Imagine pulling a cozy jacket off the rack at your favorite store and being able to tell not just the factory where the item was produced or workshop where the yarn was spun, but the exact farm on which sheep were shorn for the wool. Technically speaking, you could meet the fuzzy mammal who donated his fur to your fashionable outerwear. That’s pretty cool.
And it’s actually possible, thanks to the painstaking documentation of husband-and-wife design team Michael and Nicole Colovos, who created their Fall ’19 capsule collection, Colovos x Woolmark Prize, with a laser focus on sustainable, environmentally friendly clothing that provides customers with total transparency about the design process.
The limited-edition run is the result of Colovos winning this year’s International Woolmark Prize for womenswear, a competition that asks brands to produce a collection from Merino wool using natural processes and production methods. How natural? “The yarn for our sweaters comes from a solar-powered factory,” says Nicole. “We really wanted this collection to be as sustainable as possible, from A to Z. When we started looking at mills, we wanted the one that would eliminate the most chemicals from the production line. We really went all in.”
To that end, the designers also wanted to be able to trace the wool they used back to its original source. They spent weeks looking for a farm that met their long checklist of criteria, including recycling water for irrigation in environmentally friendly ways and responsible land cultivation. “Much of this collection came down to logistics and sourcing,” says Michael. “We did a lot of investigative work on the front end, visiting Australian farms in person to see how they were working before making our choice.”
From a consumer perspective, unless the shopper takes the time to read the (biodegradable) hang tag on each garment, she’d likely be none the wiser about the socially conscious message behind the capsule. Which in some ways, is exactly the point. “Design and quality always come first for us—it’s something we never compromise on,” says Michael. “We’re committed to the environment, but the fabric has to feel good, and the design has to be something you want to wear no matter what.”
The inspiration for the capsule comes from sportswear and utilitarian uniforms of the 1930s and ’40s, when wool was prized for its breathable, moisture-absorbing properties, making it ideal for athletic performance apparel. “We looked at things like what a tennis player or cyclist wore before there were synthetic fabrics—how they used wool for movement and ease—and then tried to translate that into the styles we designed,” says Michael.
The duo also drew on mid-century Scandinavian furniture references in their minimally seamed, streamlined silhouettes. The influence of denim is apparent as well, the rugged material informing colors and details across the capsule. It’s a natural inclusion: Denim is at the heart not just of Colovos but of Michael and Nicole’s professional careers together. In 2001, they launched their first label, Habitual, a denim-based brand that developed a devoted following.
As co-designers at Helmut Lang for nearly a decade, the duo used denim as the starting point for defining the company’s sleek, modern ethos. Today, “denim is the staple of the Colovos collection, it’s what grounds your wardrobe,” says Nicole. “Add a T-shirt and it’s one look, add heels and it’s another.” It’s a mood as well, explains Michael, and that attitude—rugged and cool, cowboys and rockers—is one he seeks to apply to the entire line, from a silk blouse to the classic five-pocket.
For their Woolmark capsule, the designers managed a major trompe l’oeil moment, crafting garments you’d swear were made from denim. From button placement to contrast topstitching, each piece evokes the spirit of easy-wearing jeans with a tailored edge. But don’t let the laid-back feel mislead you: This collection took 18 months from conception to store shelves, a true labor of love for the pair. “It was a lot of work, a lot of research and learning along the way,” says Nicole. “It was an additional capsule on top of our usual seasons, but everything we learned from making it we are able to bring into the main collection to make our clothes better in every way.”