Rahul Mishra wins the regional round of the International Woolmark Prize that earns him 50,000 AUD. He is now set to create a collection for the finale at the Milan Fashion Week in February 2014 that entitles the winner to take home a prize of 100,000 AUD. T. Krithika Reddy talks to the designer

“You cannot afford to have an insular approach to fashion,” says Rahul Mishra, when asked about his recent experiments with wool.

The Mumbai-based designer, who has given handloom a haute edge in his collections based on Chanderi, Ikat, Kerala Cotton, Benarasi and other traditional Indian weaves, grazes on a different turf to give wool a new spin. If you look back on his phenomenal success over the past six years, it’s not surprising that Mishra, who French-style guru Didier Grumbach described as a “talent to watch out for”, was selected in the India-Middle East regional round for the prestigious International Woolmark Prize.

The garment that charmed the high-profile jury was a jacket dress that used the lotus as a metaphor for the journey of the human race and the metamorphosis of our planet. “It’s a kind of progressive graphic hand embroidery that I used on Merino wool. Simple eight-petal lotus motifs morph into a complex visual language. Pristine white yarn is the perfect foil to the intricate patterns. The India-Middle East region covers India, the UAE, Pakistan and Lebanon. Four other designers from China, Australia, Europe and the U.S. will compete in the finale that will be held during the Milan Fashion Week in February 2014,” reveals the designer.

Instituted many decades ago, the International Woolmark Prize is a fashion design award that identifies promising youngsters capable of highlighting the modernity of Merino wool through their collections.

Just six months away from his epochal show, Mishra confesses he is slightly nervous. “Innovative and versatile yarn, top-class designs and exacting finishing standards are the key components of this competition. In the 1950s, Yves Saint Laurent won it when he was 18 and Karl Lagerfeld won it at the age of 21. You can imagine how much the bar has been raised since,” says the designer, who is busy conceptualising a capsule collection in Merino wool. It will feature fresh experiments with the yarn and also elevate craftsmanship on wool to a new level of artistry.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime. The prize money is unimaginable — 50,000 AUD for the regional round winners and 100,000 AUD for the finalist. The winner is also entitled to show his collection at half-a-dozen internationally acclaimed fashion houses such as Saks Fifth Avenue (New York), Harrods and Harvey Nichols (London), 10 Corso Como (Milan), Joyce (China) and Mytheresa (Germany’s leading online store). I want to give it my best by developing an all-weather fabric. Fresh weaves and craft techniques enhanced by a global aesthetic should do the trick. I keep telling myself that great people don’t do different things, they do things differently!”