With wool once again in the spotlight as a fashion statement and attracting good prices, it was only just that a fashion parade should be held in Armidale, centre of the New England wool growing region, and long favoured for its production of fine and superfine wool.
The Australian wool fashion community came together to celebrate the latest trends and talent emerging in the wool fashion and design industry at the 2019 Fleece to Fashion Awards.
Taking out the 'top gong' - the New England Woolgrowers Supreme Award - for 2019 was University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Fashion and Design graduate Madison Hislop for her graduate collection 'In Love', which used a combination of knitwear, silks, and woollen suitings sourced in Melbourne.
Madison said she was "incredibly grateful and humbled" to receive the Award.
"My collection highlights how clothing can attach meaning to it, either cocoon us in its comfort and familiarity or trap us in suffocating shapes that immobilise and impair. 'In Love' confirms the need for us to connect to our clothing and our emotions and take comfort in wearing your heart on your sleeve," Madison said.
"What made this Award all the more significant was the chance to travel to Armidale to connect with the woolgrowers themselves. Meeting the people who make the Merino wool that becomes this wonderful, versatile fibre - which is also environmentally-friendly - is really special and I'm so appreciative of the hard work that goes into wool production."
Madison Hislop is a Sydney-based textile-led designer with a strong focus on knitwear and softly tailored suiting to "dress a woman that is equally sensitive as she is strong". Also the recipient of the 2019 Carla Zampatti Foundation Design Award, Madison is relocating to New York City in August to pursue a Masters in Fashion Design and Society (MFA) at the prestigious Parsons School of Art and Design, spearheading her career to an international level.
Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Channel Nine travel show hostess and wool industry ambassador, Catriona Rowntree said she was "in awe" of the talent on-show at the 2019 Fleece to Fashion Awards, commending all the designers who entered their collections, especially those awarded a prize.
"We are witnessing ground-breaking innovation in the wool fashion and design space right now which makes it an extremely exciting time for our industry," Ms Rowntree said.
Held at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Armidale, the Awards were attended by 500 guests in black-tie representing all links of the wool supply chain - from woolgrowers, rural service providers, designers, shop owners, educators, as well as the local New England business community.
Judging the 2019 Awards was Kyoto-born Akira Isogawa, one of Australia's most iconic designers, who selects a F2F entrant for a bespoke internship opportunity at his company headquarters in Sydney.
The 2019 recipient of the internship was Sarah Hawes, also from UTS.
Lady Kate Knitwear founder and designer Penny Ashby, Narrabri, NSW and The Herd Store owner Acey Firth, Scone NSW, accompanied Akira Isokawa on the 2019 judging panel.
Previous winners of the Fleece to Fashion Awards have launched into international fashion and design careers, including the 2018 Supreme Award recipient Connor O'Grady, Brisbane, who will embark on his studies at the London School of Fashion next month.
Board director Liz Foster of Green Willow, Armidale, said she was immensely proud of the work that had gone into producing the 2019 entries.
"I am continually amazed at the quality and skills seen throughout the Fleece to Fashion competition - the designs are unusual, as we would expect from young, emerging designers, who like to push boundaries and think outside the square," she said.
"It is a unique celebration of what our industry is all about - from the woolshed through to the consumer - and we are delighted to provide a launching pad for young designers to develop their passion and skills in wool fashion."
Fleece to Fashion event coordinator Mary Carter said she is "proud to be a part of such an extraordinary event promoting the wool industry. The versatility of farmers and designers in the same room is something rather unique."
The other F2F event coordinator Lucy Virgona said the night was "a wonderful example of how future generations are shaping the fashion industry through the use of wool".