U.S. Woolmark Prize Winners Rochambeau on putting NY menswear on the Map

The winners of the USA Regional International Woolmark Prize were announced yesterday evening.

The winner in each category was awarded a $50,000AUD sponsorship and will go on to compete in the IWP final for a $100,000AUD prize and the opportunity to have their Australian Merino wool capsule collection sold in stores around the world.


For womenswear, the nominees were Hellessy, Monse, Gabriela Hearst, Nellie Partow, and Sally LaPointe. The menswear nominees were Abasi Rosborough, Matiere, Pyer Moss, SECOND / LAYER, and Rochambeau.

All of the nominees displayed impressive designs showcasing the versatile properties of Merino wool, which has natural moisture-wicking capabilities and a soft hand that rivals cashmere.


The panel of judges included talents like Public School designers and DKNY creative directors Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, Esquire Fashion Director Nick Sullivan, designer Jason Wu, fashion consultant Julie Gilhart, CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb, and Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley. Before they announced the winners, Osborne admitted the deliberation process took the better part of eight hours.


The menswear nominees offered a strong showing. Abasi Rosborough’s shearling coat and bold red wool elongated knit almost stole the show. Matiere’s taped seam outerwear infused a dose of futuristic technicality. Pyer Moss’ subversive graphics featuring middle finger-embroidered mock necks and the statement “WE CLEARLY DON’T BELONG HERE” maintained designer Kerby Jean-Raymond’s penchant for subversive social commentary.

SECOND / LAYER designers Joshua and Jacob Willis channelled their signature California subculture aesthetic in a wool boiler suit with a two-way zip and a louche, oversized, collarless double-breasted blazer. Rochambeau’s Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper looked to New York City’s early-2000s art scene for inspiration, channelling the late Dash Snow in a sleeveless merino topcoat and waxed leather vest.

In the end, Gabriela Hearst nabbed the womenswear prize, and Rochambeau won in the menswear category. Rochambeau is a label that was founded almost a decade ago when designers Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper met at Pace University. Their mutual admiration for covetable Nike Skateboarding sneakers forged a friendship rooted in subculture that informs their approach to design.

As they celebrated their victory, I talked to Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper about the inspiration behind their Woolmark Prize capsule, their recent Spring/Summer 2017 collection shown at New York Fashion Week: Men’s, and what New York City’s menswear scene needs to truly compete on a global scale.


What was the inspiration behind your Woolmark Prize capsule?
Laurence: We kind of dug into the idea of post-9/11 New York, not really focusing on the tragedy—knowing how horrific it was, but there was the creative energy that came out of it. It emerged in artists like Nate Lowman, Dan Colen, and Ryan McGinley.

Our particular reference was looking at Dash Snow and his now-iconic style. They were always people we were a generation behind—but we looked up to them as our rockstars. Woolmark let us push the boundaries with their capabilities and resources, which led to what I think is a cool look.


Your recent Spring/Summer 2017 show reflects menswear’s eclectic state, and your references draw from plenty of street culture. Given the current social climate and the diverse communities who engage in that style environment, do you think fashion can be a platform for social change?
Laurence: I think one of the things that we’re trying to put forth is the energy that’s coming out of New York City. We love representing the city that we’re from, and I think there’s a positivity to what we’re doing. We’ve reduced some of the formalities of traditional fashion show approaches.

All of the models we cast are friends, homies, artists, sculptors, musicians, and skaters. So we feel like we’re putting forth the energy of our creative network—our family. And in that way, even with all the things going on in the world, there’s a positivity to that, and I think there are good things that can come from that.

“Authenticity” is a big buzzword, as different styles and themes are being cribbed and remixed from subcultures like skating, with Thrasher gear being especially prevalent now. How do you preserve the realness that makes something special while translating it in your own way?
Laurence: At the core of authencity, when everybody looks at brands that have been around forever, I think that all that we can be held accountable for is our beginnings. We’ve been plugging away at this for a really long time. [Joshua] and I became best friends around 2006 or 2007, we’ve been working on this brand for about seven years.

We weren’t taught in school—we taught ourselves how to do this. We made a lot of errors with our own money, and we’ve been self-funded to this point. In terms of authenticity, I think that believing in yourself and putting your money where your mouth is are the most important things.

Joshua: At the same time—and we’ve touched on this—in 2006 and 2007, that was a time when you had to be put onto things. Everything wasn’t a search away. This was the dawn of a lot of bigger sites now, and growing up we had to strive to see what was the cool shit, what the vibe was. Someone like an older brother essentially had to put you on. So I think to that degree, it’s the people that have built that network or put in that time that builds that real authencity and distinguishing factor.


What do you think the New York City menswear scene needs to be taken more seriously on a global level?
Laurence: I think that’s our challenge. Going into the launch of our label, there was a moment where we felt like menswear in New York turned stale. There was this faux-heritage kind of vibe, and we didn’t know what we were stepping into. We were like: How could there not be a men’s week? And now, that conversation’s unfolding.

It’s up to us to push the creativity. Even sometimes you’ll see that U.S. retailers—compared to what’s happening globally—are a little less inclined to take risks. So we’re using a platform like this to rock the international stage and tell them that this market exists.

Joshua: I also think the inspiration couldn’t be more New York. When people think New York, they think about that time when these artists were the people that everybody downtown knew. Going back to the early Supreme days, when it was a unique thing. I think we’re gonna bring that to an international stage and enlighten people about what was going on in New York in the early 2000s.


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