Where there's wool there's a way: designer aims for prize

A SWATHE of white wool snakes from the model's crown to her hem, twisting in a wide, elegant sweep down the length of her structured felt coatdress.

The outfit is the first of Dion Lee's International Woolmark Prize entries to be revealed, and will sit alongside five other looks by the fashion designer to complete the capsule collection, representing Australia in the prestigious competition.

With just four weeks to go until the 27-year-old's creations are judged at London Fashion Week, the pressure is on the Sydneysider - and with good reason.

Funded by Australian Wool Innovation, the prize supports emerging talent, putting merino wool at fashion's centre stage and is to be judged by a host of fashion's most influential names, designers Donatella Versace, Victoria Beckham and Diane Von Furstenberg, Franca Sozzani of Vogue Italia and Tim Blanks, editor-at-large of style.com.

The winner will take away $100,000 and concessions in some of the world's top stores.

"Obviously, [the winner] needs talent and technique. I'm looking for a story too, a convincing narrative to lend coherence to a collection" says Tim Blanks. "Passion is always impressive - that feeling that these kids would be doing this whatever the world threw their way."

Lee, who burst onto the Australian fashion scene three years ago, has taken pains to weave Australian history into his creations, the Akubra-like hat, created with local milliner Jonathan Howard, giving a subtle glimpse into the grazier's life.

''I've taken some references of Australian identity - in the context I think it's important that there's something distinctively Australian about it … but it's not overpowering" says Lee.

His entire staff has been involved in the 12-month project, which has seen more than 70 designers invited from 16 countries whittled down to just six, each representing a geographical region. Having won the regional competition with a striking grey ''vented'' coatdress in July, Lee will compete in London against collections from China, Europe, India, Japan and the US.

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