An Afternoon With Woolmark Prize Winners Nicole and Michael Colovos
The pair finally took a day off to celebrate their win.
Fresh off their win in the women’s design category of the International Woolmark Prize, Nicole and Michael Colovos, the husband-and-wife team behind the American sportswear label Colovos, finally took a day off. A year after they entered the contest, after months of preparation, and having spent several long days preparing for the final event in London on Feb. 16, they found themselves with nothing at all to do. The kids were back home in New York.
While hailing a black cab outside of Somerset House around noon, they asked a friend they saw on the street for a suggestion of what to see. The friend suggested Sir John Sloane’s Museum, a fabulous collection of the neo-classical architect in nearby Holborn.
“Sir Johnson’s,” Michael told the driver, who was hard of hearing, as the car took off.
“The John-Son?” Michael tried.
“Joooohn Soooon,” once again.
“John Sloane’s Museum?” the driver caught on, having by this point crossed most of Waterloo Bridge. “That’s the other direction.”
To the Tate Modern it is, then. London is a marvel, of course, and there are things to be seen just about everywhere. On this day, the museum was hosting a very popular exhibition of Pierre Bonnard, a post-impressionist who was evidently very fond of painting women in bathtubs. The show was very hot and crowded, but also inspiring for a couple whose work, as evidenced by the sleek navy separates that won them their Woolmark award, has more in common with contemporary and modern art. Nicole was moved by the colors, particularly attracted to those that were unframed, and Michael was taken by the interaction of the audience with the works.
But they soon moved on to a smaller exhibition on the fourth floor, stopping at an orange carpeted wall along the way where guests were invited to make patterns in the pile using their hands. Michael wrote their logo in large block letters. Then it was onto a smaller exhibition of the American artist Jenny Holzer, whose use of text and startling messages has long captivated the fashion world. Holzer was a frequent collaborator of the designer Helmut Lang, where the Colovoses worked for eight years before starting their own label in 2016. Holzer’s digital displays, like news tickers, silently shouted their words:“It’s crucial to have an active fantasy life…” Another display contained condoms printed with the message, “Men don’t protect you anymore.” A sign on the wall said, “Protect me from what I want.”
Comparing the two shows, Nicole noted an unexpected similarity in that each simultaneously could telegraph messages of female empowerment, but also a feeling of fear, which was more explicitly evident in the work of Holzer. “What each of them did was modern for their time,” Nicole said. “One has nude women, and the other is talking about condoms and how men don’t protect women anymore.” Michael noted the importance of the typography and the architecture of the space, where Holzer’s words zipped across signs shaped like beams against the walls, which also created that ominous and yet engaging effect.
After the museum, the Colovoses went on to lunch at Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden, where they met up with Willy Chavarria, one of the men’s wear finalists from the contest. (Edward Crutchley took that category, as well as one for innovation). They each noted how the competition had brought together designers from around the world, enabling them to make new connections and share resources. During their research, for example, the Colovoses were introduced to new wool-based materials and fabrics that have made big strides in their sustainability, including a technique that breaks down fibers from scraps. The more they learned, the more they became interested in creating a small collection with as little waste as possible.
“We went down the rabbit hole a bit,” Michael said.
Ironically, they had been delayed on the way to lunch by a group of Fashion Week protesters who walked into the street, blocking traffic and complaining about global warming, which they blamed on fashion.
“Well, they have a point,” Chavarria said.
Nicole pointed out that the six-item collection also served to illustrate that less can be more, since consumers are increasingly interested in reducing their environmental footprint. “Small is good,” she said. “We really believe at the end of the day that everyone is going to be doing this.”
“That one reason why designers want to share with each other,” Michael added, as the trio traded tips, such as replacing plastic bags with ones made from cassava.
While the trio toasted the Colovos’s latest success, Chavarria pointed out that he, too, had come away with much to learn. All contests have their virtues and non-virtues, he said, the latter being that they require a considerable time commitment and resources to complete. On the plus side, “it’s important to challenge yourself to do something like this and ask how do you create your own voice at a show with only three models,” he said. “There’s always the question of how much time it takes, but this one was special.”