A good yarn: Dubai designer Varoin Marwah eyes The Woolmark Prize

'Sustainability is where the future of fashion lies,' says designer Varoin Marwah. Ahead of the world-renowned The Woolmark Prize event in July, heshares his fashion secrets with Vision 

Menswear designer Varoin Marwah will fly the flag for the UAE when he represents the emirates in the regional rounds of The Woolmark Prize (TWP) this July.  

Celebrating innovation and creative excellence in the use of Merino wool, TWP was first held in 1953. Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were previous recipients of the award which today spotlights emerging talent from more than sixty countries.  

Striving to scoop one of the industry’s most sought after accolades, twelve winners this year will be picked from six regions – India, Pakistan & Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the British Isles, Europe and the USA. The final, which takes place in Paris next year, will see the best-in-class menswear and womenswear designers each receive prize money of AUD$200,000. The two victors will have their collections stocked with international retailers in UK, US, China, Italy and Australia.

How did your nomination for The Woolmark Prize come about?

The Dubai Design & Fashion Council reached out to me. I’m very grateful to have been nominated to represent the UAE on such a global platform. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to further my brand and expand my horizons. In reaction to the news - instead of celebrating – I got straight to work on my submission. I didn’t let anything slow me down.

How is your submission coming along?

Time is passing so quickly, it’s actually a bit of nerve-racking. And as much as I would love to work to my own timeline, I’m experimenting with different parties in different countries to make my submission. I’m also creating a fabric that’s handmade, which takes longer than using machinery. It’s a really exciting time as it’s a new phase of learning for me. Especially working with people who don’t really speak English and trying to make them understand what I’m hoping to achieve. I wish I could tell you more about the submission but obviously I need to keep it completely secret!

What is involved in creating a new fabric?

It’s a total experiment where I have to come up with something very new and innovative. Making the fabric is like a recipe, where its composition and the techniques I’m using have a bit of my personal touch and heritage to them. I’ve been designing my entire career, but making fabrics is not what I’m used to. It’s been brilliant learning about the process. And even if I don’t win, at least I will have created a new fabric. That’s very satisfying. 

How would winning the prize money affect your business?  

Winning would be an absolute honour, because the UAE has been my home for many years now. The Woolmark Prize is the biggest form of recognition for any talent and if successful, I would reinvest the money straight back into my work. I want to take the brand to new heights and winning would give me more visibility in the region and globally.   

Which of the creative luminaries to have previously won the prize do you most admire?  

It’s difficult to choose just one name, but of the recent recipients, I would say Indian designer Rahul Mishra. His ethics and talent are such an inspiration.  

How challenging or yielding is Merino wool as a fabric?

I’ve used Merino wool over and over in my collections and my love for it continues. It's one of those magical fabrics that I can’t do without. It’s best quality is that it’s adaptable to both hot and cold climates. I can use it to make garments for the UAE market in summer and winter. It’s my job as a designer to overturn consumer misconceptions about wool and offer versatile, cool solutions every season. Merino is also natural, biodegradable and sustainable. And sustainability is where the future of fashion lies.

Describe your creative process.

I always have a notepad by the bed and my iPad and phone are constantly with me. I also have folders scattered everywhere so I don’t forget anything. I never miss an opportunity to capture or store ideas.

People, a mood or even a shadow can inspire me. I don’t look for inspiration consciously - it's a state of emotion - a thought that I build upon gradually. I push creative boundaries and I believe that’s exactly what my brand depicts. My pieces are characterised by their minimal, yet strong, details. Every collection is classic yet futuristic.

Does Dubai have the correct support mechanisms in place to help your business grow?

My work in recent years has grown tremendously, thanks to the nurturing and support of the UAE’s fashion fraternity. Fashion Forward, for example, provides emerging and established designers with a vital platform to develop and showcase their skills. The government also provides new talent with guidance and financial assistance. The UAE offers fashion businesses ample opportunities but it’s really down to the talent to develop themselves.

Describe what you would design for a dream client?

Well, it would definitely be Karl Lagerfeld. I’ve grown as a designer watching him closely. I like his style, his aura, his flamboyance and I admire the huge impact his work has had. I’d create something to suit his personality, but also showcase my heritage, so maybe it would be very colourful and with a lot of embroidery. 

What is the stylish man about town wearing these days?

A stylish man will never follow a fad. His style is one that suits his body type. Colours are big this season and I see more men experimenting with fresh hues. As for three classic, key pieces that every man should have in his wardrobe, I’d say a well-cut black suit, a crisp white shirt and a great pair of blue denims.