
It feels like mere days ago that we were chatting to Alexa Chung in New York about her front row wardrobe and now that fashion week fun has come to Milan, we found her FROWing again. But this time, Chungers had a special job to do: she's on the judging panel alongside style legends Frida Giannini and Franca Sozzani to find the winner of the 2014 International Woolmark Prize.
After a global search across 20 countries and involving over 48 designers, five talents reached the final round: ffiXXed for Asia, Christopher Esber for Australia, Sibling for Europe, Rahul Mishra for India and Middle East, and Altuzarra for the USA. As well as prestigious recognition, the winner receives a financial contribution of AU$100,000 (WOWSERS) and the opportunity to be stocked in the most important retailers around the globe including Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, 10 Corso Como, Joyce, David Jones, Colette and mytheresa.com. And let's forget this is the prize that first launched the careers of Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent in 1954. No pressure then...
The awards event took place at the Triennale Museum and Alexa arrives wearing a cape dress covered in butterflies by Valentino topped off with apricot-coloured plaform heels. 'When in Rome! Or rather Milan,' she says of her wonderfully whimsical outfit. The style star took her seat alongside her fellow judges as incredible wool creations from the finalists hit the catwalk.
The judges announce the winner, Rahul Mishra [Grazia_Live]
And the winner? Mr Rahul Mishra and his incredible hand-embroidered cocktail dresses. 'For me, Rahul has won because of his ability to apply his knowledge of embroideries through wool, one of the most versatile fibres with originality in an unexpected way,' explains Frida Giannini, Gucci’s Creative Director. 'His interpretation was so delicate and beautiful,' Alexa adds. 'I was really moved by Rahul's story. I believe he is well deserving of this award.'
Indeed, when Rahul accepted the award, he couldn't help but get emotional and a few sniffs were heard from the audience as the Indian designer delivered a heart-felt speech. 'I feel like this is a dream and this is giving me new hopes for my future career,' he said. 'This award will change the perception of global fashion in regards to Indian fashion and this is all because wool - an amazing fibre, the fibre of possibilities.' Congrats to that!
After the show, we grabbed a chat with Alexa for her take on the event and how those judging skills measured up...
Watch our interview with Alexa at the Woolmark Prize above
Q: How did it come about that you're working with Woolmark?
Alexa Chung: They called and asked me to be on the judging panel and it's not something I'd done before, but I looked into their work and I thought it was great that they support young designers. So in a selfish capacity, I was just excited to be introduced to new things.
Q: You're judging alongside some fashion greats - what was the dynamic like on the panel?
AC: I was really excited to meet everyone. It was quite an austere atmosphere at the start - I didn't realise it was going to be quite as stiff - but then we started asking the designers different questions and there were funny moments but I took it quite seriously as soon as I got in there because everyone else had this gravitas so I thought, "okay, this is the real deal".
Q: What kind of judge are you?
AC: I literally turned into Cheryl Cole on The X Factor. I was crying, I was trying to mother people and I wasn't expecting that from myself because I've never done this before and I was like, "I'll probably be quite a harsh critic". But actually I was like, "Well done, you can do it!" and welled up a couple of times as well. Tim Blanks [from Style.com] and I were both crying in a corner. It was so embarrassing.
Q: How did you decide on the winner?
AC: I really loved Rahul. I thought his brain was exceptional and the way he gave the presentation was amazing. He also brought in this paper model he'd made to illustrate his vision, which was about the incredible wool journey from a sheep in a field back to the city. His interpretation of it was really delicate and amazing.
Rahul Mishra's winning wool creations [Getty]
Q: Is it important to you to champion up-and-coming designers?
AC: I think it's the most important thing to do. Emerging talents is a big focus for me and it's part of my role with the British Fashion Council too. The fashion industry is really complicated and tough so it's important to focus on creativity. Everyone needs an opportunity to start somewhere otherwise we'd miss out on all these creative geniuses.
Q: Are you conscious of supporting young talent by wearing their designs?
AC: Yeah, it's one of the only things I can do to help. If I'm attending events internationally, I try to make sure British designers are my first choice because I'm so proud of our homegrown talent and want to support it. She says wearing Valentino! [laughs]
Q: So have you been inspired to go home and do some knitting?
AC: No, I was actually like, "f**k!". I was really amazed, I was like, "Wow, these are true artists". You just don't think about all the detail that goes into a single thing. I mean, that was just wool. Imagine how many different variables there are. It was really impressive. There's so much to learn.
Read part two of our chat with Alexa and check out her greatest style hits below...