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Swiss Textiles Award turns ten

Some looks by Alexander Wang, who's originally from San Francisco

Switzerland doesn't have a world-famous fashion week. But on one night of the year, it attracts the interest of designers and fashion editors the world over.

The head-turning happening is the Swiss Textiles Award, celebrating its tenth anniversary on Thursday.

Offered by the Swiss Textiles Federation, the award recognises designers on the verge of an international breakthrough. It's not possible to apply for the distinction; rather, the designers are nominated by a panel of industry experts.

Their styles may vary wildly, but this year's nominees have the following in common: they've been active in the fashion market for at least four seasons; they've shown their collections in Paris, London, New York or Milan; and they have their own sales channels.

"We have very strict criteria," said Swiss Textile Federation Vice President Ronald Weisbrod, who notes another key factor: "They have to have had good press reactions."

The winner receives a prize worth €100,000 (SFr151,000), but it's not paid out in cash. Instead, €10,000 is earmarked for the purchase of Swiss fabric, while the balance helps the winner to produce, display and market upcoming collections.

"The prize money allows the winning label to let go of financial pressures for a year and concentrate on its commodity – innovative design," said Weisbrod.

But nobody goes home empty-handed; each of the other five nominees receives a Swiss fabric voucher for €4,000. This is also good for the local textile industry because it acquaints designers with the quality and diversity of Swiss fabrics.

A springboard

As much as the people behind the Swiss Textiles Award believe in the winners, even their expectations have been exceeded.

"We really had no idea just how influential this award would become on the international stage – or more precisely, on the catwalk. Previous winners now hold top positions in the fashion industry," said Weisbrod with pride.

For example, two winners now serve as chief designers at well-established labels: Raf Simons (2003) is at Jil Sander and Marios Schwab (2007) is at Halston. Meanwhile, Bruno Pieters (2006) is art director for Hugo Boss.

Other previous winners, such as Daniel Herman (2000) and Tran Hin Phu (2001), have established their own labels and run their own businesses in Zurich.

In the beginning, only Swiss designers were eligible for the prize. But in a move to garner more global attention, organisers decided to open the competition to international designers in 2003.

Belgian designers dominated for four years in a row – a streak that Britain's Schwab broke in 2007. Last year, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of the American label Rodarte made history as the first women to win the Swiss Textiles Award.

Weisbrod is regularly asked why Swiss designers no longer make it into the candidate pool. According to him, it's not a lack of talent but a lack of funding for newcomers that prevents young Swiss designers from meeting the prize's strict criteria.

As part of this year's tenth anniversary festivities, Swiss Textiles is organising a workshop where Swiss fashion students can connect with and learn from previous award winners.

2009's hopefuls

Of the six labels in the running this year, three are American, two are British and one is French.

They all have some prominent fans, and two of them have even dressed first ladies. While French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is partial to Alexis Mabille (France), American First Lady Michelle Obama regularly reaches for THAKOON (United States).

Thakoon Panichgul told swissinfo.ch that he was very honoured by the award nomination.

"In the design community, it's a very prestigious award and one that I'm interested in as a designer who works quite a bit with new textiles."

In fact, the New York-based designer is no stranger to Swiss materials.

"I work with a couple of mills from Switzerland, namely Jakob Schlaepfer and Filtex," said Panichgul, who was born in Thailand and grew up in the American Midwest.

Public party

On Thursday, all six candidates will be in Zurich to present runway shows featuring their latest collections. It will be their final chance to impress the international jury, which will judge them on creativity, innovation and marketability. The jury includes a mix of fashion designers, journalists, buyers and other industry experts.

Rodarte will be on hand to present their spring/summer 2010 collection, and designer Isabel Toledo is a special guest as well as jury member. Like THAKOON, she, too, has dressed Michelle Obama – most notably in the mustard-yellow dress that the First Lady wore on Inauguration Day.

Before the catwalk shows begin, visitors can check out a vintage gallery of designer dresses made with Swiss textiles. Featured designers include Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.

Once the show is over, those who've fallen in love with a nominated label are in luck. The Globus department store on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse will be stocking some of their pieces throughout November.

Susan Vogel-Misicka, swissinfo.ch

Swiss Textile Award 2009 finalists:

Erdem, Britain
Alexis Mabille, France
Ohne Titel, US
Peter Pilotto, Britain
Thakoon Panichgul, US
Alexander Wang, US

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Swiss Textile Award, past winners:

2008: Rodarte, US
2007: Marios Schwab, Britain
2006: Bruno Pieters, Belgium
2005: Christian Wijnants, Belgium
2004: Haider Ackermann, Belgium
2003: Raf Simons, Belgium
2002: Benoît Missolin, France
2001: Tran Hin Phu, Switzerland
2000: Daniel Herman, Switzerland

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Swiss textile and garment industry 2008 figures:

Number of employees: 16,700 (+1.8%)

Sales: SFr4.190 billion (-3.2%)

Exports: SFr4.184 billion (-5.1%)

Imports: SFr8.731 billion (+0.6%)

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