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Protégé Project unveiled in Florence
Jan '08
Australian Wool Innovation's (AWI) Protégé Project was unveiled to critical acclaim at the Palazzo Corsini in the heart of Florence on 10 January.

Part of the 'Merino 200' celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the first bale of Australian Merino wool exported for commercial sale, the project saw five up-and-coming young international designers hand-picked and mentored by fashion icons including Donatella Versace and Karl Lagerfeld.

AWI invested more than $200,000 on producing the five collections and in generating publicity in a bid to draw more designers to Merino.

The Protégés were:
• Jean-Pierre Braganza selected by Karl Lagerfeld
• Kristian Aadnevik selected by Donatella Versace
• Julian Louie selected by Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein
• Ioannis Cholidis selected by Paul Smith
• Sandra Backlund selected by Franca Sozzani

"Wool has been promoted as a commodity in recent times but wool is not a commodity; wool is a rare prestigious fibre and that is the way it should be promoted," said Count Paolo Zegna, president of Ermenegildo Zegna, who imports 500,000 kilograms of Australian Merino wool a year.

"Wool should be known throughout the world, like the Coca-Cola trademark," the count said.

Of particular significance was Lagerfeld's participation in the project. He began an apprenticeship in Paris in 1955 at Pierre Balmain's fashion house after winning a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat.

Lagerfeld's protégé, Jean-Pierre Braganza, admitted he knew little of the fibre before starting the project.

"At first I was just blown away when Karl Lagerfeld chose me for this project but then I realised that being given the opportunity to work with Merino wool was a huge gift. It has opened so many doors in terms of my design work because the quality of Australian Merino is just incredible,” he said.

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